Tuesday, November 29, 2011

TV Recap: American Horror Story, S108 "Rubberman"

Once again, an aptly named episode rolls around as "American Horror Story" begins its eighth episode, promising "Rubberman" for all. The opening shot is no less than the titular character, stalking the hallways as he's been apt to doing lately in small glimpses. The fear of the Rubberman so far has been in his few, subtle -- and a not-so-subtle encounter with Vivien -- appearances, lending a brooding quality to his appeal so that the shit's proximity to the fan can be measured by if that shiny bit of latex has appeared down the hall. Like when you can tell a boss battle is about to start in your video-game because suddenly everybody's dropping health items. So, when the identity is revealed...

But first, we see the real estate woman looking inappropriately unhappy about the fact that she's sliding that 'Sold' sign up above the For Sale post she probably keeps in her trunk for this house. Inside, there's somewhat less than the owners stalking about. Unless you count being irrepressibly possessive after death as proof of ownership. In what is likely a christening for new owners, the doctor's wife -- this episode was riddled with me forgetting everyone's name -- wanders around insulting the gross decoration choices that have taken over her house. We can't see who she's talking to but he lays on her a sympathetic hand, acknowledging her lonesome wail: "Where's my baby?"

A timely flashback to the Rubberman introducing himself to Vivien seems to point a big shiny arrow: here. Here is your baby. We even doubled your order for you. After the reminiscing on baby-making, we get to follow the rubber-clad baby-daddy to the bathroom where he disrobes at the face, revealing that of Tate. And all before the credits that I consistently skip through.

While the audience has had time during commercials to drive over to Twitter and express their shock/awe/disappointment/general feeling of let-down at seeing the previously enigmatic and frighteningly inhuman representation of our inner sado-masochism given a human face, Vivien is still pretty riled up about everything that's been going on with her. Marcy (that's her name!) feels free to blame it on hormones, since mockery is always a good way to approach a pregnant lady, but Moira gets a bit snippy over the real estate agent's close-mindedness.

In the next of what will be a series of smooth transitions, we're shown the one who has Zachary Quinto's face lamenting that he also feels crazy -- and cheated on, and unloved, and generally paranoid -- proving that the house has decided that he's the woman in the relationship. And no one's surprised. His best girlie friend lays on him the truth that relationships have to be fought for, especially ones with hunky guys from old lawyer shows, but her advice seemed slightly off: hey, you're uncomfortable with kinky behavior? Well, better get over it if you want to kowtow to your cheating boyfriend's needs. That's a way to to a healthy relationship right there.

But Zachary Quinto -- oh, Chad, thank you, dialogue -- is a gamely fellow, so he does the open-minded boyfriend thing and visits a fetish shop. When he says he's not into pain, the rather casual and intuitive shop-keep suggests that maybe Patrick wants to top for once, oh, and here's a full-body latex suit that you may never be able to get out of once you're in. Because, really, can you imagine sweating in that thing? Anyway, ZQ-Chad buys the suit. Obviously.

Back in Avenue Q, the dead mistress of the cheating dad (naaaames) decides it's time to lay the truth on the original lady ghost because it's incredibly tiring listening to her cry all the time. Gotta say, the girlfriend has come to terms with this all fairly quickly. Her tale of here's-the-facts reveals how some of the ghosts spend their time when they're not on-camera, including that Moira and the girlfriend have some issues with each other's lifestyles, and Hayden (oh, hey, girlfriend's name) may have some deep-seated unresolved issues versus cheating husbands that she takes out on Constance's former flame Eric-Close's-face by sexing and then repeatedly stabbing him. It turns out, this gets pretty unsatisfactory pretty fast when she lies down to cuddle with the dead body only to have it wake up and decide he's peckish. Through all this, she convinces the lady ghost that they need to take back what's rightfully theirs: some babies. Her plan? Prove that Vivien's crazy so she's never able to keep them. Hayden should probably use some of her dead down time to come up with a back-up that doesn't involve the baby's mother leaving the house before she ever gives birth. Oh, and, Vivien was totally right earlier about who was trying to steal her life.

