Tonight’s episode of American Horror Story: Asylum wrapped up the two-parter with character developments across the board, fun cameos and a satisfying reveal at the conclusion. I prefer it when the showrunners get to slow things down a bit rather than cramming all the crazy into an hour. Somehow, they managed to share the wealth and screen time in this round to produce the best episode so far this season.
American Horror Story: Asylum stars Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe, along with 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, “I Am Anne Frank: Part 2.”
In the first half of this two-parter, we were introduced to a woman claiming to be Anne Frank (Franka Potente) who promptly accused Dr. Arden of being a Nazi scientist and shot him in the leg before discovering the legless Shelley in the doc’s antechamber. We more or less pick up where we left off, after a brief interlude of Sister Jude tracking down the Nazi hunter, Mr. Goodman (Mark Margolis). What follows is a whirlwind of events, including Anne Frank revealed as the Auschwitz-obsessed housewife, Charlotte, who is eventually lobotomized; Dr. Arden and Sister Mary Eunice’s collusion to oust Sister Jude; Shelley’s disappearance and reappearance in the strangest of places; Grace’s alien abduction and visit from Alma (Britne Oldford); Dr. Thredson’s ill-intentioned assistance of both Kit and Lana; and the reveal of the man behind the Bloody Face mask! Lots to go over, so let’s get to it.
Before we get into character discussions, I’d just like to point out that this episode in particular struck me on both visual and aural levels (in addition to the storyline, that is). At first I thought they’d swapped out the cinematographer, but Michael Goi has been with the show for quite a while and that’s all for the better. It turns out that Alfonso Gomez-Rajon directed this episode and directed two of my favorites (Home Invasion, Birth) from the first season. There was something about the shot selection (the close-ups, the contrasts, the odd angles, the unconventional use of space within a frame, the tracking shots that wound throughout the asylum, etc) that stood out to me in “Part 2.” The musical cues were also in the forefront this time around, for better (the timing of the musical beats during the lobotomy) or worse (the “spooky” music and that damnable “Dominique” song). I hope to see more of Gomez-Rajon’s work in the future because it captured the insanity on a whole new level.
Now, let’s talk characters. Nearly everyone had a progressive storyline this time around, even the recently introduced Anne Frank. While her accusation of Arden being a Nazi sympathizer was all but confirmed by the Monsignor’s warning over the phone in a previous episode, it did serve to set off a continuing plot line that will conceivably stretch throughout the season. Amidst Anne Frank/Charlotte’s collage of Auschwitz photos was a young Dr. Arden standing behind Adolf Hitler in full Nazi regalia, just in case we needed further proof. Two bits about this storyline impressed me: the use of “vintage” home video to establish the couple’s history which was later used to show the disconnect between Anne Frank/Charlotte’s competing psychoses, and the post-lobotomy Charlotte who was every inch the model of a 1950s housewife (though we’re in the 1960s). I’m not sure if we’ll see these characters again but it was a nice little side-plot for Potente.
Directly related to that plot are the fates of Sister Jude and Dr. Arden. Sister Jude’s visit to Mr. Goodman served to do little other than remind us that she mistrusts the good doctor (for good reason) and wants him gone. I was happy to see Margolis however, as any Breaking Bad fan should be (Ding, ding!). This was not a great episode for Sister Jude plot-wise, as Sister Mary Eunice hides evidence (Oh, hi Shelley!) that Jude could have used against Arden and Arden plans on pressing charges against Jude for the “gross incompetence” that allowed an inmate to shoot him. Jude’s one thread of hope, the accusation by “Anne Frank” goes up in smoke. (Pardon that horrendous pun, but there was an interesting sequence of increasingly zoomed in shots on a fireplace during the exchange between Arden and Jude that must have buried itself in my subconscious.) Lange is great in a scene in which she talks about a baby squirrel she had as a child, which died and was unceremoniously thrown away by her mother. Dejected by her mother’s cruelty and her unanswered prayers, Jude learns the harsh lesson that “God answers your prayers, but it’s rarely the answer you want.” Sadly, she turns back to booze and the color red, sleeping with a random bar patron and seemingly giving up any hope of returning to Briarcliff. Is this the last we’ve seen of her?
