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”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.
Lana never wrote the story that brought Briarcliff down to its knees like she was supposed to, but Lana certainly did get published. Her “biographical” Misery: A Woman’s Tale of Survival is a best-seller and inspiration for women everywhere who fear being raped by serial killers. She gives a reading at a book signing that leaves her drifting off in space, as both Thredson and ex-girlfriend Wendy pop up clumsily to harass her, but more importantly let audiences know, about her twisting the story to her liking. She mentions witnessing Thredson murdering another victim, which never happened, and she also whitewashes her homosexual relationship. Because “I’m a writer. It’s my job to tell the essence of truth.”
Let’s stop for a second and consider not that Lana embellished upon the already heinous scenario that old Bloody Face put her in, but that she embellished something that Ryan Murphy wrote. Given that Murphy got writing credit for this episode, I feel this may have been a meta poke in the ribs.
Lana’s newfound fame has gone directly to her bitch head, though I mean seriously, who brings warm fucking Tab to the table? Warm Tab! Kit, looking like he just left Haugh-Ashbury by way of Liverpool, arrives at the signing, and the two sit down and talk about the current state of Briarcliff, though Lana would much rather discuss writing about Santa Leigh’s murder spree after breaking out of Briarcliff. (Santa and the Seven Nuns, she calls it!) She’s not the reporter she used to be, and she doesn’t want to relive her instituted life.
Then Kit tells her that Alma was in there. Only she’s dead now, too. Her heart stopped, but it looked like it stopped perhaps when she was in the middle of transforming into a lizard. Her skin is yellowed and looking rough. I’d say aliens were involved, but I’m sure they’ve moved onto other fictional beings, like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. (Bring up the Holy Hand Grenade!) Hearing of Alma temporarily baits Lana’s sympathies, but it isn’t enough. So he tells her he saw Jude, and she returns to being indignant. If next week’s previews are anything to go by, it will be many years before Lana finally comes around to taking Briarcliff down. And Lange as a grey-haired lunatic is definitely going to make me miserable. And speaking of misery…
Dylan McDerm…Yaaaawn….ott’s Story
Wearing his “last Sunday at five o’clock shadow,” Dylan McDial-up looked online to find a small bookstore with a first edition copy of Lana’s Maniac. It’s going out of business, but the woman still has the autographed book right on hand, for him to steal, after blabbing on about his entire life’s story. I doubt she believed that he was actually Lana’s son, since “The only baby she had was by rape of Bloody Face, and he died at birth.” Her signature is as close as he’d ever gotten to her, and he’s going to use the book to reveal himself to Lana before shooting her in the face. Dylan McDanger, Will Robinson.
All in all, the end result equaled out to more than the sum of its parts, as I really enjoyed this episode while firmly remembering many moments when I wasn’t enjoying it. There needs to be some kind of mental rehabilitation class to take after watching this show, just to decompress all the arbitrary plotlines that won’t get a full explanation. I mean, I feel emotionally distraught over barely knowing anything about Arden’s intentions and experiments. Whatever happened to the weird black transmitter Arden found in Kit’s body? Do we get a Charlie Rose-style interview with the aliens to see why Kit is so goddamned important to them? So many questions. So little dedication from Murphy/Falchuk to answer them. See you for the finale, guys. Hopefully I don’t turn this in only to have my editor tell me that American Horror Story has been off the air for two-and-a-half years.
The Inane Asylum
I thought “There’s only one way to get out of Briarcliff, and it ain’t through the front door,” or whatever non-paraphrased nonsense is said about this place. Yet…Santa Leigh escaped. Because there’s a big fucking unguarded door that leads directly to the woods. I don’t even know what part of this I’m judging harshly anymore.
Not that I ever understand anything about AHS, but there is a floating ethos to everything that is both confusing, since no one in the show is entirely good or entirely evil, and refreshing, because it more closely resembles real life than a lot of generally one-sided television shows. Briarcliff is a hellhole because wacky Catholic nuns run it. Religion is bad. But wait, when the state takes over, all semblances of a hierarchy breaks down and people are actually FUCKING IN THE COMMON ROOM. Government is bad.
What kind of march was Kit so fucking excited about? I picture something along the lines of a Gay Pride Parade, only the theme is Parents of Alien Babies, and it’s actually only the three of them – five, including the kids – and that he considers everything they do all together is a “march.” Maybe Kit’s time at Briarcliff warped his brain that much. It can’t only be Jude that has lingering effects. But seriously, he says there are thousands of people like them. Is this a race thing or a marriage partner thing? Are they upset about the war?
“You okay, boss? You look a little green around the gills.”
I can’t tell if I’m more amused by the simple innocence of Pepper saying that, or more disturbed that this small bit of Pepper’s kinship was all in Jude’s head.
If the only way I can wipe the image of Jude’s reluctant realization out of my head is to picture Kit’s outer-inner child in his white T-shirt/white underwear combo, then Jude’s shock will be my ambrosia.
Lizzie Brocheré can’t say the word “inconsolable.”
I realize Lana’s book is about a woman’s survival, but it’s still mostly a true-crime book about a serial killer. So why were there only one or two men present for the book signing? She compares herself to Truman Captoe, but I think it’s just a gay thing, and certainly not a talent thing.
Sarah Paulson: Someone whose audiobook recitation I would never murder my ears with.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think a better book title is Maniac: (I Had) The Killer Inside Me.
Having nothing to do with the presence of Frances Conroy, this episode reminded me of the finale for Six Feet Under, in that we’re getting to witness characters beyond the time in which we got to know them, which makes life feel so fleeting.
My Hopes for Season Three:
1. Jessica Lange is a medical assistant to a robot doctor named Dr. Crump who only becomes activated after Lange says his name three times in three different ways.
2. Ian McShane’s murder spree as Santa Leigh crosses paths with Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens character from Justified, and the two have to rescue Elmore Leonard from some cocksucker in the old west. Also, Ricky Jay does card tricks.
3. A COPS-style show following a dedicated team of officers hunting down a group of arson-minded rednecks who try and burn interracial couples’ houses down.
4. A game show where Dylan McDermott tries to out-act a bag full of shit. And then he gets hit in the face with the bag until it bursts and he gets shit all over him. And then there are a bunch of slo-mo replays. And each week, a different colored bag.
5. Dr. Arden’s career testing Tab cola on lab mice. And then cutting their legs off and injecting them with an immortality serum.
6. The dumbest forensic scientist in the world investigates the death of nymphomaniac monster Shelley, and immediately finds rosary bead-sized bruises in her neck and immediately arrests Monsignor Howard, and we find out the part of this season that happened after Shelley's death was all a dream the forensic guy’s dog was having after it finished watching Lost’s sixth season.