American Horror Story 1.9: Spooky Little Girl

Title card

(This program airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 PM on FX)

Late late late recap, I know, but all those orphans in that burning building couldn’t save themselves, now, could they?

(Confession: I’m an awful procrastinator and deserve to be eaten by wolves. My apologies!)

THE BLACK DAHLIA! (!!!!!) I’m one of those weirdos who’s really fascinated by murders and serial killers, so it was cool to see this piece of L.A. history woven into the storyline. Though I think that they should have given Mena Suvari some jacked-up teeth, since she was going to a dentist in-show anyway. But I guess that’s why Ryan Murphy has had a ton of megahit shows and I have had a ton of 3 a.m. crying jags in front of the donut case at 7-11.

The episodes starts with olde-tymey music and Mena Suvari in a cute outfit (white dahlia in her hair) walking into the murder house, which is currently owned by a dentist (played by Joshua Malina, who I mix up with Frank Whaley, because they could be brothers. Also because I am pleased when both make appearances on shows I watch). It’s 1947, and Elizabeth Short is trying to make it as an actress. She hasn’t got a lot of money, but she heard that the good doctor is willing to negotiate on a payment plan. CASH, VISA, OR VAGINA ONLY, PLEASE.

He puts the mask on her face, only pausing for her to take the dahlia out of her hair so he doesn’t crush it. He mistakes it for a carnation, but she corrects him.

A woman (Betty Bersinger, who found the body) pushes a stroller down the sidewalk. She stops when the kid points out something in the weeds and asks what it is. The woman thinks it’s a mannequin, but then she sees the blood, and how it is CUT IN HALF and HAS BEEN GIVEN A GLASGOW GRIN and also THE CAMERA SHOWS US FULL BODILY SEPARATION. ACK.

Credits. Young Moira makes the bed as Ben sidles in awkwardly, asking her to make Violet a sandwich. Moira says she will, and asks for help making the bed so she can crawl sexily over it and flirt with him aggressively. Ben keeps flashing to all her sexy component parts but verbally rebuffs her, finally halfway to not being the worst thing ever. He says he’s only interested in getting Vivien home so he can take care of her and they can be a family. Moira’s eyes are a little damp as she tells him that’s a beautiful speech, but he snaps at her for using his real name. She goes off to make him (well, Violet) a sandwich, saying “It’s only a matter of time. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Constants paints (a warped Adam-and-Eve image with an Eve that favors Vivien and an Adam that’s decomposing) and drinks in her kitchen as Travis (hi, Travis! I missed your goofy hair!) comes in, having just walked the dogs. Apparently this show can only afford to show dogs like three times a season. Constance is mean, getting onto him about tracking mud into the house. He points out that she took the last cigarette, so she throws it at him, lit. Southerners are experts at passive-aggression, but they’re also experts at the kind of passive-aggression that comes with legitimate painful aggression.

He stubs it out and says that he works hard, and doesn’t want to have to work harder when he gets home. Constance, scenting weakness like a well-coiffed shark, tells him she feels soooooo much sympathy for how he reads a script at a call center for two hours a day, and how did the headshots she paid for work out for him? Yikes.

He’s upset and tells her he hates it when she drinks, and puts his hands on her shoulders. She shoves him away when he brings Addy up, accusing him of having sex with her. He goes to leave, frustrated, and Constance orders him to pick up another carton of cigarettes and take the dog that didn’t poop with him.

He does. It’s a cute little wiener dog, but it’ll only be there for about 11 seconds, to be forgotten immediately when Hayden whistles at him from the fence outside the murder house. She says Constance sounds like a bitch that’s too old for him. He’s like, “Maybe we should run away together?” and boom, they’re doing it inside the murder house. He rolls off of her when he’s finished and says he came inside her, and she says it’s cool, “I can’t get pregnant.” She tells him he needs to let Constance know they had sex, because it’s the only weapon he’s got against her. He asks what her deal is, and we find out that she’s still trying to bag Ben, she’s planning on moving in, and she now knows she can bang dudes who are still alive.

