With the third episode titled “Murder House”, American Horror Story opens with a flashback to 1983 revealing the origins of the strife between nosey neighbor Constance and mad maid Moira. In the flashback, young beautiful maid Moira confronts her employer, the master of the house who forces himself upon her until his wife, Constance (a digitally de-aged Jessica Lang), stumbles into the bedroom wielding a pistol. Without hesitation she fires shooting Moira through the eyes and then, after a brief dialog, finishes off her cheating husband. Within the first five minutes, this week’s show establishes that Moira is a ghost of some sort that everyone can see, hear and interact with. It’s no surprise that Constance was behind her demise nor the circumstances behind it given the past week’s exchanges between the characters. While it was interesting to see this history, it was also a little predictable. And that is what American Horror Story is in danger of becoming – predictable.
The show continues with the Harmons arguing about staying in the house, but Ben insists they cannot nove because all their money is tied up in the house. They can’t just leave, they must sell and retain any equity sunk into the real estate. When Vivien later has the real estate agent from the first episode over to talk about putting the house on the market, she reveals that no other agent would even come near the house and that this agent must sell the house or she will sue her for fraudulently selling it to the Harmons in the first place. The agent suggests it will be difficult to sell the house, it has too much history and the market is even worse than it was when Ben and Vivien purchased it. Later when Vivien and Violet are looking at a temporary flat to live in, Violent lashes out at her mother for being a coward, running from her problems. She insists that they stay in the mansion or she will run away never to return. The show goes to great lengths to provide reasons for the Harmons to stay in the residence when it is painfully obvious they would leave as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it fails to come across convincingly, less so because of how lame the excuses are to stay but how bluntly they hit the audience over the head and how many times as well.
Ben continues to see new patients at the house as Salli Freeman (Adina Porter from True Blood – Tara’s Mother) who is so monotone and boring, it appears that Ben zones out completely loosing grasp of his surroundings. He wakes up in the back yard much later in the day with his hands covered in blood totally unaware of what has happened. There is no sign of his patient nor any sign of his recording of their session. This leads to a continued confrontation with Moira who Ben believes has stolen his recorder and is continually flirting and tempting him. He confronts her directly and in front of Vivien who is both concerned and astonished. When Vivien begins to suggest that Moira should no longer work for them, Moira nearly explodes in a fit of anger refusing to be treated in such a fashion and with such disrespect. After Moira storms out, Vivien blames Ben for the problems.
Ben’s problems continue when his ex mistress, Hayden, arrives unexpectedly at the house. Ben is beside himself as Hayden begins to behave as if she is off her rocker demanding Ben be part of her unborn baby’s life. She insists that Ben set her up in L.A. Eager to get Hayden out of the house, Ben agrees to meet her to discuss their future later in the week. When Ben forgets about the meeting, Hayden returns to the house looking for a fight. As she storms out of the house, Larry Harvey, the scarred ex-con resident, clocks Hayden with the shovel and continues to pummel her to death. Shocked, Ben reluctantly agrees to participate in Larry’s disposal of Ben’s problems and they bury her in the back yard. Ben then builds a gazebo over the grave-site. As Ben completes the building, Vivien walks over to his side totally oblivious to the horror hidden beneath.
In a tie between Moira and Constance’s story and Hayden’s untimely death. Larry discovers the bodies of Moira and Constance’s husband in the grave he dug for Hayden. As he buries all the corpses together, Constance stands next to Moira in one of the house’s windows whispering “and now you are stuck here forever.”
Another brief scene has Vivien noticing a Famous Murders tour stopping in front of their house. She later takes the tour herself paying close attention as the bus stops in front of her house. The driver begins to recite the horrific events that haunt the house. Another flashback tells the story of the original owners of the house, a vain, controlling wife and her physician husband who has lost his mind developing a “Frankenstein” complex. As his practice begins to suffer, the wife conspires a dastardly plan to lead unsuspecting young actresses to their doom at her husbands hands while she robs them of their cash. This leads to a series of murders that ends horribly for the victims and the murderers alike. Later, Vivien is visited by the mistress of the house who is shocked at the new appliances and hides a bullet hole through her head from view.
American Horror Story is playing it dangerous with its ghosts. They are plentiful and not clearly defined. The show never settles down on any definition of what the ghosts are or who they are. It is never clear who – outside of the Harmons themselves – are ghosts. Constance could very well be a ghost. Tate is most likely one. And who can tell with Larry. His sudden and timely appearances certainly suggest that he is. It is also difficult to tell who can see the ghosts. Constance sees Tate in the window of the house and waves, but the real estate agent standing a few feet away looks up and sees no one; however, the detective looking into the missing persons case surrounding Salli sees Moira as clearly and similarly as Ben does. The show can only rely on this gray area for a few more episode before it taxes the patience of its viewer too far. The show wobbles a little this week, but not too severely to topple it just yet. It still has a strong sense of unease and menace to its plot and characters. This episode benefits from more screen time with Denis O’Hare but suffers with minimal time with Taissa Farmiga. Still creepy, still a bit scary, American Horror Story creeps along.