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‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “I Am Anne Frank”

FX

If there was any doubt that ‘American Horror Story: Asylum‘ couldn’t get more bonkers or that creator Ryan Murphy had any boundaries left to cross, you haven’t seen tonight’s episode, titled “I Am Anne Frank.” And yes, that’s the Anne Frank.

Bemoan Ryan Murphy’s willful ignorance of subtlety all you want, but when the guy aims for Bonkerstown, he gets there in the most delightful manner. For a full hour I was alternating between laughter and genuine shock at what I was seeing on screen, from a woman declaring (believably!) that she’s Anne Frank and Dr. Arden is a Nazi war criminal named Hans Gruber (like, seriously guys?) to Dr. Thredson’s insane aversion/conversion therapy to help Lana get out of the asylum, there’s not a moment in this episode that doesn’t aim to push buttons. That’s not to say that Murphy & Co. always know what buttons they’re aiming to push, and at times it can feel like a comedy bit where you’re watching a toddler placed in front of a space shuttle operating board and the kid’s just drooling and mashing buttons like there’s no tomorrow, but hey, just like that kid, Murphy is having the time of his damn life.

Joseph Fiennes appropriately returns in a Nazi-themed episode (lest we forget his brother Ralph Fiennes played Amon Goeth in ‘Schindler’s List’), where that poor hooker from a few weeks back has come back to haunt our dear Dr. Arden with her accusations of his attack, his stash of unseemly photos, and his Nazi memorabilia, and Sister Jude wouldn’t believe it, but a new patient has arrived and she claims to be Anne Frank. Like, the Anne Frank — the one who wrote a diary and hid in an attic, and who tragically died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just weeks before it was liberated. But no, forget history because this is ‘American Horror Story,’ and there’s no line Ryan Murphy won’t cross, even if it means bringing Anne Frank back from the dead in a move that would be offensive if we didn’t get jokes like the Monsignor asking, “And where is she now? Hiding in the attic?”

But Ms. Frank’s fictional history is also interesting, and as it illuminates the past of the (more than likely) Nazi Dr. Arden, the plot actually works, silliness be damned. We learn that Arden killed girls in the concentration camp, and Frank was only assumed dead, but worked as a pick-pocket on the streets of Germany until she married an American soldier and moved to New Jersey (yes, yes, really). And at first Sister Jude chalks her up to being just another nutter butter, but coupled with the interrogation from local detectives who see some similarities between Arden’s attack on the hooker and the Bloody Face murders, Jude is starting to think that maybe this Ms. Frank is right.

The episode is jam-packed with info and psychology this week, like having the Monsignor bring up Jude’s alcoholism and making her question her own sanity before picking up the phone to warn Arden that he’s been found out. Suddenly Jude doesn’t seem so bad anymore — just a bit of a religious fanatic who’s replaced her alcohol addiction with a cross, and I’ll give Ryan Murphy this: the rumination on the way that addicts often replace their addiction with religion is actually quite clever and, dare I suggest, subtle?

Sister Mary Eunice, still possessed by a demon or the devil or whatever the hell it is, acts more as a plot device this week, revealing to Kit the truth about Grace, who claims her sister’s boyfriend murdered their parents and set her up, when really Grace Lizzie Borden’d her own parents due to the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her father, but can we really trust her after she already lied once? Was she abused, or is she still just playing on Kit’s weakness for her? The both of them get locked up in solitary this week for having the nerve to bone each other in the bread kitchen, and the last thing that asylum needs, as Sister Jude points out, is a “murder-baby.” (I’m really stoked to see what a murder-baby is.) But I’ve a feeling Grace is more dangerous than Kit could ever be, and speaking of which…

Thredson takes an interesting role this week, but one that was obvious from the start: he wants to help both Kit and Lana get out of Briarcliff, but he needs their cooperation — which mostly means they need to help him lie by admitting their guilt and going through a little “therapy.” Thredson is mostly good-natured, and it’s yet to be seen if his methods are actually the work of a misguided but well-intentioned man, or if he’s a bit of a sociopath. With Kit, Thredson uses the power of suggestion to have him question his own sanity and if he murdered those women and just doesn’t remember it — and it works, because by episode’s end, Kit is begging Sister Jude for forgiveness and help to find God. It’s a sticky situation for Jude, knowing now that it’s possible that Dr. Arden is the real Bloody Face (doubtful, but he’s still a monster).

With Lana, the therapy is incredibly unnerving. He begins by showing her slides of mostly nude women, injecting her with a serum that causes her to vomit every time she feels “triggered.” For his encore, he brings in a fellow male inmate who looks appropriately girlish, and asks Lana to touch the guy’s junk while she masturbates. It doesn’t even take the serum to make her vomit after a while, but she trudges on, encouraged by her earlier hallucinations of receiving special recognition for the expose she plans on writing once she’s released, and Thredson promises he’ll have her out by the end of the week. The biggest ongoing issue here is that it doesn’t feel entirely plausible, given that we’re not even halfway through the season, that Lana is going to get out by next week.

And speaking of escapes, it doesn’t seem that Shelly is going anywhere, as her legs are both (still) amputated, and Arden is pumping her full of all sorts of horrifying chemicals, treating her as a lab rat and keeping her locked in a closet. The brief glimpses we get of his “work” on Shelly this week are almost as unnerving as watching Thredson’s “therapy session” with Lana. Someone please let Chloe Sevigny die already.

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