The detective from a few episodes ago shows up, Hayden’s sister in tow, to question Ben about why Hayden has disappeared off the face of the earth. The sister has his number, accusing Ben of killing her, but bam, Hayden shows up to save the day. I really like her as a character, even though I know she’s supposed to be someone the audience can hate or be annoyed by. Part of it is Kate Mara, but there’s something about the character that’s really sympathetic, like Moira is. Plus, she’s hilarious.

Hayden makes short work of the detective and Marla, her sister, sending them along with a few jabs at Marla’s apparent habit of borrowing money. Ben demands answers from her as soon as they’re gone, and Hayden is contrite and calm when she says she was crazy on Halloween, but that’s not how she wants Ben to think of her. She also tells Ben that she had the abortion, and that he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Elizabeth Short walks into Ben’s office, surprising him. He tells her she needs to call beforehand, but she tells him she’s afraid something bad is going to happen, so his instinctive BOUNDARIES ARE NOT IMPORTANT WHEN DEALING WITH PSYCHOLOGICALLY FRAGILE PEOPLE feelings kick in and he asks her to tell him about it. She tells him she’s a struggling actress and she keeps sleeping with casting directors to get parts. DON’T SLEEP WITH CASTING DIRECTORS UNLESS YOU’VE GOT A CONTRACT INKED.

Ben tells her he’s got an opening the next day, at noon, and asks if she’s covered by SAG insurance. The look on her face lets him know she is covered by no insurance at all, and he dick-moves at her by saying she’s “A beautiful young girl. I assumed you were working steadily.” She offers to have sex with him as payment (this is not really jiving with what the real Elizabeth Short was allegedly like), and he’s like “Aw, man. No, I guess, whatever.” and says they’ll work something out. He crosses the room and says she never needs to do that, and that he’s the one she should feel safe with. THEN HE STARTS UNDRESSING/MAKING OUT WITH HER. It is revealed to only be in his imagination, and Elizabeth has been staring at him probably for like ten minutes. His phone vibrates and she bounces off to–do what? Lurk in the house? She doesn’t seem to be aware she’s a ghost.

The sketchy obstetrician is the one calling Ben, and even though she’s uncomfortable giving him “this information,” he’s Vivien’s designated healthcare provider: Vivien’s twins are from two different dads (heteropaternal hyper fecundation. Sexy!). Ben’s like, whaaaaaat. It’s rare, one in a million, and means Vivien had sex with two dudes during the same ovulation cycle. Ben is making his bad-person face. This obstetrician is nearly as bad at her job as Ben is.

Constance shows up in the murder house, asking where “the little slut, Violet” is. She thinks Violet had sex with Travis, and Moira stops washing glass doors to scoff. I love it when Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy interact, they play off each other so wonderfully. Moira tells Constance that Violet wouldn’t even think about Travis, because she’s so wrapped up in Tate. But not for long, because apparently Moira already knows about Vivien’s condition? Whatever.

Constance goes down into the basement, calling for Tate, saying she has to talk to him. He appears, telling her to talk. She begs him to tell her it’s not true, that he didn’t “Crawl on top of that man’s wife.” He doesn’t deny it, so she slaps him repeatedly, yelling at him, until they’re both crying and Tate is cowering on the floor, away from her. She stops herself.

Ben walks into his office to find Moira and Elizabeth making out on the couch. It is so wildly unerotic it’s almost offensive–three attractive actors, having weird jumpcutty dream-sex, and not one single ounce of sexy to be found. I don’t even know who to blame, but I am going to write a letter to somebody, and it is going to be ANGRY.

