American Horror Story Season 1-01 ‘Pilot’ Recap

It’s finally here! The premiere that has been teasing me all summer has finally arrived, and I’ve gotta say it’s a very impressive effort. American Horror Story is an interesting show, because it’s one of the rare shows that tries to instill terror every week on TV instead of through a film. Interested to see exactly how it turned out? Read on to get a summary of the series premiere, and my thoughts at the end!

The series begins just as the peek at the first five minutes promised us it would: in 1978, where two young boys enter an abandoned house after being warned by a creepy little girl that they will die in there. While running through the interior and destroying most of the house, they make their way to the basement where they find a curious assortment of objects in jars, including a child’s head. Before they can leave, though, they are attacked and supposedly killed by a briefly seen attacker.

A quick transition is made to the present day, where Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) is at a doctor’s office to receive hormones. Once she returns home, however, she finds that there is an intruder in her home, who actually turns out to be her husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott), who runs out of the room naked and apologizing. Vivien quickly proceeds to cut his arm with a knife, and the line that the girl from 1978 said is repeated in the background: “You’re gonna regret it.” Cue the title sequence, which is exceedingly creepy and very reminiscent of the opening from the film Seven (which is the highest compliment I can give to anything ever).

After, the Harmon family, including daughter Violet (Taisa Farmiga), is seen looking through the house from 1978, apparently looking to move in. As they let loose their dog, it quickly runs to the basement door and begins yapping furiously, leading Violet to take a look in the basement, but nothing pops out at her. The realtor then explains that the previous owners were involved with a murder-suicide that took place in the basement, but the family still moves in because of the low price. As the happy couple gets ready for bed, Ben brings up the still undisclosed thing that he did, which leads Vivien to leave the room.

Violet, at her first day in school, has a run in with an unusually aggressive girl who forces her to put out her cigarette and then either eat it or get beat. Back at home, Vivien is surprised when the girl from 1978, who is now older and named Addy (Jamie Brewer), tells her “you’re going to die here.” Her mother, Constance (Jessica Lange), is also the Harmon’s neighbor. She reveals to Vivien that she moved out to L.A. to try and become an actress, but had to give up on her dream because of her “mongoloid” daughter (Addy appears to be autistic).

Constance gives Vivien sage to cleanse the house of “spirits,” which she does, including a trip to the attic. Once there, she’s freaked out by a kinky black latex suit, which Ben throws out. The next day, Ben is seen giving therapy to a young man (Evan Peters) who retells his creepy dream before seeing an apparition of himself standing behind Ben. He continues to say that “the world is a filthy place,” before he finds Violet in the bathroom cutting her wrists. Instead of helping, he tells her to cut vertically so she can do it right. That night, Ben is awakened from his sleep and wanders downstairs naked, clearly dazed, where he starts a fire in the fireplace.

As Vivien comes down the stairs, he asks “am I in a dream?” Cut to the next day! As Vivien is outside doing laundry, a woman named Moira (Frances Conroy) reveals that she is the housekeeper that worked for the previous owners. She sheds more light on what happened to the couple who died there previously, revealing that she’s the one who found the bodies and cleaned the mess. Once Ben arrives, however, Moira changes from the appearance of an old lady to a young, sexy maid (Alex Breckenridge).

However, when Vivien looks at her, she remains old. This effect is trippy, but it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how it affects the series. Once Moira leaves, Ben and Vivien begin heavily making out, before she stops him and he reminds her that she’ll have to forgive him sometime. Ben is then shown again with his patient, the young man from before. He reveals that if the young man’s dreams are really about killing his classmates, he would have to call the police.

Once the boy (whose name is Tate) reveals that he quit taking his pills because he met someone, he is shown comparing his wrist scars with Violet’s. She reveals to him that they moved because Vivien caught Ben having an affair and that Vivien also had a miscarriage. While Violet is reciting all of this, Tate gets up and writes the word “taint” on a chalkboard. Ben walks in and catches him with Violet and kicks him out, where he storms out in a very aggressive manner. The show cuts away again to Ben walking out of the shower and finding the maid (young version) pleasuring herself in one of their rooms, which then leads him to pleasure himself (sorry for the euphemisms) before he begins crying. He quickly stops after seeing a mysterious man with a disfigured face staring at him through their window.

