Image credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
DOES THIS MEAN YOU WON'T LET ME WIN AT SCRABBLE ANYMORE? Violet (Taissa Farmiga) makes a discovery in the Murder House underworld in "Smoldering Children." Hint: It's not a treasure chest. And it's not a clogged septic tank. But there's a chest. And there is sepsis. There's a sepsis chest! Cool name for a band, don't you think? "The Sepsis Chest." Anyway. Is this space filled out yet? Ah, good enough.
In "Smoldering Children," Violet finds something rotten under the floorboards and kid-killing Larry gets burned anew by the evil queen of Murder House Lane| Published Dec 8, 2011
The year is 1994, and the house is home to an unstable nuclear family trying to live a lie and failing miserably at it. “Ladies and gentlemen, the ham,” announces Constance Langdon with a touch of wry, holding a steamy slab of pork festooned with cherry-nippled pineapple medallions. Her children, Adelaide and Tate, and the whipped widower who murdered a third, Larry Harvey, eyeball the platter and coo. Everyone is smiling, though the one on Constance’s airbrushed face weakens with dread when Tate -- radiating an angelic countenance that she knows in her gut to be utterly fraudulent -- volunteers to say grace. “Of course, son,” says Larry with a loaded choice of words. “I was hoping you would choose to become part of this family.” They clasp hands. They close their eyes. The awful adults at the table hope for the best… then get what their corrupt asses deserve as the blond boy in black spits an irreverent riff worthy of his suicide-dead alt rock hero, Kurt Cobain. The tone is sweet. The content is acidic.
“Dear God. Thank you for this salty pig meat we’re about to eat, along with the rest of the indigestible swill. And thank you for the new charade of a family. My father ran away when I was only six. If I had known any better, I would have joined him --"
Constance -- at the mention of her former husband, Hugo Langdon, the car salesman and adulterous horndog that she shot and killed in 1983 after catching him raping the maid – unclasps and angrily slaps Tate’s hand. But the boy rumbles on, and in the process, reveals that after Hugo went deadbeat MIA, Constance “lost” The Victorian and wanted nothing more than to get back into it. Mission accomplished, thanks to her affair with new owner Larry. Speaking of the devil: “And Lord, a BIG ‘Thank you!’ for blinding the a--hole that’s ‘doing’ my mother, so he can’t see what everybody knows,” Tate says, cranking up the spite before delivering the brutal truth. “She doesn’t really love him.”
“Amen!” says Addy, looking royally entertained.
Larry tries not to be offended or give Tate the satisfaction of appearing affected. He tries to pacify the lad’s suppertime rebellion with condescending shrinkage. He suggests Tate is merely having a hard time re-adjusting back to life inside the house and bunking down in the bedroom where Larry's former family -- Lorraine, his wife; Margaret and Angela, his daughters – died in a fire. Tate listens to Larry’s crap, then strips away the self-serving spin and feeds it back to him: “They burned themselves alive because you were cheating on your wife with Constance, ‘Laurence.’”
Larry doesn’t flinch. He’s learned to live with his sin -- and rationalize away the guilt. “Nobody’s fault,” says Larry. “Passion drove her to it. One day, you’ll understand. There are… sacrifices… you have to make in the name of love.”
One day, Tate will understand. But not tonight.
Wrongly believing he had just survived the worst thing that Tate could ever possibly throw at him, Larry celebrates by passing the rolls and changing the subject. “On a lighter note, I have reserved tickets for everybody for Saturday at our community theater for the opening night of Briga-dooooon,” says the wannabe actor and proto-Gleek. “I am delighted to be debuting in the chorus.” (Brigadoon -- the 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical about an enchanted Scottish village that manifests in reality only once a century, where the citizens are forbidden from leaving lest they break the magic and send everyone into misty oblivion.) Constance half-heartedly raises her glass to Larry. In turn, Larry cheekily toasts the woman for whom he became a murderer, hailing her for being “so supportive and encouraging” and for allowing him “to explore another facet of myself.” Constance suffers his compliment and drinks.
“Yayyy! I love the theater!” raves Addy, the only wholly sincere soul at the table.
“DON’T ADDY!” Tate thunders, thumping the china with a fist. “You’re a SMART girl! You KNOW he KILLED our brother!”
At last, Constance snaps. It’s all she can do to contain the toxic spill of truth threatening to spoil the Good Thing life she has whored herself out to regain. With a snarl and threatening glare, Constance recites the cover story she wishes to God that Tate would just buy into already. “Beau died in his slumber of natural causes,” she says. “Now you know he had a respiratory ailment. Your brother is in a better place! He suffered with every breath he took!” Yet Tate defended the memory of a sibling that suffered from severe Down syndrome and spent his last days -- maybe much of his life? -- hidden away in the attic, chained and howling. “He only suffered because of you!”
“You now, Tate,” Constance seethes, “unlike your siblings, you were graced with so many gifts. How is it you can’t bring yourself to use them?! Just a smile or a kind word could open the gates to heaven!”
Yet the boy who loved Cobain had no intention of giving his mother the Nirvana she wants. “No matter how much you want it,” he says, “I will never be your perfect son.”
Tate stands and leaves. Constance stays and smokes. Larry stays silent and frozen. Addy keeps her head down and tries not to cry. A denial. A denial. A denial…