Ben quits fantasizing and orders them both to get the hell out, telling Elizabeth that he can’t treat her and that Moira is fired, and her last chore is to show Elizabeth to the door. He leaves them to find their own way out (Jesus. I feel like the writers are just fucking with us at this point. They have to realize that this happens twice an episode). Elizabeth, crying, is angry at Moira because she said that making out on the couch would work. WORK FOR WHAT? Hayden shows up, saying that Moira just used her. FOR WHAT!!!!?!! Moira rolls her eyes and leaves–it might be worth noting that we’re still seeing young Moira, which means either Hayden or Elizabeth or both of them are seeing her that way, even though Hayden’s seen her as old and Elizabeth is both a ghost and a woman.

Hayden sits on the couch with Elizabeth, once again in awesome psychopomp mode. Elizabeth says she’ll never realize her dreams now, and tells Hayden that she wanted to be famous. Hayden ascertains that she doesn’t know what happened to her.

Flashback. The dentist rapes Elizabeth while she’s unconscious with the gas. He pulls the mask off of her when she’s done, and prepares to start on her teeth with the drill. She’s dead, though. Way to go, asshole.

The dentist pulls her down the stairs, horrified, and Charles Montgomery steps out of the shadows and introduces himself. I love the musical cue for the Montgomerys–it‘s dramatic and spooky and overblown in the creepiest way. Charles offers to help a bro out.

Helping out entails huffing ghost-ether, chopping Elizabeth’s body into two manageable pieces, removing blood/entrails, and slitting her cheeks open so it looks like she’s smiling. Matt Ross delivers all these gross lines with such chipperness, you just kind of want to pat him on the head before you run screaming.

Back in the present, Elizabeth comes to terms with her gruesome death and its aftermath pretty quickly when Hayden tells her gently that she was on the front page for two months. “I really did become somebody.” Elizabeth says, smiling sadly.

Nicest mental hospital I’ve ever seen. Ben is there, probably to fuck some more shit up. The woman showing him to Vivien’s room explains that she had to be sedated, because she attacked an orderly for implying that the rubber man rape was a sexual fantasy. Attagirl.

Ben sits down in the creepy grey room and tells Vivien that he knows she can’t carry on a conversation in her current medicated state, but he’s going to take some out-of-context information from the worst OBGYN ever and use it to accuse her of being a liar and a whore, because he’s still pissed about her trying to make him feel shitty about the fact that he himself is a liar and a whore. He tells her he’s going to leave her in the nuthouse to rot. Remember, she can’t defend herself at all, and he knows that. Fuck you, Ben Harmon. FUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUU.

Flashback to Ben, drinking in a bar with Hayden because his marriage sucks and he’s awful. She tells him she’s not really looking for tutoring. They were probably banging like ten minutes later.

Present. Hayden creeps on Ben in the gazebo, quietly crazy. She says he needed her, and he agrees. She’s got her hair in a ponytail and she’s wearing a pretty, neutral-toned dress and a cardigan, looking a little Vivienish. Good play, madam. He recognizes that he abused his authority and he never should have gotten close to her that way–”I was lonely, I was heartbroken, and I used you.” At least you recognize it. That doesn’t stop him from kissing her back for way too long when she requests a hug and turns it into a makeout.

Hayden, sad at hearing that he doesn’t love her, lies and says that she saw Luke leaving the house the other morning when she came by. Ben believes her immediately, ‘cause it’s not like he can’t totally trust Hayden, duh.

Constance’s kitchen. Constance apologizes to Travis for being rude to him, and says she appreciates how he’s been there for her after Addy’s death. Then she’s like boom, let’s get married and I want you to father the child I’m going to “bring into our home.” Travis, rightly, is all bzuh? and backing away from her. She says he’d make a wonderful father, because of how good he was with Addy and the dogs. Haha.

He waffles, saying it might be better to do this once he gets his career off the ground. Constance asks what career that is, exactly, and lays it out: she knows his dreams because she had his dreams, and if they didn’t come true for her, he’s got no chance. He asks why she’s being so mean, and the line delivery is so funny on that. She says she’s being honest. She gets up in his face, wondering aloud how she ever thought he could be a father when he’s not even a man. Travis makes like he’s going to raise a hand to her, but she stops him cold by telling him the last person who thought he could strike her came to a very unpleasant end, and he was a man. Travis storms out, defeated.