Once Vivien comes home, however, she finds the doors in the house all thrown up, and Addy standing on their porch laughing at her. As Addy stands there, she sees the two boys who died at the very beginning covered in blood behind Vivien. Constance comes over, and Vivien tells Addy that she doesn’t want her to come into their house without permission anymore. As they’re leaving, Constance threatens Vivien against touching Addy anymore. Ben is shown in his study calling the police about his patient when Moira enters the room, dressed in her provocative maid attire. She begins to unbutton her shirt for Ben and get on his lap, when Violet walks in on them.

Oddly, Violet also sees Moira as her old version. Back at school, Violet is again fighting with the girls, but that cuts quickly back to the house, where Vivien has ripped down a part of the wallpaper that reveals a creepy mural. As they work around the house, Ben flirts with Vivien and tries to rekindle their flame, but is again turned down. This makes him to freak out at her, causing Vivien to reveal to us that he had sex with one of his students. The argument that ensues reveals a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the relationship. Ben feels scorned for taking care of Vivien after the miscarriage, but Vivien also feels angry that he cheated (obviously).

He also reveals that they haven’t had sex in almost a year, which could be what causes a lot of the sexual things around the house to happen. As he tries to make up for it, she pushes him away, but they quickly begin making out and then proceed to have sex (yay for their relationship?). Once Violet gets home from school, Vivien notices that she got into a fight. While they talk, Vivien reveals that she still loves Ben and that they won’t get divorced. As Violet paces her room, Tate is oddly there and tells her that instead of killing the girl that’s bothering her, she offers her drugs and gets her alone at their house. Some kind of  violent plan is forming, and it looks awesome.

As Vivien is getting ready for bed, a man in the latex suit from earlier comes into her room and doesn’t speak. She assumes it’s Ben, who is then shown downstairs…not in a leather suit. The man in the suit has sex with Vivien, who keeps having weird flashes of Ben and other odd images, while Ben stands downstairs with his hand over a stove flame, obviously in a stupor similar to his incident from earlier in the episode. Constance walks in behind him and says “it’s not time” before sending him to bed. It’s strange, but she seems to know something he doesn’t. As he returns back upstairs, Vivien lays in bed with a blank look before saying “I love you.” With an equally empty stare, Ben replies “I love you too.”

The next day, Violet brings the girl from school to her basement to “sell her drugs.” Once in the basement, Tate reveals himself and proceeds to freak out the girl by throwing her to the ground and scratching at her. As the lights flicker like a strobe light, Violet sees two monsters (one of which looks like the one from the very beginning) attacking the girl. She kicks Tate out afterwards.

Next, as Ben is jogging through the countryside, he sees the man with the disfigured face following him. Once he catches up, he reveals that the Harmons are in danger. He introduces himself as Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) and tells Ben that he lived in the house for 6 months before he started hearing voices. Larry tells Ben the story of his family living in the house, where he killed them by setting everyone on fire, which is how he got all of the burn marks on his body.

Before leaving, Larry tells Ben to look up his police case and tells him that the house itself is evil. Back at the house, Moira (old version) finds Constance stealing some of Vivien’s jewelry. She tells him “don’t make me kill you again.” Finally, later that day, Vivien reveals to Ben that she is pregnant and then the episode abruptly ends!

Well folks, that’s the first episode of American Horror Story. To say it was strange would be a complete understatement, but I mean this in the best way possible. The pilot episode alone is not something that I will forget soon, as I’m already trying to figure out many of the mysteries that were teased in this episode. The show itself is also an astounding example of how effectively horrifying TV can be.

Filled with quick camera cuts, creepy music and sound effects, an ambient setting and intriguing characters, American Horror Story succeeds at transitioning horror to the small screen. The mixture of violence, sex and psychological terror combine perfectly to create a disturbingly terrific program. What did you think? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check back for next week’s recap!

About the author


Christian Law

An avid gamer, moviegoer and music lover, he can be found giving his opinion on entertainment to anybody who will listen, and especially to those who won't. Otherwise, he's busy writing film and music reviews over at the Speakeasy Online Magazine.