‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “Nor’easter”
Well this week’s episode of ‘American Horror Story: Asylum‘ suffers from unfortunate timing, doesn’t it? “Nor’easter” features — what else — a big storm that’s bringing out the crazy in those who should be trusted to be sane.
I was wrong. Adam Levine is not dead after all. Somehow, even though Bloody Face rips off his arm and stabs him several times in the chest in front of his lady friend, he still gets up and beats that fool until the two of them can escape. THIS LOVE IS TAKING ITS TOLL ON ME, YOU GUYS. But then there are two Bloody Faces, pulling off some sort of Skeet Ulrich/Matthew Lillard thing from ‘Scream,’ and they shoot Maroon 5 and his girlfriend — and unfortunately, it’s not the end of this present-day plot because there is a real Bloody Face who actually did stab and de-arm Adam Levine, and he’s not happy with these impostors.
Back at Briarcliff in 1964, the demon that possessed Sister Mary Eunice is getting pretty busy, sending a newspaper from 1949 to Sister Jude with the story about the girl she hit with her car being missing, then bringing her some red lipstick and claiming Dr. Arden passed it along. But the possessed nun is also messing with Arden himself, throwing open her legs and trying to prey on his sexual weakness for her by saying things like, “I’m so juicy.” This show is worth watching just for what they get these actors to say every week. Rather than hone in on another typical demonic possession, the show is using Mary Eunice as a device to exploit and exacerbate the problems between Arden and Jude, and while the stuff with Jude’s checkered past was interesting enough last week, it fails to really stir anything effective this week, aside from a drunken, scenery-chewing Jude giving an impromptu sermon with the refrain “walk on” (what is this, a U2 concert?) to a room full of crazies as she prepares to screen Cecil B. DeMille’s classic ‘The Sign of the Cross.’ It’s a controversial choice, given the real-life involvement of the Catholic church in the film’s censorship, which led to the formation in 1934 of the Catholic Legion of Decency.
Still, the plot makes for great horror fodder, as the story ends with the Christians getting devoured — again, Ryan Murphy doesn’t really have a knack for subtlety, but we aren’t exactly watching ‘AHS’ for nuance, are we? And nuance there isn’t! Watching Jessica Lange and James Cromwell chew scenery at each other across a room is enough to forgive this week’s absence of Ralph Fiennes, and Lange is seriously on some next-level Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in ‘Mommie Dearest’ stuff here. But the show does something surprising this week, too, by making the escape plot of Lana, Kit, and Grace a little more secondary while Arden, Jude, Mary Eunice, and Shelly get more pronounced roles.
Before we get back to the escape plan, I want to discuss the week’s most horrific sequence: Dr. Arden finds Shelly trying to escape and he attempts to rape her but fails due to either his insufficient, um, size, or a premature ejaculation (this isn’t totally clear). The rape itself is frightening enough for many reasons — the sheer forcefulness of the scene, which so scarily echoes the nature of the crime itself, and because, well, do you ever look at James Cromwell, the guy that took care of Babe the pig, and think he could be capable of such things? The rape plot itself was a little predictable, but I applaud Jennifer Salt, who wrote the script for “Nor’easter” on the way she handles not just the action, but the dialogue exchange here, as Shelly tells Arden that she may be promiscuous, but she does the choosing. Much of the rest of the scene lacks in this sort of on-the-nose stuff, and instead relies on the audience’s understanding that just because a woman is promiscuous, doesn’t mean she deserves to be raped. It’s such a far cry from Shelly’s heavy-handed lines last week about how a man can be promiscuous and no one calls him a whore.
But that’s not all that’s horrific about the Shelly/Arden stuff. Arden knocks the girl out, and when she wakes up, he creepily explains that she tried to “fly away,” so he “clipped” her “wings.” The camera pans down as he tears the hospital blanket off her body, to reveal that he’s surgically amputated her legs from the knees down, making escape impossible. It’s not just a cruel method of punishment for a sick patient, but Arden’s own twisted form of punishment that ensures Shelly can never escape him again.
Thredson gets less to do this week, but he does come to the realization — after making a quick trip to Lana’s house to deliver a message to her girlfriend — that Kit is not Bloody Face, which gives Lana the steam she needs to push ahead with her escape with Grace and Kit. The trio manage to make it outside, but once they start running through the woods, they encounter those mysterious cannibal creatures, sending them right back to the activity hall just in time for Jude to shut down the screening. The show cleverly maneuvers Shelly and two other patients out of the way so it appears that, yes, three patients did go missing, but it wasn’t our escapist trio.
About one of those other patients and another visually engaging moment — “the Mexican,” as she’s called, is the first to notice that Mary Eunice is possessed, sending the demon-nun to her room to bring a new definition to the term “scissor sisters,” as Mary Eunice stabs the praying and fearful woman in the neck and chest with a sharp pair of steel scissors. The practical effects in this scene are on fire, but the stabbing itself is so brutal and quick that it’s difficult not to feel your stomach turn just a bit at the sight of it all. Also delightful: Jessica Lange’s repeated and insensitive use of the phrase “the Mexican.”