Travis has sex with Hayden some more, on the floor of the basement, bitching about Constance the whole time. Hayden rolls her eyes when he’s done and rolls off of her, but he gets up when she rolls over and requests round two. He says he’s going back to Constance, because he can’t leave it that way with her. Hayden is incredulous, but Travis is like “I guess I love her.” and tells Hayden not to worry, he’ll be back. She fumes, and asks him for a hug. He says okay, but when he hugs her, she shanks the shit out of him like a thousand times.

When she sees his body, she’s like “Great, now what am I gonna do?” Ghost Travis surfer-whoas and says he guesses Constance was right, now he’s never going to be famous. Elizabeth appears and says maybe he’s got a better chance now. Hayden says the only person who’s going to be famous is Ben, when they find the body down there. Charles shows up and offers his services. Hayden says that there’s someone who owes her a favor and can remove the body.

Some guys play basketball in a weedy lot. One dude goes to retrieve an errant ball, and stops, calling for his friends. They all say “Oh, shit” like a thousand times. Travis’s naked, mutilated body rests among the weeds. Larry skulks away in the background.

Constance visits Vivien in the hospital, ingratiating and giving a softer version of her fatherhood speech, telling Vivien that community and sisterhood are important when babies are involved. Vivien, exhausted, tells Constance that she’s grateful but she just wants to nap. Constance gives Vivien the flowers and says she’ll pick up pastries for Violet. As she heads for the door, Vivien says she’s been raped, but asks Constance not to tell anyone, because she needs them to think she’s “coming to her senses.” It’s hard to tell if Constance is honestly sympathetic or not. I want to believe she’s telling the truth when she says she never doubted Vivien for a minute.

Alarm at the murder house. Ben sits in a chair with the shades drawn, lamely smoking a cigarette. Luke comes in, which should have been the first indicator for Ben that he’s not actually a bad dude, on account of how he showed up even though he knows Vivien isn’t there. Luke sees Ben lame-smoking and is like, ugh, this bitch again?

Ben tells Luke all the things he thinks he knows, and Luke lays down some knowledge: a) if that WAS his baby, he would see it as often as he wanted, and b) he’s shooting blanks. Ben doesn’t believe him, but why the shit would you say that if it wasn’t true?

Luke, in turn, calls Ben out for saying Vivien is a whore and a liar, and says that maybe she’s safer where he locked her away. He leaves, but without the mic drop I so desperately hoped for. Luke is the one honest, non-pathetic guy in this show.

Ben sees the rubber mask. Moira sees him holding it, and gets in her daily allotted ten minutes of inappropriate flirting. He asks her to tell him the truth about if she saw anything, and says that he finally believes Vivien was attacked by someone. Moira, her face unreadable but her eyes tearing up a little, tells him congratulations; he can finally see things as they really are. She shifts as she leaves, becoming old Moira by the time she reaches the door. He’s like, the fuuuuuck. I hope this enlightenment sticks.

Billie sits in Constance’s kitchen, talking about how her Lifetime pilot might get picked up, and she wants Constance to guest star. Constance says she doesn’t have the time to worry about Billie’s life, and Billie correctly surmises that there is a baby of some sort involved. Constance asks Billie to tell her what happens when a human conceives a baby with a ghost.

Billie brings up the pope’s box. I‘m sure this is all made up, and if it does exist, it‘s definitely not the way it‘s described here. I read an interview where Ryan Murphy claimed to have heard about it in Catholic school, but I’ve never come across it–I mean, I’ve heard similar stories about secret papal knowledge about the end of the world, and the Room of Tears is an actual thing, but nothing exactly like this. Anyway, the pope’s box has the secret of the end of the world–and reveals the precise nature of the antichrist, which is apparently a baby born of human and spirit, a “perversion of the Immaculate Conception.”

Constance seems freaked out. Don’t worry! Babies are stupid and easy to thwart!