Since we mentioned Shelley, we should at least remark on what’s happened to her thus far. Labeled a nymphomaniac, Shelley has received, arguably, the worst treatment at the hands of Dr. Arden. Covered in what appear to be boils or lesions and having had her legs amputated below the knees, Shelley is a…shell…of her former self. Being unceremoniously dumped down the steps outside of an elementary school was rather unexpected (or perhaps she managed to crawl there from somewhere else? That wasn’t exactly clear…) Sure scared the hell out of those kids though! Props to Sevigny for going through all of this.
Let’s talk about Grace, Kit and Lana together because they’ve been tied together in varying degrees over the season so far, either by plotting escape together or through a romantic relationship…or by Dr. Thredson. Not a one of them has a pleasant experience in this episode and that makes it all the more interesting going forward. There’s an excellent sequence between Grace and Kit, who are each holed up in adjoining solitary cells. They’re separated, but the camerawork makes it seem as if they’re together and it’s a beautiful little sequence. Sadly, their unity is severed when Kit is taken away to Dr. Thredson’s office to record his confession and thereby save his life (nope!), while Grace is left behind to await her surgical sterilization in the morning. Except that she gets abducted in the meantime!
The events that happen to Grace here are interesting because we’re left to wonder if her alien abduction and visions of Alma are purely hallucinatory, defense mechanisms used to cope with her involuntary surgery, or if they actually happened. Alma, who appears pregnant in the abduction sequence, seems relatively safe, though we don’t know exactly where she is. Grace, on the other hand, is found bleeding in her chair; whether it’s from the alien surgery or the human surgery, we don’t know. What we do know is that she believes she saw Alma and the aliens and thus believes Kit’s story. Not that it matters. Kit is unceremoniously hauled away by the cops who arrest him for the women’s murders thanks to his own confession recorded by Dr. Thredson.
Oh, Dr. Thredson, you scoundrel you! Turns out the well-meaning doc was not so altruistic after all. While he pretended to help Kit stay out of the electric chair and in the asylum, he also pretended to be helping lost little lamb Lana. You had to know the guy wasn’t all good, but Quinto played the part well. With echoes of his portrayal of Sylar from Heroes, it turns out that Thredson was actually the Bloody Face killer all along (at least in 1964). It remains to be seen whether he’ll turn Lana into a lampshade or a candy dish or just keep her around long enough for her to pen his story. It’s also unclear whether or not Thredson is the same Bloody Face in 1964 that exists in the present day, or perhaps someone else has taken his place. This was a nice reveal that was clearly set up from the beginning, with Thredson “visiting” Lana’s house to check on Wendy only to conveniently find her missing and with the good doctor helping Kit, only to set him up as the fall guy which allows Thredson to continue his bloody work.
All in all, I think this was the best episode of the season and I’m curious to see where they’ll be taking the story next. How long will Lana survive and what the heck is Thredson going to make her do? Will Sister Jude derail completely or attempt to stay the course? Will Arden’s past come back to bite him or will he and Sister Mary Eunice rule the asylum (a Nazi scientist and a possessed nun…what could possibly go wrong)? What happened to Grace during the abduction and why the discrepancies between her experience and what happened to Alma? And where the hell is Frances Conroy?! So many questions!
Rating: 9 out of 10 lampshades.
- “If he is who you think he is, the last thing you want to do is corner him.” Mr. Goodman
- “How long have you been standing there, Dr. Buttinski?” Sister Jude
- “Don’t fight it, it’ll only make it worse.” Alma
- “Not protecting you, protecting us.” Sister Mary Eunice
- “My goose is cooked.” Sister Jude
- “Let’s continue your therapy. I want you to kiss her cold lips. She won’t bite…I took her teeth.” Dr. Thredson