Our first episode begins with a flashback of 1978. A young girl (Katelyn Reed) stands outside a dilapidated house, looking at it. Two twin boys (Kai & Bodhi Schulz), who appear up to no good, stroll up the walkway to the house. The young girl warns them that they "are going to die in there!" The boys enter and ransack the house, smashing most everything breakable in sight. They come across a dying animal, but their attention is soon drawn to the opening door leading to the basement. Downstairs, they see shelves filled with different oddities. They soon discover they are not alone in the dark, as both of them are attacked by something in the shadows.
In the present, after recently suffering a miscarriage, a doctor (Andy Umberger) gives Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) a prescription for hormone replacement pills. After filling the prescription, she arrives home to what she presumes is an empty house, yet is startled by a noise. Armed with a knife, she goes upstairs to the door of the room where the noise appears to be from. After finding her husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott), in bed with another woman, she slices his arm when he tries to stop her and explain.
Almost a year later, the Harmons plan to move from Boston to Los Angeles, in hopes of repairing any mental and physical damage to their family. They are greeted by a realtor (Christine Estabrook) at a house with an interior that seems familiar to us. Daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is told check and see what the dog is barking at. She finds him at a basement door. The curious girl checks out what appears to be an empty basement, but the camera angle makes us think differently. Back upstairs, the realtor gives "full disclosure" on the history of the house, telling the family of the murder/suicide that occurred in the basement. Violet, out of morbid curiosity, speaks up that they'll take the house. The old house from 1978 has been renovated and has new owners - the Harmons.
The adult Harmons still have a long road of healing ahead of them, but Ben begins trying to be intimate with Vivien. She's just not ready. On her first day of school, the new girl, Violet, already breaks the rules by smoking on school grounds. She is informed of them, rather rudely, by a clique of girls (Christian Serratos & Bianca Lawson). Their leader, Leah (Shelby Young), tries to force Violet to eat the cigarette. Violet spits in her face and runs off, smiling.
At home, Vivien decides to remove the wallpaper in the house and uncovers the first of many strange murals. Her work is interrupted by the grown-up version of the girl we saw at the start of show - Adelaide (Jamie Brewer) - and her mother, Constance (Jessica Lange). These are the Harmon's neighbors. Constance, we learn, used to be a movie star, balking once when they asked her to do nude scenes. She gave up acting, once she became pregnant with Addy, the "mongoloid" as she describes her daughter. Constance admires Vivien's diamond earrings, after we see her pocket some silverware. She also gives Vivien a housewarming present - a container of sage to burn and get rid of the "bad Juju."
Later, that evening, Vivian does so and hears wind whistling up in the attic. There, she finds out that the house hasn't entirely been cleaned out, coming across a black leather sex suit. She has Ben to throw it in the trash outside, which he complies.
The next day, Ben begins his LA psychiatric work with a young lad named Tate (Evan Peters). Tate tells Ben of his dreams, wherein he paints himself in skull-face and kills people he likes in order to rescue them from the "filthy world." He also speaks to Ben of bloodletting (an Indian ritual of ridding the body of evil spirits) as Violet cuts herself repeatedly in the bathroom. Tate interrupts her, by giving her proper instructions if she was trying to kill herself.
That night, naked and sleepwalking, Ben lights a large fire in the fireplace. The next day while hanging laundry out to dry, Vivien meets a matronly Moira (Frances Conroy) who gives her housekeeping tips. While waiting inside for a cab, Moira tells Vivien of her history with the house. Vivien hires her on the spot to be the current housekeeper. When Ben arrives and is introduced to the new housekeeper, he sees an entirely different Moira (Alexandra Breckinridge). He praises his wife for making the risky move of hiring what he presumes to be a young sultry maid.
Tate speaks to Ben about the meds he's taking, adding that he doesn't really need them because he has a new love, who is listening in - Violet. Together at last, Tate and Violet speak of common interests, while he writes a brief message on her chalkboard. (TAINT) Ben finds them together and tells Tate to leave. The boy knows he's not supposed to be in Violet's room.
After taking a shower and missing his razor blades, Ben finds Moira taking a "break" - pleasuring herself. After a moment of his own self-pleasure, Ben hears someone outside. He looks to find a disfigured man in the airing laundry. Ben runs outside to an empty yard. While putting away groceries, Vivien hears a noise and turns to find all kitchen cabinets and doors open. She hears Adelaide laughing in the doorway and scolds her for being in the house yet again, but Adelaide knows who the culprits are, this time - the ghosts of the twins we saw at top of show.
Even after Constance tells Vivien that Adelaide may have been wrong in whatever was done, Vivien still stresses her point to Addy. She grabs the sides of Addy's face and warns her to stop sneaking into their house. After ensuring Adelaide is out of earshot, Constance threatens bodily harm to Vivien, should she touch her daughter again.
Ben tries to warn the school of Tate's underlying violence and is given the run-around. Moira, still appearing young to Ben, comes in to clean the room and tries to seduce him. He keeps asking her to leave, but she refuses, then they are interrupted. Violet sees Moira as her mother does - the older matronly lady. At school, Violet gets physically attacked by the clique.
Vivien nearly finishes her mural reveal, and Ben helps in the cleanup. He admires her unkempt natural beauty and tries to get frisky again, but she will have none of it. This leads to a heated argument between the two, which, in turn, leads to a passionate makeup session on the couch. Later, Mom nurses her daughter's war wounds while sorta defending Ben to her. Looking for payback for her bully, Violet turns to Tate for help, who suggests bringing the girl to the basement for a fake drug deal and scaring her.
The leather suit, mobile (Riley Schmidt), re-appears and Vivien thinks it's Ben seeking "round two." She complies and has sex with the man in black. Meanwhile, Ben is sleepwalking into the kitchen, turning on all the burners on the gas stove. Constance stops him because "it's not his time." He returns to bed, where a bewildered Vivien and he profess love to another.
With the bait fallen for, Violet leads Leah down to the basement of the house. She tells her the drugs are in the next room, but only Tate is there. Thus begins our first of many creepy show moments, as Tate summons the creature in the basement. The scene is done in a strobe effect, making it hard to decipher without a pause button. What can be seen is a small human-like creature (Ben Woolf) with rows of pointy teeth and clawlike hands. It menaces Violet and holds Leah down on the floor, clawing deeply into her face. She runs off crying. Violet screams at Tate for going too far on the scare tactics. He yells back at her.
The next day, Ben gets followed by the disfigured guy from the yard on his jogging route. He tricks the guy and ends up catching him off guard. Ben demands answers. The scarred man, Larry Harvey (Denis O'Hare), reveals that he was a previous tenant of Ben's new home. He set fire to the house, killing his wife and kids, and burning himself. After creeping Ben out with threats against his family, Ben fires back that he could have the man committed if he continues to harass them. When Ben storms off, the man smiles knowing that the seed of insanity has been planted in Ben's mind.
Moira catches Constance stealing Vivien's diamond earrings. Constance claims they'll think it was the maid and also has her own threat. "Don't make me kill you again!" Downstairs, Vivien asks Ben what he wants for supper. He asks for suggestions and she offers Indian food. He states that she only craves Indian food while she's pregnant. She casts him a knowing smile. Ben hugs her and it's difficult to discern if he's a relieved father or worried one. Meanwhile, the other candidate for paternity - a figure in black - looks on.