American Horror Story’s Tate Langdon: everything Robert Browning dreamed of
Whether you’ve been an avid watcher of American Horror Story from the beginning or just caught the last season, you know of the series’ (alleged) psychopath Tate Langdon. His shaggy blonde hair, his dark eyes, and constant crimes against humanity captivated an audience who loved and pitied him.
For those of you unaware of the beloved troubled teen, here’s a quick summary: a boy, who grew up in a haunted house with an self-loving and neglectful mother, reaches his breaking point at the age of 17 and commits a mass shooting, killing 15 students in the process. Following this, he is killed by a SWAT team in his bedroom, dooming him to reside as a ghost in the house that made him the way his is. The years pass and he meets a girl he quickly falls in love with, only to “ruin” the relationship by raping her mother (yes, a ghost can do that somehow) and bringing on the Antichrist
Did you get all that? It’s a lot. Do his actions remind you of anyone?
At first it may seem like a stretch to say everything we see in Tate is exactly the type character of Robert Browning adored creating and writing about, but hang tight. Tate’s actions and personality of committing — and denying — any wrong-doings parallel the speakers in both Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover.
Before we get too deep, we need to take a look at England during the Victorian era. These people had an obsession with crime — specifically murder. Through that grew a fascination on “extreme states of mind,” and what drove a person to commit acts of evils. Browning was no different. His most famous works, the dramatic monologues, were “an attempt to combine the psychological portraiture necessary for the exploration of soul with a dramatic perspective.”
Throughout the entire first season of American Horror Story, there really is no rhyme or reason as to why Tate commits the evils he does — with even himself being at a loss for any explanation. At times he seems like any other 17-year-old: apathetic, horny, and misunderstood. As the season moves forward and his love interest Violet discovers the truth, confronting him about the school shooting that lead to his death, he breaks down. Not only does he not remember, but he also can’t believe it was him who committed such an evil action. Violet, and the audience, can easily assume that he’s some type of a narcissistic psychopath who just refuses to accept his actions, but actually, we really don’t know.
All we can do is make assumptions. Was it his mental instability, some type of undiagnosed disorder, like we may argue drove Porphyria’s lover to kill her? Who claims he has done nothing wrong, just making sure he will always have the one his loves by his side. Or was it something sinister like the Duke in My Last Duchess who so proudly boasts of his evil-doings with the knowledge that he will never face any consequences?
It becomes murky after he accepts that he did kill his classmates, but it becomes apparent that he is more along the lines of Porphyria’s lover, thinking to himself that he did something good for the world.
“I kill people I like. Some of them beg for their life. I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel anything. It’s a filthy world we live in. It’s a filthy goddamn helpless world, and honestly, I feel like I’m helping them away from the shit and the piss and the vomit that run in the streets. I’m helping to take them somewhere clean and kind.”
(Quote courtesy of IMDb)
“And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain…
… And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word! “
Porphyria’s lover — and now murderer — is mentally unwell, but he did not strangle her out of an evil or vicious agenda. He just wants to hold onto what he sees as a perfect moment, and make sure that she will always love him. And he gets away with it, further perceiving the notion that all he did was right, because God has yet to punish him.
There’s always an excuse, never a truly evil real. Same for Tate, who even has an excuse for raping Violet’s mother.
Remember when I said he was a neglected boy growing up in a house filled with ghosts? From a young age his mother left him alone, and he found a motherly-figure with a ghost who lost her baby, which was all she wanted. Tate grew to love her more than his mother, and when Violet’s family moved into the house he was trapped in, he knew how he would give his motherly ghost a baby.
He also did this at the beginning, before he knew Violet, before he had the influence of a soul that knew right and wrong. He grew ashamed of the act he preformed, especially once it lost him the love of Violet.
So is Tate evil? Or just a victim of chemical imbalances and childhood neglect? Do good deeds make up for wrong doings?
For seven long years the audience pondered this, much like the readers of Browning’s dramatic monologues. Should these characters be forgiven for their crimes because they lacked the sense of knowing what is wrong?
Browning constructed his contradiction to show more than just the apparent actions of the killer, just as Ryan Murphy, the writer of American Horror Story, does for Tate.
Browning’s work was part of the beginning of tales of crime, and his characters in My Last Duchess and Porphyria’s Lover create the answer to the mystery of why someone would commit such horrible acts. Sometimes the case is as it is with our Duke, a self-serving person with no regard — or care — for the world around it. Other times, as is the case with Tate in American Horror Story and Porphyria’s murderer, it is simply an illness of not realizing the true right and wrong with the world.
But unlike Browning’s work, the American Horror Story audience is given a chance to see redemption in eighth season. Tate was in fact not evil. Not in the “he couldn’t help it he really thought this was the best course of action,” sense, but he actually could not. The devil possessed him and made Tate the monster he was. After his work — raping Violet’s mother so the Antichrist could come onto Earth’s plain — and after his work is done. The sweet-natured man we saw every so often is now his full self, the person he was never allowed to fully be.
Roberts, Adam. “The Dramatic Monologue.” Robert Browning Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1996, pp. 31-44. Twayne’s English Authors Series 530. Twayne’s Authors Series, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX1710700012/G-Twayne?u=faye28748&sid=G-Twayne&xid=99f1dee5. Accessed 6 Dec. 2018.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch & Kevin J.H. Dettmar. 5th Ed. Vol. 2A. New York: Longman, 2012. 1325-6. Print.
Browning, Robert. “My Last Duchess.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch & Kevin J.H. Dettmar. 5th Ed. Vol. 2A. New York: Longman, 2012. 1328-9. Print.
“American Horror Story: Home Invasion Quotes.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 2011, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2065065/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu
Murphy, Ryan and Falchuk, Brad, creators. American Horror Story, season one. 20th Century Fox Television, Ryan Murphy Productions
Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 2011. FX
Leavitt, Kristin. Porphyria’s Lover. 2006, Leavitt’s deviantART gallery, deviantART., deviantart.com. 6 Dec. 2018
Fig. 1. American Horror Story. Taissa Farmiga & Evan Peters, scene still. Dir. David Semel.
FX, 2011, https://www.fxnetworks.com/news/uploads/filer_public_thumbnails/filer_public/64/1d/641d633b-e6fb. Accessed 6 December 2018.