Last week, we covered the season two premiere of FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum from creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, which featured racism, homophobia and good old-fashioned alien abductions. It seems like some of you were on the fence about the first episode of the new season, which takes place in Briarcliff Asylum both in 1964 and in present day. Let’s see if episode two (and our first look at Zachary Quinto in his new role) brought you around.
American Horror Story: Asylum also stars Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe, along with show newcomers Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes, Chloe Sevigny, Lizzie Brochere and Clea Duvall. Hit the jump for the recap of tonight’s episode, “Tricks and Treats.”
[You have entered spoiler territory. Turn back now or commit yourself to the insanity.]
Let’s do a quick recap, shall we? Last week we left honeymooners Leo (Levine) and Teresa (Dewan-Tatum) at the mercy of Bloody Face and this is exactly where we pick up. After a bit of stock “running away blindly and screaming and falling down,” Teresa locks herself in a room only to watch Bloody Face stab Leo to death. Thankfully, this is the last we see of the present day for this episode.
Cut to 1964 where Wendy (Duvall) is regretting her decision to lock her partner Lana (Paulson) away in Briarcliff to protect their jobs. After a bit of a scare from some early trick-or-treaters, Wendy is, presumably, done in by Bloody Face in a scene that gently nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho. Back at the asylum, the guards hold a surprise room inspection that lands Lana in hot water after they find that she’s been keeping tabs on the cruel treatment that runs rampant at the facility. Sister Jude (Lange) and Dr. Arden (Cromwell) attempt to remedy her behavior with electroshock therapy, a practice that psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Quinto!) finds barbaric. Thredson is at Briarcliffe to certify Kit’s (Peters) insanity, but a new patient soon requires his expertise.
Concerned parents have brought their teenage child, Jed (Devon Graye) in to Briarcliff for psychiatric evaluation, but it quickly becomes clear that Jed needs himself an exorcism. During the ceremony, much is revealed about the nature of Sister Jude’s past as an amorous singer and alcoholic with at least one hit-and-run on her record. The exorcism goes from bad to worse when Jed dies and the demon passes to innocent bystander, Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe). More is revealed about Dr. Arden’s desires when he invites an escort over for dinner (and more). Meanwhile, Lana and Grace (Brochere) hatch a plot to escape the asylum, but Lana wants nothing to do with Kit when he tries to leave with them. Lana alerts the guards and Kit takes the blame for the whole thing.
Crazy amounts of plot points in this episode again. There are things I haven’t touched on in the recap (candy apple, anyone?) but will explore further in a moment. Let’s talk a bit about Dr. Thredson as he’s our new addition this week. Thredson is less fabulous and presumably much more alive than Quinto’s previous character, Chad Warwick, a ghost that merely wanted to start a family in the first season. Thredson seems like a good guy, a psychiatrist who wants to help by using the most contemporary modern practices available to him. He seems less fond of the barbaric practices employed by Dr. Arden, so that’s a plus. Then again, he did posit that Kit killed his wife because of the feelings of guilt at their mixed-race relationship and, oh yeah, the Jed-Demon recognized Thredson and said he shouldn’t have let him go, so that bears keeping an eye on.
Let’s talk about Jed for a minute. The patient was brought to Briarcliff because not only was he a chronic masturbator (what defines “chronic” for a 17 year old?), but because he was speaking in tongues and hearing voices…oh and because he gutted the family’s cow, ate its heart and was wallowing in the blood and offal in the family’s barn. Thredson suggested medication; Sister Jude went straight to exorcism. This sequence was positively dripping with nods to The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and more of that ilk. Jed’s appearance changed before their eyes, he possessed unusual strength and the ability to hurl objects (and wheelchair-bound priests) across the room and had a knack for knowing certain truths. The comment to Thredson was interesting; the conversation with Sister Jude was quite revealing.
It seems our Sister Jude, who daydreamed about unleashing her harbored affections for Monsignor Timothy Howard (Fiennes) on the last episode, was formerly a lounge singer of sorts, attracted to military men in uniform. When one of the men turned down her invitation to bed, citing a child at home, she drank herself silly and ran down a poor little girl in a blue dress on her way home. Colors are beginning to play an interesting role in Asylum, much as they did in the first season of American Horror Story. Sister Jude’s red lingerie and red cocktail dress have been the most powerful images tied to color so far. And the red extended into the next sequence as Jed’s death by exorcism triggered a massive power failure that set the prisoners of the asylum on the loose.
