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'American Horror Story' finale: Proceed with caution

Connie Britton as Vivien Harmon, Dylan McDermott as

Connie Britton as Vivien Harmon, Dylan McDermott as Ben Harmon, Taissa Farmiga as Violet Harmon in " American Horror Story" airing on FX. Credit: FX

We come now friends to the finale Wednesday (FX at 10 p.m.) of "American Horror Story."  I'd like to say, "Sit back! Relax! Enjoy the show!" but I'm reasonably certain that would be poor advice. Proceed with caution. Don't say you weren't warned. Consider this a warning.

"American Horror Story" is like a long Todd Solondz movie, with blood. There can of course be no "happy ending," in a conventional or unconventional way, not that there was supposed to be. But sometimes this series does almost feel like some sort of deeply twisted Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk testament of artistic faith -- that the universe is neither indifferent or benign, but ruled by a malignant force that does bad things to good people and worse things to bad.

"American Horror Story" isn't really about ghosts but about hell, which doesn't seem quite as much fun, does it? ("American Horror Story" -- suddenly "respectable" after that bizarre and unexpected Golden Globes nod -- has much in common with "Nip/Tuck," in fact.)

I actually like "American Horror Story." There really was much to admire here, the acting in particular. Taissa Farmiga had, I thought, a breakout performance, as did Evan Peters. Connie Britton was excellent -- always is -- and Dylan McDermott, even struggling to say "I'm sorry" in a hundred different ways, did his best work since "The Practice." Denis O'Hare, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy -- what a cast!

But that cast and pretty solid production values aside, the key problem with this series all along, and most notably the finale, "Afterbirth," has been overkill. It slams you over the head with a two-by-four, then -- for good measure -- takes another whack and another.

It tortures its characters, brutalizes them even, without remorse. It's sadistic and cruel. That goes without saying but it's all unleavened by even the slightest instinct that maybe, just maybe, there are more subtle measures to achieve its ends, obscure though those ends may be.

By the way, overkill is not always necessarily a bad thing -- Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven are even more remorseless -- but they're wise enough to know that at a certain point the audience has to exhale. Falchuk and Ryan would rather just have you all turn blue.

Yes, tonight completes the story of Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), and next season will be something entirely different. Good. Ben, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), and Vivien (Connie Britton) have suffered more than enough, wouldn't you agree?

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