American Horror Story, Ep. 1.12, “Afterbirth”: After thoughts, part 2
The opening flashback brings back the delusional Ben we knew for most of the season. Vivien’s ready to leave, but Ben pulls her back with promises of piecing the family back together by moving into the house. This early in the game, Ben was just scrambling to hold onto his life. He didn’t really understand the effects of his infidelity, so he’s really just lying to himself. Dylan McDermott does a great job of acting “badly” as Ben and shifting to the newly broken Ben in the present.
After some serious deliberation (to put it lightly), Ben decides to move out and raise his wife’s son. Right before he can leave, Hayden and some of the ghosts hang him from the chandelier. Newly reunited with his wife and daughter, he finds solace in his afterlife. Vivien even retrieves her baby from Nora to complete the family.
When Marcy sells the house to the Ramos family, the Harmons decide to spare the family the eventual agony of living in the house by spooking them out. After they leave, Constance skips town with her grandson and soon learns she’s got another problem worse than Tate.
Ben’s death is surprisingly anticlimactic. At this point, he’s redeemed himself, especially since he’s planning to raise Constance’s grandson. So, seeing him go is a shame, but then again, the death isn’t supposed to be that crucial. It turns out to be the best scenario for him, Vivien and Violet. Death brings the Harmons closer than life ever could. They’re happy, and it’s sincere. It’s a very satisfying and unexpected resolution for the dysfunction that was the Harmons.
The reunion happens relatively quickly. This makes way for the Ramos family, who starts to play out the same beats as the families that moved in before them. This leads to the best scene in the episode, and one of the best of the season.
After Ben dies, the stakes aren’t that high for the rest of the episode. This allows for the show to venture into the bizarre black comedy of the haunting scene. Ben suits up as Rubber Man and taunts Mrs. Ramos. Many of the house ghosts then join in to showcase their gruesome exteriors to scare the family. Tate joins too, but he seems serious when threatening to kill Gabriel.
If nothing else, this finale is worth watching solely to see Vivien and Ben “kill” each other, taking out their pent-up frustrations and laughing maniacally to punctuate the scares. It’s a twisted form of couple’s therapy, a kind of inside joke for just the audience. Connie Britton is refreshingly comical in this scene, especially in her overdramatic and clichéd line “run,” to give that final push that the Ramos family needs to flee.
Another great scene is the quiet moment between Ben and Tate when Tate asks Ben to be his friend. It’s very calm and brings some realistic closure to the tension between the two characters. It’s a comforting note to leave on as we begin to depart the house, cinched by the heartwarming Christmas moment.
“Afterbirth” ultimately succeeds in wrapping up the Harmons’ story, but it’s still not without some missteps. One glaringly odd line reading comes right after Violet tells her father she saved him a ton of money on college tuition by committing suicide. He goes “yeah, you did,” laughing and almost relieved. It’s a very quick moment, but it really stands out as an uncomfortable scene that can be attributed to a lapse in judgment on McDermott and director Bradley Buecker’s part. Other than that, McDermott, Britton and Taissa Farmiga give great closing performances.
It feels wrong to admit, but Jessica Lange is not at her best in the finale. As Constance, she’s no stranger to melodrama, but a lot of her scenes feel forced, especially the scene in the beauty shop near the end where she confesses she always thought she was destined to do great things.
Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the last scene, but Constance’s monologue feels unnecessary and painfully slow. The speech does little to shape her character any more or explain anything not already demonstrated by Lange’s amazing performance. The only apparent reason that drawn-out scene is included is to explain how Constance gets away with raising her grandson. Even that isn’t too important.
Finally comes the end. Constance comes home to a dead nanny and her 3-year old grandson, blood all over his hands, joyful about his first murder. The death doesn’t even phase Constance. She just sighs. It makes up a bit for the previous scene, and fortunately stays true to her twisted character. Then it’s over.
Honestly, it’s a little disappointing at first. There is just a feeling of unfinished business, but after a while, it sinks in. Now that Murphy announced that this was it for these characters, the ending goes down a little easier. Negative reactions to the finale stem from expectations of a big finish. After all, this is what we’ve come to expect as an audience of today’s television. Yet, realizing the scope of the first season strengthens the impact of the reserved ending. Like many horror films, it ends on a note of discomfort. The monster is still alive. This last scene begs for more, but thankfully, doesn’t overdo it.
There are still some weird moments that the finale doesn’t resolve. For example, the serendipitous killing of Ben’s patient in Piggy Piggy, the apparent significance of Moira’s mother dying, Larry’s change of heart midseason, and the obvious problem of all those ghosts in the house that don’t get along, yet have to spend eternity together. Hopefully next season will avoid posing more types of these nagging questions and stay focused on developing another great story with crazy twists and disturbing scares. All things considered, this year was a fun and very entertaining ride.
Until next season,
Reader Jeffrey Bond posted this in my last review. I think you guys will enjoy it.
Ryan Murphy quote to The Insider:
“There is a clue in the last three episodes where we say what the second season will be.”
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