While I’m still not entirely committed to “American Horror Story,” I have to give the show credit for one absolutely brilliant move: no matter how ridiculous it gets, I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to say it’s really jumped the shark. This show pretty much kicked things off from day one with Fonzie zipping around on the waves, merrily water-skiing right past logic and subtlety, splashing us with copious quantities of homage until our heads hurt. It’s not for everyone, granted, but it’s definitely a wild ride.
After giving us just a nugget of the unpleasant progression of Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa (Jenna Dewan Tatum)’s unhappy present-day visit to the asylum (Bloody Face is in da house, Leo is looking mighty dead, and Teresa is the only hope of keeping this bookend storyline alive), the show heads back to the relative safety of 1964. The story rips a page from “The Exorcist,” and really, with a little CGI magic they could have just taken the finale of that movie, inserted some nun habits and a teenage boy for Linda Blair, and it would have been a perfect swap. But the good news about this plotline is that, in allowing the devil to face off with Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), we see not only a good fight but the backstory behind her decision to become a nun. As you might have already expected, Sister Jude wasn’t a chaste and holy kid who went quietly to a convent at an early age. Instead, she was a sexy torch singer who drank too much and, one unlucky night, ran over a little girl. What that little girl was doing in the middle of the road in the dead of night without a parental figure isn’t exactly clear, and I don’t suspect we’re going to get a better explanation than killing an innocent little girl wearing glasses and a cute little coat probably stings just a bit more. Knowing that Sister Jude has come to her current role out of guilt gives Lange just a little more to play with when she’s not chewing the scenery.
Two other characters also got a big dose of character development this week — Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and Shelly the nymphomaniac (Chloe Sevigny). Dr. Arden just seems creepy and controlling when he pushes poor Sister Mary Eunice into taking a bite of sin, I mean, a caramel apple as a reward for feeding his beasts. But when he hires a prostitute to dress like a sophisticated lady for a night of “romance,” Arden shows us that he’s probably not all talk and no action. After chastising the hooker for crass language, he carves into a hunk of meat that looks more than a little human. When he tells her they’re listening to a piece by Liszt called “Les Adieux,” (from his opera “Romeo et Juliette”) the reference is lost on her, but she has no problem reading the sociopathic iciness in his eyes. After she sees his bondage photos (which also seem to include images far worse), it’s no surprise that she bites him and runs for the door. I have a feeling she’s one of the very few lucky ones.
As for Shelly, she mistakenly thinks Dr. Arden might be sympathetic to her situation — or at least willing to barter sex for “five minutes of fresh air.” She unravels a Reader’s Digest version of her story to him, hoping that her unfair treatment by a jealous husband might earn her some pity, but she’s chosen the wrong audience. I hope Shelly doesn’t try to find another moment alone with Dr. Arden, because I don’t think it will end as peacefully the next time.
Poor Lana (Sarah Paulson). First, Sister Jude sweet talks Dr. Arden into giving Lana electroshock therapy in an attempt to theoretically “cure” her lesbianism, but in reality is an attempt to ruin that troublesome memory of hers. Worse, Lana can’t know that her girlfriend, determined to spring her from lock-up, has become Bloody Face’s latest victim, so she also can’t know that Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is no killer. Still, when Grace (Lizzie Brochere) insists in dragging him along when she and Lana make a break for freedom, Lana is so adamant that he not go free she screams for help — blowing the escape for not only Kit, but for Grace and herself. Her reward for narcing on Grace and Kit is watching them be punished (Sister Jude is nothing if not a giver). Kit takes Grace’s lashes, a chivalrous act that seems to unnerve Lana, but I doubt it changes her conviction that he’s a killer.
It’s nice to see Zachary Quinto back as Dr. Thredson, a man of science who is suitably horrified by Sister Jude’s methods of caring for the insane. But science doesn’t really hold up when faced with the devil, and Thredson’s slow realization that maybe an exorcism is more appropriate for a teenage boy who tears a cow apart with his bare hands is well-worn territory but, in Quinto’s hands, well-done as well.
But when it comes to total character makeovers in this episode, the winner may just be Sister Mary Eunice. When the devil leaves the worn-out body of a teenage boy, it slams right into her — and the devil seems to be playing it a little smarter this time around. Instead of wandering out to the barn to eat a cow, Sister Mary Eunice toys with Dr. Arden at the end of the episode, enticing him while playing innocent. It’s a nice reversal, given how Dr. Arden thinks of sweet, innocent Sister Mary Eunice as both pure and a plaything, and it’s the twist that promises not only an explosive payoff, but very dark days ahead.
What did you think of the episode? Do you think Lana will ever be able to escape? Do you think Teresa will escape Bloody Face?