Contributor: Gregg Wright
Written by Jennifer Salt
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
The situation at Briarcliff Sanitarium becomes ever more chaotic as a violent storm approaches. Naturally, it sets a perfect backdrop for all the escalating strangeness at the sanitarium. I find it kind of funny, and impressive, that this show manages to throw together so many disparate elements into one big bag and make them work, while somehow managing to take itself relatively seriously. The humor is there, of course, but most of it is under the surface.
Not only is there the expected mayhem being created by the newly possessed Sister Mary Eunice, running around and seemingly bringing out the worst in Sister Jude and Dr. Arden. Both have weaknesses that are easily exploited by Sister Mary, given her existing connection to Dr. Arden and her extensive knowledge of each person’s darker secrets. Sister Mary represented something pure to Dr. Arden, and it sickens him to see that purity destroyed. And Sister Jude’s guilt is easy to bring to the surface.
As expected, another escape attempt is made, resulting in all escapees ending up (literally) right back where they started. But the details of how this all comes about are interesting enough that the predictability of the outcome is made up for. Firstly, there’s Shelley’s (the nymphomaniac) unexpected involvement, which results in the character becoming surprisingly sympathetic by the end of the episode. She’s definitely become a tragic figure, and Arden has become more villainous because of it.
And there’s Lana Winter’s attempt to get a message out to Wendy, through Thredson. Thredson is more than happy to defy Sister Jude in this regard, and thus we come upon one of my favorite moments in the episode. Thredson did go to Wendy’s house, but we already know what happened there. Instead of finding a body, though, Thredson finds an empty house and evidence of an abduction; evidence that correlates strongly to those committed by Bloody Face. So Thredson begins to wonder, and Lana begins to wonder as well. I certainly like where this is going. I’d love to see more of Thredson outside the asylum, chasing after the real Bloody Face.
The escape attempt actually goes surprisingly well, for the most part. The trio (minus the waylaid Shelley) make it out of the asylum and head into the woods, through the driving rain and thunder. But we know what’s in those woods. At least, we know that there’s something in there that likes to feed on human flesh, and Sister Mary has just left behind a sizable meal for them. We actually get to see the creatures in full view here as the trio comes upon them and, horrified, makes a mad dash back to the asylum. The creatures seem to be some sort of zombie-like humans; grotesquely disfigured and monstrously ravenous.
And perhaps my favorite aspect of the episode was–you guessed it–the return of the aliens. This show isn’t playing very coy with the alien element. They’re definitely out there. In fact, they’re lurking in the dark corridors of the asylum itself. How wonderfully ironic is it that Sister Jude is the one to encounter it first? It’s just another example of how much fun the show is having with tossing Catholic mysticism in together with 60s UFO paranoia.
It’s funny that Dr. Arden doesn’t jump to the alien hypothesis to explain the extremely advanced microchip he’s recovered from Kit Walker’s neck. No, he suspects a human element: Germans, Jews or even US agents. And he’s almost certain that Walker is one of their agents, sent to spy on him. It’s a typically egotistical conclusion for Arden to come to. But being the man of science that he is, I’m sure he’ll soon come to accept Walker’s story as fact, which ought to fascinate Dr. Arden to no end.
Our present-day storyline continues as well. Brief as it is, it manages to pack in a handful of truly surprising twists. It’s actually hard to see how it can continue from here, having been wrapped up so concretely. We’re left simply with the reality that Bloody Face is alive and well in modern day, and has become well-known enough for young deviants to wear masks that resemble his appearance. It’ll be interested to see where we go from there, if we go anywhere at all.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” continues to pack a lot into each episode. It’s all very outrageous, but it works; perhaps much better than it has any right to. But I’m more than happy to be taken along for the ride. One of the defining strengths of the first season was how well-planned the whole thing was, which made virtually every episode feel like a significant step forward. That same careful planning seems to be resulting in an equally entertaining, equally well-paced second season.