Hayden begins enacting her plan just after that with all the regular signs, proving that she's a classic horror fan. Stuff breaks, lights flicker, and laughter echoes down the corridor. As Vivien staggers and gasps and runs about, she makes a loop back to the bathroom and sees the rubber mask lying there in wait. It's appearance cues another smooth transition to Tate sliding the face mask on right before he goes to dispose of Chad in the bobbing for apples bin. Seen that. But this time, we're treated to his slightly longer struggle with Patrick, whose constant days at the gym can't save him from getting his head bashed against the table. We can only hope that's what killed him, and not Tate's instant instinct to roll him over and tug his pants down while holding a fire-place poker...

Jump to Patrick's body dropping down the basement stands into lady ghost's proximity. She decides not to comment on the nice view of blood on Patrick's backside, so neither will we. Instead, she wants to know what's up from Tate, who reveals that he offed the unhappy couple because they were backing out on their plans to have a baby, and he's bound and determined to get her one. Mommy issues, etc, etc. By now, the mood is quite set for his purpose with Vivien later, but we're given an interlude into Violet trying to play fetch with Beau. Ben catches her talking to thin air and summons her upstairs for a 'talk' about how she's been missing school, the naughty girl. As Violet grows defensive, Ben goes into therapy-mode, which is probably the last thing you want to do to your daughter. Violet throws his affair in his face -- at which point she mentions that Moira is an old lady in her eyes, but Ben doesn't have time to pick up on that fact when she storms moodily out.

Speaking of Moira, she's fixing Vivien some of that tea she promised way back in their first scene, listening to Vivien blame the drugs she's been taking. Instead of drugs, Moira has a better answer: men. "Since the beginning of time, men find reasons to lock women away," she laments, recalling the tale of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and some creepy things that happened to creepy people once. After expounding liberally on the faults of men, including the estranged Mister of the house, Moira asks: "May I speak freely, Mrs. Harmon?" As opposed to... what he's been doing this entire time? 'Free speech', as it is, turns into a confession that there's spirits in the house, and if Vivien knows what's good for her and her babies, she'll book it.

In a shockingly un-television-like move, Vivien listens. Immediately. So immediately that she springs upon Violet in her bed and announces that they're up and out of there. They even get so far as the car before Violet notices Tate giving her the sad-face. She gets in the car, but, surprise! There're some dead home intruders in the back-seat. Violet and Vivien bolt back into the house and Hayden's ghost smiles, clearly quite pleased with herself and how well she seems to have tamed the other ghosts into caring about her angry quest.

Ben's first reaction to this is to bitch about how Vivien was trying to separate him from his family, the horrible wench, managing to completely ignore that there were crazy people in the car. It's a good thing Vivien has a track-record for being crazy now or he might look like a terrible person. When Vivien comes to her own defense, Ben begins to therapy her too, because he remembers how well that worked with his daughter. It works really well with Vivien, too, obviously. She suggests he talk to said daughter to prove her point.

So. Apparently, Violet and Tate had some sex while we weren't looking. A rather prudish and cheap out for the typically unabashed show. Speaking on the very nature of his being, Tate reassures her that he'll "always be here", if that's what she wants. I'm willing to venture that this is true even if she didn't want it, as he didn't do a very good job of leaving her alone back when she was less committed about this relationship. Violet has a better concern: "They'll always be here, too, won't they?" But Tate claims that they can't hurt them. He clearly hasn't been kept abreast of Hayden's fun-ventures. In fact, he's pretty adamant that Violet not reveal her crazy belief in ghosts so that she isn't taken away from him to the funny farm.

Just in time for Violet to be called downstairs to be witness to her mother's defense. Fresh off her post-coital sharing time with Tate, Violet lies through her teeth about having seen the dead people. Ben excuses her, and demands to stay the night, following Vivien's insistence that she's seen Hayden around. She accuses Ben of being in cahoots with his former fling and of leaving the rubber mask around. Ben reveals that he's never worn the suit; he threw it out. Dun dun.

