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‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “The Coat Hanger”

American Horror Story: Asylum, "The Coat Hanger"
FX

Well look who just showed up to ‘American Horror Story: Asylum‘ — it’s our old friend Dylan McDermott, and he’s got a very dark secret to share. (Okay, you probably know what it is.)

Turns out that in present day ‘AHS: Asylum’ world, Dylan McDermott is the son of Oliver Thredson, and he’s looking to take up the family business by killing and skinning women, though his first attempt didn’t go so well, so he’s seeing a therapist for advice on going to medical school so he can carve up them ladies real good. Someone should tell him to carve up that awful wispy mullet on the back of his head. And of course we can guess who the mommy is — our lady Lana just found out she’s knocked up courtesy of the devilish Mary Eunice.

Lana and Kit become the MacGyver duo of the asylum and pay a visit to Thredson with a coat hanger, some truth serum (more like deus ex machina serum), and a tape recorder so they can gather a confession to free themselves from Briarcliff. The combo of Lana threatening to perform a coat hanger abortion on Thredson’s baby and the truth serum get him to cough up the details, and then we get a charming flashback to the night before, when Lana gave herself an abortion.

Sister Jude is now a patient at the asylum, stripped of her clerical title and reduced back to plain ol’ Judy Martin — and while that’s certainly not problematic and seemed inevitable, the glaring issue is how convoluted the cover-up is to keep here there. Arden, Mary Eunice, and Killer Santa (ugh, with this again) all weave a tale about how Jude went bonkers and killed the guard and tried to murder Santa on Christmas.

This week’s episode gets downright silly, and I know, that’s not really much different from where it’s been all along, but there’s been some depth to this season that was missing in the first, and the characters have felt more rounded and better-drawn. Perhaps it’s the mere presence of Dylan McDermott in the opening scene with his jailbird, dopey wannabe serial killer that immediately sets the tone, almost begging us not to take “The Coat Hanger” seriously.

My biggest issue this week is with character actions — sure, there have been a few head-scratchers in recent weeks, with Arden deciding to take up with Sister Mary Eunice even though he’s repulsed by the demon within her, but now he’s on the alien bandwagon and wants to bring Kit to the brink of death because apparently Kit is “valuable” to the aliens because he… has sex with women. Yes, that’s apparently the reasoning here. “The Coat Hanger” gets into some ridiculous horror movie cliche territory, as one minute Lana is off to kill Thredson with her abortion coat hanger, and the next she finds that he’s mysteriously escaped. With all the attempted and failed escapes and the way that Mary Eunice is facilitating some straight-up evil business, there’s no surprise here. The season isn’t close to being over yet, so no, Thredson cannot be eliminated yet, and the freedom carrot must continually be dangled in front of our character’s faces.

I think Ryan Murphy is running himself in circles here to kill time, and so characters make silly decisions, like Monsignor Timothy liberating Killer Santa so he can give him a proper baptism — of course it backfires and Killer Santa crucifies Timothy because what else would happen here (and also we needed to see Joseph Fiennes shirtless at least once)?

I get that Murphy is trying to examine the naivete of religious people, but Timothy hasn’t been explored well enough for us to care. I like the idea of a religious man whose pride and proclivity for the more superficial aspects of his position lead him to either turn a blind eye to evil or commit that act to save his own ass, but his character isn’t drawn with the depth and history of someone like Arden or Jude.

Speaking of Jude, seeing her as a broken woman, literally and almost figuratively stripped of her faith, and transformed into just another crazy patient at the loony bin is something pretty special, and just another way for Jessica Lange to show off her immense talents. Yes, she can chew scenery something fierce, but this more subdued, no-bulls— side of her is magnetic. But do I believe for a minute that she’s getting Lana out of that asylum? No. Well, maybe more than I believed Kit or Grace, but I’m still skeptical given how redundant this idea has become on the show.

The end of the episode gives us two visitors — the alien kind, who have returned a very much alive and very much pregnant Grace to the asylum, and Frances Conroy reprising her role as the angel of death, here to grant relief to the monsignor in his moment of death. While Conroy is certainly more welcome than the aliens, I have to say I’m consistently surprised with Murphy’s restraint (even if it might be the result of a tight budget) to refrain from over-exposing the aliens. For a show that’s so gleefully absurd, they sure do pull back when it really counts, but let’s see what happens when the show returns on January 2.

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