‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “Continuum”
This week’s episode of ‘American Horror Story: Asylum‘ takes a leap forward in time, but has anything gotten better for our characters? We also discover that Chloe Sevingy’s casting was only the first indicator that the people behind this show watched ‘Big Love.’
Kit, Alma, Grace and their two alien kids are living together in a ‘Big Love’ situation, with Kit dividing his time between the two ladies — while Alma is keen to move on and forget the alien abduction, Grace is determined to remember and sketch the aliens so she can tell the children where they came from. ‘AHS’ tries to explore the way that a single event can affect two people in vastly different ways, but it does so gingerly before quickly taking an ax (literally) to the plot by having Alma kill Grace for being too fond of the aliens. And now who’s the crazy one?
Alma’s story ties in nicely this week with Jude — we’re in 1968 now, and Alma, along with several other female prisoners, has been sent to Briarcliff as part of an “overflow population.” Welcome to ‘American Horror Story: Caged Heat.’ Never in my life did I think I’d see Frances Conroy shank a fool and make Jessica Lange her prison wife, but here we are, and it’s one of those things that makes me giddily applaud Ryan Murphy’s insanity. Conroy, still looking like the Angel of Death, is now in prisoner garb and she’s the queen bee of the prison population, looking to reign over Briarcliff and bed all the honeys.
As if that weren’t delightful enough, ‘AHS’ has something even more fascinating in store for Sister Jude — the Monsignor becomes Cardinal and promises to release Jude as his final act of authority at Briarcliff, but then Jude wakes up after being subdued to find herself being told that it’s been two and a half years since the Monsignor left and the female prisoners transferred in, and Pepper is dead. There’s a dizzying feeling of claustrophobia and that of being disconnected from reality; is Jude really insane, or is this just another Briarcliff trick?
‘AHS’ has spent a lot of time this season exploring what “crazy” really means and the ways in which we perceive insanity — it’s also shown us how throwing sane people into an institutionalized setting can make them feel or behave in ways that aren’t sane. What I like about this week’s penultimate episode is that so many of those ideas that felt half-baked throughout the season finally gel into themes that resonate. Introducing the female prisoners only further emphasizes that placing sane people among the violent or insane is not productive, and sure, it’s blatant commentary on the broken nature of prison and mental institutions in this country, but by golly, it works.
Something else that works beautifully this week is the way every story ties together in a neat little knot — Alma goes off to die at Briarcliff (her heart mysteriously stops), and Kit finds Lana after a book signing to confront her about leaving Jude behind. When we first met Lana, she was an eager reporter looking for her big break, but the show humanized her and made her empathetic. But it’s not just the nature of violence and evil on this show that’s cyclical, or, as the title of this week’s episode implies, continuous; now free, Lana has cycled right back to the fame-hungry writer who’s willing to do or say anything for accolades. As Lana says at her book signing, she believes her job as a writer is not to tell the truth, but to present the “essence of truth.”
And all of this comes back around to how we perceive good and bad (or sane and insane) in the characters. Each person on this show presents what they believe is their true self in order to get what they desire. Jude would have done anything for the Monsignor at the height of her power as long as she felt like she was obeying someone who was just a little bit closer to God. Kit would have said anything to buy his freedom. Lana would do anything for her story, and the way she dismisses Jude’s plight at Briarcliff almost entirely dismisses the Lana we knew — has she truly cycled back to the story-hungry reporter we first met, or has she been hardened by the criminal justice system that refused to buy her story about Briarcliff wholesale? Is this Lana the true Lana, or merely the Lana she wants known? I think Lana is tired of the burden of truth.
But while this week has a lot of thematically intriguing ideas, it’s not all compelling stuff — Bloody Face Jr. is back, and of course he smokes meth because look at that rat tail on the back of his head. He finds the only copy of his mother’s book in the possession of an old woman, and then proceeds to threaten her into giving it to him before describing, in yawn-inducing/is-this-guy-for-real detail exactly what he’ll say to Lana when he shows up at her front door. It’s by far the worst moment we’ve seen this season, as Bloody Face Jr. is all, “And then I’ll show up at her door, and then I’ll say this, and then she’ll say, and then I’ll say,” and then I’m like, please make Dylan McDermott stop this nonsense.
Next week appears to take another leap forward in time and if the preview is accurate, we’re getting one bloody (face) finale. See you then!