Hayden's little game moves onto Tate after all. But he's having none of her climbing into his lap, claiming 'love' as his out. This doesn't rub Hayden too well, probably because she's spiteful towards all relationship things, and men in general. There's gotta be a reason she keeps sex-stabbing Eric Close. Besides the fact that she clearly was kind of unstable to start. But it's probably just the undead baby hormones, right! Actually... there could be a whole situation there relating to those women who steal other people's babies after losing one because of their depression -- and other things that should probably be researched before being referenced...

Vivien decides she's taking things into her own hands when she invites Marcy over to tell her that they're leaving tomorrow, and that's it. Her really rather brutal verbal abuse of Marcy gets called out and they start to fight, but Vivien collapses in the throes of pregnancy illness. Excep-- psych! As Marcy's off to fetch her water, Vivien steals something from the agent's purse and asks that she get some time to lie down. Marcy lets herself out, and we see that Vivien has stolen her gun. Good things are on the horizon, clearly.

In the bedroom, Vivien goes through the checklist of all small children everywhere: she checks under the bed, behind the curtains, and in the closet for monsters. She's barely into the covers -- in fact, she's just perfectly comfortable when it happens; ghosts are bastards -- when there's a noise. Rubberman! Vivien presses the panic button, helping to pay for the security guard's luxurious lifestyle (has that been used in every episode now?), and then proceeds to shoot her husband. See! Good things.

A patched-up Ben seems to be recovering just fine, though, when Luke barges in and gets super on his case. It's fairly obvious where his bias lies, as he spills all of Ben's secrets to the police who start to wonder if they've let this guy drug his wife after all. Ben has a right to be suspicious of the situation, but he's utterly tactless about leaping down Ben's throats, earning him no points for not remaining reasonable for a single second.

Vivien's drugged, so what does she care. Except that Hayden is there to wake her up with a startling yell. Vivien tries to agree with her, but it comes down to what Hayden wants -- "what's in your womb." Vivien's having none of this: "You're sick," she says, but Hayden counters, "No, I'm dead!" and introduces her to the father of her children: Rubberman! Tate wrestles Vivien into the position only for him to suddenly turn into Ben. Oh, and Luke is there, too. Just in time to listen to Vivien freak out about two people being there who aren't there.

The whole room becomes silent like a funeral, as the policemen step pointedly inside. No words, but the cool dawning on Vivien what is occurring. Violet stands in, a wide-eyed witness to her mother's trial -- one that she helped lead her to -- a veritable Judas, staring at what she's done but unable to speak up, even as Vivien is escorted out of the room and down the stairs. Slow-motion lets us watch the wash of relief or acceptance as Vivien descends the stairs, finally taken from a house she could not escape by her own power, until she lost it all, even over her own mind.

Violet watches, and is given the last reassurance every lying teenager wants to hear from a proud father: "You told the truth." Whoops. It'll weigh heavy on her, this betrayal of parent for boyfriend. Speaking of: Tate approaches from behind, fluidly stepping in as Ben steps out -- Violet's one life replaced by the one she's chosen. "It's okay; I'm here," says Tate, and the house's architecture frames the happy couple.

The epilogue is no surprise, but a cool commentary, punctuating a purpose, as Tate hauls Chad into the basement and causes him to stir. He and Moira coldly discuss the purpose of framing the job as a murder/suicide while Chad reaches poignantly out for his dead boyfriend's hand. Murder heals all grievances for a moment. Until Tate brutally sends the bullet through his chest, trapping him forever in a cycle of paranoia and disgust for the boyfriend whose hand he can never grasp.

Can't say that Hayden's plan seems particularly sound... but only more episodes will show for sure -- and, well. The fact that the writers can basically have it work out however they need, despite. All in all, "Rubberman" tells a fluid story, revealing many missing scenes and gaps, but the unmasking of its most iconic and inhuman menace can't help but feel like a slight let-down, as "American Horror Story" begins to unfold more as a story about the craze that descends on people in relationships than strictly supernatural forces.

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