”Twelve pills a day keep the doctor away.”
It’s almost time to stick a fork in American Horror Story: Asylum, and too bad it isn’t a pitchfork from Sister Mary Eunice. Her devilish discipline feels worlds away from the mental anguish now personified by Sister Jude Judy Martin, now called Betty Drake. Coincidentally, the real Betty Drake is a former actress-turned-psychotherapist. Maybe it’s intentional irony, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is I’m beating around the bush because I’d rather not think about how utterly depressed and alone I felt every time Jessica Lange was on screen. I like to think nothing scares me, but I am afraid of the vast nothingness of death, and the splintered living of dementia. And Jude’s relatively sudden plunge in “Continuum” showed me that those two are not always mutually exclusive. Thanks, Ryan Murphy, for actually fingering a hole into the core of my psyche. Sexual imagery intended.
I’ll try to ward off the dark thoughts long enough to get this recap out of the way. Since the episode individualized the stories by leading character, I’ll do the same here. But I won’t like it very much. I don’t like anything anymore. I think my tail fell off again, Pooh.
As in almost every episode, Jessica Lange immediately cuts through the boring fat of Kit’s show-opening story. There’s a card game in the living room, and everyone is having fun. Everything is normal and groovy at Briarcliff, by Briarcliff’s standards. Howard comes in to talk to Jude, and she even makes a witty quip: “Childish? Hell, I’m the queen of Candyland.” Good one, Jude. Howard tells her he’s off to become the Cardinal of New York, and that he’s arranging for her release as a sign of mental penance, because the Church is turning the asylum over to the state and taking in the overflow of their crazy people.
And before you can definitively finish saying, “Bullshit, anyone let that dude be a cardinal,” in walks Frances Conroy, directly removed from an S.E. Hinton novel. Cigarette in hand, she’s letting everybody know she’s the new king of the castle, see? And no one’s messing with her, see? Or they’ll get a one way ticket to Knucklesville, see? Anyway, Jude is almost as flummoxed by the human presence of the Angel of Death, who’s also her new bunkmate, as I was by Conroy’s tough mutt accent. She harasses Jude, but straight shanks a young scruff for showing lip. (“Everyone can see you challenging me, rummy.”) When Jude finally snaps and assaults her, there’s a misplaced and overly processed sense of justice in it, but then it’s revealed that it was just some generic bitch all along, not the Angel of Death at all. It’s so confusing, it’s as if there were subliminal messages right before it that implanted the idea in my brain that “no twists were going to be revealed” just then.
The episode then took me straight into Hell, as jude sits in the very non-religious office of Dr. Miranda Crump, in a constant war between delusional outbursts and controlled posturing. She can’t very well say she was trying to kill an angel, so she just said she didn’t like her roommate. But it’s all no matter, since the great Timothy Howard is going to get her released. But it turns out Howard has been a Cardinal of New York for over two and a half years now. There was never a card game interrupted by news of freedom, for Pepper has been dead for quite a while, which Jude had initially reacted badly to. Was that the beginning of this self-deluded fantasy that Jude created for herself? What else has she been thinking about all this time? I’d probably be best not knowing.
Lange made me feel as if I was sentencing my own grandmother to death in this scene. If I thought watching her slowly go crazy in solitary was harrowing, watching the final results turned me into a pulpy mass of repulsed distress. The last couple of episodes have had problematic time management, offering no real timeline to the constant flow of events, but that actually set this section of the story up quite well. Between the main plotline in the past and Jude’s present, enough time has passed to view things objectively, and though Lana is correct in pointing out Jude made every bed in Briarcliff before being wrongly admitted, there is something so dreadfully sad about someone not realizing that time has passed. It’s like finding out someone you went to high school with died a young death. We all think there will be time at the back end of our lives for our stories to be told, instead of always making our own story happen on a daily basis. Sigh.
From fugue states to alien babies. These first fifteen minutes of the show were by far the worst stretch of the season, telling the soap opera of a man shared by two women, only without any fun soap opera drama. A cool but useless cold open shot of a bloody Kit gives way to your everyday domestic problems, Alma is fine with Grace and Kit having sex on the other side of the wall, but she will have no more of Grace’s incessant alien talk, nor her disturbing drawings of what she remembers to be the impregnators. After the marital fiasco that was the Harmons of Season 1, I found this take on marital life interesting enough, but Lizzie Brocheré’s drugged-out performance was awful, and Britne Oldford’s abrupt descent into psychosis wasn’t much better, though it ended with an axe in the back of Grace’s skull. So there’s that heroic moment.
Alma enters the state-run Briarcliff, which is shades worse than it was even while the Devil was running things. He visits her, witnessing the awfulness first hand. He also sees Jude, who he’d believed to have been dead all this time. He doesn’t break through to her memory, but she does manage to shatter what was left of my heart by completely getting her old life mixed up with Sister Bertrille from The Flying Nun. “She stole my hat…I don’t need the hat. I can fly without it…One of these days, I’m gonna fly my ass right out of here.” If only that were so, Jude.