AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM 2.3: “Nor’easter”

One of the clichés that absolutely drives me up the wall (and across the ceiling) is a character saying “There’s a storm coming” as foreshadowing of some big conflict that then occurs when the storm hits. (Yes, I wanted to walk out during The Dark Knight Rises when Selina Kyle/Catwoman whispered that line.) It’s just too on-the-nose for me, and makes me think the character feels smug for using such a brilliant metaphor. Ugh. Don’t characters in movies ever go to the movies, or even watch TV?

However, in this case, as disappointed as I was to hear Sister Mary Eunice utter that line so early in the episode, I could live with it because AHS:A wasted no time distracting me with its trademark weirdness. So, although the storm was constantly harped upon, it didn’t feel like a lame storytelling device. (Maybe the fact that my area had just weathered Superstorm Sandy left me more willing to accept the horrors of nature as a real threat, not just a metaphor.)

2012: After stabbing Leo (Adam Levine) several times, Bloody Face kicks in the cell door and prepares to kill Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) when Leo fights back and Bloody Face drops his weapon. Teresa grabs it and stabs him in the chest repeatedly. They flee and dial 911, only to be confronted by two Bloody Faces. One pulls a gun and shoots them. The twin Bloody Faces remove masks; as the gunman gloats, his partner is upset. Then both men see the real Bloody Face rushing them!

In 1964, Sister Eunice (Lily Rabe) delivers the mail. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) is shocked to see a newspaper from 1949 stating that the little Girl in Blue whom she killed with her car has been missing for days. Plagued by flashbacks, Jude tries to bake bread when Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) enters and picks a fight about exorcism victim Jed. Kit (Evan Peters) and Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) are plotting to escape during Friday’s movie night when he’s summoned by Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), who frightens him by displaying the highly active microchip that came out of his neck. Then Arden cuts into Kit’s neck.

Sister Eunice goes to the day room and warns the inmates about the storm coming, telling them they will watch The Sign of the Cross, a movie about “fire and sex and the death of Christians.” In Sister Jude’s office, Frank (Fredric Lehne) the guard is reporting to her about his spying on Dr. Thredson. Sister Eunice tells Sister Jude that someone is stealing the communion wine. Jude notices Eunice is wearing lipstick. Sister Eunice says Dr. Arden put her up to it. Sister Eunice goes to The Mexican (Gloria Laino) and brutally stabs her to death with scissors. Then she brings the body to the woods to feed to the creatures— which look like men with blistered and boil-covered skin. Sister Eunice visits Arden to tell him the creatures are growing hungrier.  Then she abruptly tries to seduce him, but he slaps her and throws her out. She is seen leaving by Spivey (Mark Conseulos). In the day room, Lana (Sarah Paulson) asks Thredson to get a message to Wendy, and he agrees. Meanwhile, Shelley (Chloë  Sevigny) insists Grace take her along when she escapes.

Sister Jude confronts Dr. Arden about the lipstick, but he says Sister Eunice has been corrupted by Briarcliff. Jude returns to her office and receives a phone call – apparently from the Girl in Blue – saying, “You left me there. You never even bothered to get out of the car.” Sister Jude weeps, “I’m sorry.” The girl’s broken eyeglasses appear on her desk. Distraught, she reaches for the communion wine. Jude polishes off the decanter and drunkenly stumbles into the day room, where she welcomes everyone to movie night. The inmates are afraid of the lightning, and Jude tries to calm them by reciting the words to “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” But then she starts babbling about the Girl in Blue being alone, and then leaves to search for the missing Spivey. As the movie plays, Thredson tells Lana he visited Wendy’s house and found it empty – except for a bloodstain and an open window. He said he fears Wendy might have been another victim of the real killer.

Shelley, Grace and Kit begin their escape. Lana catches up to them, now determined to escape and search for Wendy. Shelley distracts Carl the orderly so the others can get away. Meanwhile, Arden paints a statue of the Madonna with Eunice’s lipstick and calls it a whore before smashing it. Shelley knocks out Carl and tries to catch up to the others, but runs into Arden, who calls her a whore. He brings her back to his office and rapes her. When she laughs at his manhood, so he cracks her skull and knocks her out. Elsewhere in the asylum, Sister Jude runs smack into… an alien, and passes out. Lana, Grace and Kit eventually emerge from the Death Chute into the rain, but then run into Arden’s creatures — who are eating Spivey! The trio flees back into the tunnel and the movie. Sister Eunice awakens a sleeping Jude in her room to tell her there was an escape. Jude ends movie night, thinking that Shelley, the Mexican and Pepper (Naomi Grossman) are the escapees. Shelley awakens in Arden’s lab and discovers that he amputated her legs below the knees!

Overall, this was quite a moody and atmospheric episode. The direction by Mike Uppendahl was outstanding: the photography was especially dark; the only scene that was clearly lighted was Thredson’s visit to Wendy’s. Some of the scenes in Arden’s offices were almost pitch-black, but deep shadows always cloaked everything and everyone everywhere. An exception, the diffuse beam of the film projector cut through the darkness like the beacon of hope that the movie was supposed to be. The starkness of the photography really played up the Spartan accommodations of Briarcliff: the unadorned brick walls, bare floors, and even Sister Jude’s room devoid of even blankets on her mattress.

Cromwell certainly seems to be having fun playing the mercurial Dr. Arden, but he is coming dangerously close to the precipice of caricature. He needs to be careful not to push it any further, especially because the show intends to give him the obvious, clichéd evil origin next week. More immediately, we learn that Arden’s cannibal creatures in the woods look something like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — as if they are wearing human skin as masks. Sort of like… Bloody Face! So, Bloody Face is one of Arden’s experiments that survived!

That reveal was just one example of the ways AHS:A keeps the story moving: reveals come hard and fast, along with more questions to keep us coming back next week. The carefully calibrated acting really sells the plot, even as it gets more outlandish by the week. Does Dr. Arden really have a plan for his experiments, or is he just another nutso Nazi war criminal?

BRIEF OBSERVATIONS:

Bloody Face’s weapon in 2012 appears to be an old-fashioned lobotomy spike, the kind a doctor would stab into a patient’s brain by hitting it with a hammer!

Arden suspects the East German intelligence agency Stasi, or American Jews of employing Kit.

The Sign of the Cross (1932) is a real movie, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Claudette Colbert, Fredric March and Charles Laughton, in which Emperor Nero blames the burning of Rome on Christians, and sends them to their deaths in the arena.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was written by the famous duo Rogers and Hammerstein for the musical Carousel, though it is probably best known today as the song Jerry Lewis always sang at the end of his Labor Day telethons.

Chloë is somewhat infamous for performing real fellatio in the 2003 film The Brown Bunny, in a scene shot very similar to way Shelley…er, attended to Carl.

The trio emerging from the tunnel into the rainstorm and raising their arms closely resembled Tim Robbins‘ Andy Dufresne emerging from the sewer pipe and raising his arms in the rain in The Shawshank Redemption. They were all prisoners emerging into a cleansing shower of freedom. But it was short-lived for Lana, Kit and Grace.

How did Jude get back to her room after passing out? Did the Alien put her there? From Jude’s shocked reaction I assume she did not know that grey aliens have the run of her asylum.

And, lastly, I hold no grudge against the makers of AHS:A for running a storm-related story the week that a storm devastated the American Northeast. They had no way of knowing months in advance that this would happen. The FX network might have considered postponing airing the episode, but in a way I’m glad they ran it because it represented a bit of normalcy in my week. Well, as normal as AMERICAN HORROR STORY can get!

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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