Let’s talk about Lana for a minute. She’s trying to hold it together as a reporter in the hopes that she can write a scathing article that will bring the facility down…assuming she manages to make it out alive and with her wits intact. Lana seeks help in Grace, but Grace refuses to leave without Kit, who is still suspected of being the Bloody Face killer. There’s an odd scene where Lana and Grace are taking baths, but they’re closed in by canvas tied over the lip of the tubs. (Is this a real thing? Did orderlies not give sponge baths back then or was that bypassed simply because it makes for inconvenient storytelling? Or was it just to have a couple of very naked ladies walking around?) Regardless of their prior arrangements, Lana blows the whistle on the attempted escape when Grace and Kit start to run. Kit takes the punishment for Grace; Lana avoids punishment completely but has burned a bridge (and possibly made enemies) of the other inmates.
Now, let’s get to a couple of characters who are about to reach “batshit” on the crazy scale. There was an odd little interaction between Sister Mary Eunice and Dr. Arden early on. As Sister Mary Eunice returns from feeding Arden’s creatures (which we have yet to see), Arden tells her he has a gift for her. That gift turns out to be a candy apple in a quaint little carrier. Sister Mary Eunice, who has apparently never seen Snow White, protests against eating the apple (“Sweets lead to sin.”) but takes a bite at Arden’s insistence. It’s a strange scene that feels out of place since their paths diverge and only come back together much later in the episode.
Watching the pair is the nymphomaniac Shelley (Sevigny) who corners Arden and offers him sexual favors for just a few minutes of sunshine outside. Here, Arden repeatedly turns down her advances in a deliberate fashion and calls her a whore. Shelley, who does not take that term too kindly, tells an odd story about how she began masturbating at the age of five (okay…) and was sent away to the asylum by her cheating husband who found her in bed with two sailors. Another odd little scene, but it served to bring about tonight’s theme of “suppression.” Not just suppression of individual freedoms from outside sources, but individual, self-imposed suppression of our own instincts, urges, thoughts or beliefs. What separates Asylum’s inmates from their supervisors is their inability (or unwillingness) to suppress their natural urges: Shelley’s sexual promiscuity, Spivey’s violence and Pepper’s naivete. Lana, Grace and Kit all yearn for their freedom and have yet to suppress the urge to escape, so they will be met with resistance until either their captors slip up or they give in to their confinement.
One character who certainly embodies this suppression of urges (or rather, inability to suppress one’s nature) is Dr. Arden. Last week I mentioned that he was the character I was most interested in seeing progress; Cromwell and the writers have yet to let me down. Arden’s dinner with the prostitute was both tense and telling, a fantastic sequence of events that painted his character as a man obsessed with control but ultimately at the mercy of his urges. And it looks like he may be forced to turn those urges on Sister Mary Eunice. Unfortunately for the not-so-good doctor, the Sister is no longer what she appears to be.
What did you folks think about the second episode? I’ll be honest, I’m not as entranced as I was with season one. Perhaps that’s because the inaugural run was completely fresh and foreign, with a cast of characters that were the embodiment of your everyday family from the outset. Now, rather than watching a family of normal people thrown into an abnormal situation, we’re watching characters in a dramatic horror series. Some of the mystique is gone now that the veil has been pulled away. However, I still have faith in the creative team in front and behind the camera so we’ll have to see how the rest of this season shakes out.
Rating: 70% of Maximum Voltage, whereas last week was a retroactive 7 out of 10 Valiums
Some of tonight’s best quotes:
- “The job, the kids, Halloween…nothing makes sense without her.” ~Wendy. And nothing makes sense about this line of dialogue.
- “If you’re going to be vulgar, I’d rather you not speak at all.” ~Dr. Arthur Arden
- “Now…slowly…show me your mossy bank. I said slowly!” ~Dr. Arthur Arden. Wtf, Doc…
- Everything the Jed-Demon said.