TV Recap: 'American Horror Story' Episode 101 - 'Pilot'


American Horror Story Episode 101


Written By: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk

Directed By: Ryan Murphy

Original Airdate: 5 October 2011

In This Episode...

Meet the Harmon family. Vivien, a former cellist, is still recovering from a brutal miscarriage which forced her to carry her dead fetus to term and deliver naturally. She catches her husband Ben, a psychiatrist and professor, in flagrante delicto with one of his students. In a desperate bid to mend their broken marriage, they uproot themselves and their teen daughter Violet (a precocious girl who enjoys typical teenage pursuits like smoking and cutting) from their Boston home and move to a beautiful classic Victorian home in Los Angeles. Naturally, things get weird.

For one thing, the house was the scene of a murder/suicide, which explains why the house was half the cost of comparable properties. The house "comes with" an elderly housekeeper, Moira, who has been with the house longer than any resident. But Ben is the only one who can see Moira as a gorgeous young woman who makes sexual moves on him. The next door neighbor, Constance, is a nosy, tactless, and slightly racist southern belle who moved to Los Angeles decades ago to become a movie star. Stardom never materialized because she got pregnant with Adelaide, who was born with Downs Syndrome. Constance both hates her daughter, but is fiercely protective of her. Addy has been drawn to the Harmon's house since she was little, and is frequently breaking in - not to vandalize the house, just to be within it. Rounding out the cast of crazies is Tate, a teenaged psychopath who Ben is treating out of his home office. Tate has constant, violent sexual fantasies, and Ben is doing his best to keep him from acting on them. It doesn't make it any easier when he befriends Violet.

All these characters are established in the first episode, yet there is still time for more weirdness. For example, Ben has started sleepwalking. Doors creak open on their own. Vivien finds a disturbing, demonic mural beneath some of the wallpaper. Voices whisper and figures hide in the shadows. On a morning jog, Ben is accosted by a man, Harvey, who has burns over 70% of his body. He used to live in the house the Harmons now occupy. He set his wife and two daughters on fire after he began hearing voices. He was convicted of triple homicide but got a compassionate release because of a brain tumor. Harvey begs Ben to leave the house. Violet is beaten up by mean girls at school. At Tate's insistence, Violet takes the leader of the mean girls to her basement under the auspices of having some good cocaine. Tate is waiting down there with a monster mask and a strobe light and scares the crap out of the girl. But things get too intense, and both Violet and the bully are convinced that they saw a monster down there - one with claws that scratched the bully up.

The ice is finally beginning to thaw between Ben and Vivien, and the two have crazy couch sex. Later, Ben shows up in their bedroom wearing the infamous full-body rubber gimp costume from the posters. The couple had found it in the attic when they first moved in, and Ben was supposed to have thrown it away. The two have sex again, only it is not Ben in that suit - he is downstairs, playing with the stove in a trance. So when Vivien announces to Ben a few days later she is pregnant, no one has any reason to believe the baby isn't Ben's...

Dig It or Bury It?

Yes friends, that was all in the first episode. It was completely captivating, and ridiculously dense. Too dense. This truly needed to be a two-hour episode. There was so much backstory to set up that the episode whipped through from scene to scene at a breakneck pace. Not only was it hard to catch your breath... it was hard to identify with or care about any of the characters. The pacing in general felt disjointed and awkward. I am happy to report that the second episode resolves much of this (more on that next week).

Other than that, the episode was beautifully photographed, presented some bizarre and horrifying  themes, and is truly unlike anything currently on television.

Full Disclosure

In what appears to be an ongoing thematic structure to explore the house's history, the episode opens on the house in 1978. Adelaide, just a young girl, is playing in the front yard of the house, and warns a pair of twin ruffians that "you're gonna die in there" when they enter the abandoned house, armed with baseball bats and a taste for vandalism. They bash up lamps and tables and other various items they find inside. Investigating the basement, they find hundreds of jars filled with fetuses and fetus parts. One boy gets spooked; the other wants to explore more. Both end up bloody and dead at the hands of a shadowy, unseen assailant. 

Mommy Dearest

Constance is just a bowl full of crazy. And mean. She calls her daughter a "mongoloid." Later she sneaks into the Harmon house to steal a pair of earrings she had been admiring on Vivien. Moira catches her in the act, and Constance scolds her: "Don't make me kill you again."


Well, I can tell you that shit does not get any less weird. Vivien and Violet must fend for themselves while Ben is away and intruders break into the home.