‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “Spilt Milk”
This week’s episode of ‘American Horror Story: Asylum‘ is the first truly triumphant episode since the “I Am Anne Frank” two-parter back in October. “Spilt Milk” is an engaging hour that delivers a chillingly tragic conclusion for one of our characters and some sorta-kinda happy endings for others.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon previously directed “I Am Anne Frank: Part 2,” and while I was critical of his directorial style, I find it completely sublime in “Spilt Milk.” What I hated about his style before was the way it seemed to be a mixtape of early Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, and Brian DePalma, but perhaps what I neglected to understand is the way that his style mirrors Ryan Murphy’s approach to storytelling within ‘AHS.’ I’ve compared ‘AHS’ to mash-up mastermind Girl Talk in that it takes all these familiar pop culture treasures and throws them into a blender, and that’s kind of what Gomez-Rejon does with visual storytelling.
Gomez-Rejon’s direction captures elements of noir, 70s flicks (with some nods to exploitation, action, and horror), and DePalma’s brilliant use of split-screen. There are moments that are so beautifully executed that I wonder why he hasn’t directed more episodes (but don’t worry — he’s credited for next week’s finale). Transitions between Dr. Thredson’s home in the 60s and modern Bloody Face’s dealings with a prostitute in the same home in present-day are divinely seamless, particularly a crass moment where Lana refers to the time Thredson chained her up and called her mommy, which shifts effortlessly to present-day, where Bloody Face Jr. is suckling a prostitute and new mom’s breast, breast milk disgustingly dripping from his mouth. If it weren’t for the direction, the moment would seem tasteless — and it still kind of is.
The only thing working against the direction this week is some of the unfortunate and obvious dialogue, like the hooker saying, “I’ve got a rockin’ body and hot titties” (was this written in 1988?) or Lana’s friend telling her, “I’ve still got a job because my lecherous boss thinks he has a chance with me” — you know, because this is the 60s and we need to be reminded of how women were treated at work. What Ryan Murphy’s writers lack in subtlety in their scripts from week to week, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon makes up for with his expert directing skills, which allow us to (kind of) forgive egregious missteps in dialogue.
Sadly, Lily Rabe is still absent (though her name is prominent in the opening credits), but with half the cast eliminated, Ryan Murphy & Co. have a chance to really round out the remaining stories.
Lana escapes the asylum, Thredson confession tape in tow, thanks to Jude’s Mother Superior friend, and man, what an amazing sequence this is, with dizzying overhead shots and split screen as Lana tries to skirt Thredson while Kit distracts him — all set to the musical theme from ‘Candyman.’ Murphy loves to borrow plot elements and cues from other notable horror films, but this is the first time that he’s taken something and incorporated it so magnificently that it actually elicited a fist-pump from yours truly. Watching Lana give Thredson the middle finger while displaying his confession tape from the window of a taxi cab with that score playing was a triumphant moment, and one that feels earned. Sure, we’ve spent most of the season with Lana and Kit’s various failed attempts to escape, and those attempts especially felt redundant early on, but when looking back on the season as a whole — up to this penultimate episode, at least — it feels like those attempts, while failed by the characters, were ultimately successful in building up to this fantastic sequence. It was all worth it in the end.
Back at the asylum, Kit and Grace welcome their new baby, but have him taken away to an orphanage by the Monsignor (and a nun with the best Boston accent: “Not exactly a Nahman Rahckwell”). But now that Thredson is revealed as Bloody Face, Kit is free to go, and manages to cleverly negotiate a way to get Grace out and reclaim their alien baby. We’re also treated to some interesting and dreamy choices in direction when Grace recounts her time aboard the spaceship, with lots of water and Grace’s bizarrely nipple-less breasts; in fact, there’s a whole lot of nipple coverage this week.
Kit and Grace are released and reunited with their son, but back at Kit’s house, Alma (whom Grace thought dead) is hanging out with a baby of her own. I smell a wacky spin-off, where Kit has to juggle the two women he loves and the babies he made with both of them. It’s like ‘The Odd Couple’ meets ‘Three’s Company,’ but there are alien babies, so it’s also kind of like ‘Look Who’s Talking.’
Speaking of babies, Lana finds it too difficult to follow through with an abortion, even though the baby inside of her is the result of rape at the hands of a psycho-killer who murdered her girlfriend. Women’s rights, y’all — it’s tough. I think the weakest element in the back-half of this season has to be Dylan McDermott’s Bloody Face Jr. The modern stuff has never fully worked, but it becomes even more glaringly awful with McDermott and that atrocious rat tail in his hair, and I’m sorry, but he’s just not selling this character to me at all.
And as for Sister Jude, it seems that the electroshock therapy is finally wearing off and she’s gaining a little clarity, refusing to take her meds and causing a ruckus with the jukebox. But by the time Lana gets the cops to grant her a court order so she can set Jude free, Monsignor Timothy has faked Jude’s suicide and locked her up in solitary, taking a hint from Kit, who earlier pointed out that Grace was technically, legally — at least on paper — dead, which meant that Timothy could turn her “body” over to Kit. Jude is a danger to the Monsignor because she holds all of his deepest, darkest secrets, and she could ultimately be his undoing. As we’ve learned, the Monsignor is a proud and ambitious man, so keeping her under lock and key is going to be his, um, key to ensuring his continued ascension in the Catholic ranks.
This is actually the most clever and well thought-out the show has been, proving that Ryan Murphy & Co. aren’t just thinking on the fly. This particular plot thread began several episodes back with Grace’s supposed death, and it’s incredibly reassuring and impressive to know that every episode since has been building to Kit’s negotiation to free her from Briarcliff and the Monsignor’s plot to keep Jude locked up. Sometimes it seems that Murphy and his writers are working on the fly, as I felt they were with Shelly and often with Dr. Arden, but here we’ve got solid evidence that these guys can be thoughtful and downright maniacal in their plotting.
We have only one more episode until the finale, which I’ve heard will take a leap in time, serving as an epilogue to the series, meaning that Jessica Lange tragically locked in solitary and muttering to herself at the end of tonight’s episode might have been her farewell. If so, it’s a stunningly tragic and subdued end for her character, and one that I greatly admire. If not, then I’m excited to see if Sister Jude can get out of Bonkers Town next week.