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Review #3187: American Horror Story 1.11: “Birth”

Posted on the 16 December 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but this episode of “American Horror Story” could easily be mistaken for the season finale, if one wasn’t aware that another 90-minute episode was yet to come. One look at the episode title will tell you what the episode is about. I’m less enthusiastic about the Antichrist baby plot than I am with other aspects of the show, but this was still a highly gripping hour of television and a great lead-in to the real finale. In fact, it may even have been the most entertaining installment of the series to date.

Review #3187: American Horror Story 1.11: “Birth”

Above all, what stuck with me most from “Birth” was the incredibly dismal atmosphere it maintains for the entirety of the episode. It really is the bleakest, most somber episode of the series thus far. It’s not as traumatizing as the previous episode, but the sense of hopelessness conveyed by the episode is marvelous. This oppressively dark atmosphere is never more apparent than during the dream-like birth scene (which serves as the episode’s climax) and its brief aftermath.

It’s becoming very clear just how much of a hell it is for the poor souls trapped in this house, seemingly for an eternity. With both Vivien and Violet now dead, I get the sense that it won’t be long before Ben joins them, with the expected outcome being that a new family moves into the house for the next season. The spirits just keep piling up in the murder house. It’s already getting awfully crowded in there. How long can this go on?

Let’s step back a minute. It’s 1984. Tate is a young boy living in the house when he makes the unfortunate mistake of investigating the basement, where (in a rather chilling scene that perfectly sets the tone for the episode) he meets the spirit of Charles and Nora Montgomery’s son, Thaddeus; a.k.a. the Infantata. I’ve avoided discussing the Infantata up to this point, for the most part, for reasons that are difficult to explain. It seems like I’ve picked up more information about the Infantata from sources outside of the show than in the show itself, so I thought it unwise to make any observations.

The clues presented about the house itself line up well with what we’ve seen so far, and with the typical haunting lore. The spirits in the house seem to bring along all the issues they had in life, but there’s much more to this scenario. According to our apparently legitimate psychic medium, a lot of negative emotions/energies have been stored up in the house like a battery, to the point where the house itself basically has a will of its own; a will that it is now exerting over anyone living in the home. It’s all pretty typical haunted house stuff, but a lot of effort is put into making it feel fresh again.

So now the house, and pretty much everyone living there (including Constance), wants babies, and Vivien’s twins are the target. So much of the episode is spent on Violet, Tate, and Constance’s attempts to be rid of Chad and Patrick. Not exactly an easy task, considering that they’re already dead. The Roanoke connection was interesting, even if this version of it includes blatant inaccuracies. It’s too bad it doesn’t really amount to anything, other than offering up a banishment spell that doesn’t seem to work.

Was there every any doubt that the birth of the twins would take place at the Harmon home? Despite my previously-stated lesser interest in the baby plot, I found a lot of reasons to like the scene. I enjoyed seeing Ben finally seeming to accept the incredibly bizarre reality of his situation and focus on helping Vivien through the birthing process. I loved that Charles Montgomery (along with the two dead nurses) was on hand to perform the procedure, even if he did use the opportunity to secretly pass off one of the infants (the weaker, less demonic one) to Nora. I’m actually surprised that the first baby survived, which is why I appreciated that “stillborn” fake-out.

I also liked that the second baby, the one who is supposedly the Antichrist, didn’t just leap forth from Vivien’s womb as a fully-formed demon with wings, horns, and hooves. The baby isn’t actually shown, but no one seems particularly shocked by the child’s appearance, so I suspect that he looks relatively normal, which is as it should be. Anything else would be too over-the-top. It is interesting that the Antichrist child was said to be growing at an alarming rate. This could allow the child to grow and quickly become an actual character in the show.

The Tate and Violet plot receives its own satisfying climax in a post-birth scene, where Violet finally takes a stand and dispenses some brutal honesty, before banishing Tate in the same way Tate was taught to banish ghosts by Nora back in 1984. What’s remarkable is that even now, Tate remains sympathetic (and it’s not just due to Evan Peters’ exceptional acting), so it’s not hard to understand why Violet simultaneously loves and reviles him. Violet has always been presented as an extremely troubled young girl, but one with an inner strength that she can call upon at important moments (and someone with an unusually strong connection with the house and its spirits). This scene is satisfying for how it allows Violet to further develop as a character who isn’t solely defined by her relationship with Tate.

“Birth” is yet another example of why “American Horror Story” seems destined (like offbeat shows before it such as “The Prisoner” and “Twin Peaks”) to become a classic of the genre. Despite being heavily derivative of earlier works, at least as far as general concepts, “American Horror Story” has developed its own highly unusual and distinctive take on the genre and its tropes. This is a rare show that I find hard to analyze, and simply want to enjoy for the ride. The passion for the material and artistic direction of the show seems evident in every aspect of the production. I await the finale with high expectations.

Rating: 9/10

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