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‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “The Name Game”

American Horror Story: Asylum, The Name Game
FX

American Horror Story: Asylum‘ is back this week, and this time the wonky new ingredient being added to the mix is a dance number…? Yes, a dance number. But don’t worry, this isn’t ‘American Horror Story: Glee.’ Okay, that’s pretty much exactly what it is.

The opening this week may be the weakest yet, with Pepper back and granted the gift of intelligent speech from our alien friends and warning Arden that if he harms the pregnant Grace, he’ll be abducted and have his brains scrambled so he can witness life at Briarcliff firsthand. Maybe the two week break from the show is to blame, but the dialogue is jarringly plain and under-acted — the fact that this is a complaint means something with ‘AHS,’ a show where over-acting feels natural and often necessary, given the bonkers material.

Speaking of bonkers material, let’s talk about that song and dance number, since that’s why you’re all really here. Jude defies Mary Eunice, which seems pretty silly since she’s possessed by the devil and running an insane asylum, but okay. Jude gets the electroshock treatment just in time for the brand new jukebox in the common room, and has a little daydream where she’s singing and dancing with the other patients to “The Name Game,” and it’s as bright and poppy as an episode of ‘Glee,’ which means it has no business on this show. Did Ryan Murphy not receive the memo about crossing the streams? Or is ‘Ghostbusters’ the one movie he hasn’t seen?

I’ve always viewed ‘Glee’-Murphy and ‘AHS’-Murphy as two delightfully separate entities, so very far removed from one another that they exist in completely different universes, so when I read tell of this song and dance number earlier today, it took me a few minutes to put two and two together. And while, yes, the song and dance number is very ‘Glee’-ish, there’s also a sad undercurrent to the proceedings, knowing that Jude’s brain has been fried to oblivion and she’s likely never leaving Briarcliff or returning to her former glory.

She does, however, have a brief chat with her Mother Superior friend and, in a moment of clarity, tells her that Lana doesn’t belong in Briarcliff and needs help getting out. Well, after all this time and all these failed escape plans, all it took was a fried nun asking a friend for a little help to get Lana out.

But now it’s time to talk about Sister Mary Eunice and how much I’m going to miss the hell out of Lily Rabe, who has been this show’s most valued performer all season long. Yes, Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange have given fine performances as well, with the former bringing much-needed gravity and humanity to the situations in which Lana has been placed, but Lily Rabe has something that Ryan Murphy desperately needed with an arc like hers: subtlety. Her range playing the angelic and possessed Mary Eunice has been outstanding, and watching her die this week actually had an impact on me — unlike, say, the threat of losing the Monsignor or Dr. Arden’s sorrowful climb into the incinerator to cremate himself alongside Mary Eunice, whom he loved so much that he would obey the devil inside her.

The arc between the two of them often felt poorly thought-out and confused, with Arden vacillating between disgust and affection on what basically often seemed like a whim. James Cromwell has been decent on ‘AHS,’ but he gives us the two weakest moments this week — the above-mentioned opening sequence, and a scene in the woods with Mary Eunice, where he murders his cannibal mutants before sobbing and turning the gun on himself. The sad orchestral music plays so we know this is a serious and emotional moment where we should be feeling things, but it’s silly.

The show really puts Joseph Fiennes to good use this week, and while his performance isn’t mind-blowing, his gentle approach to the conflicted Monsignor plays well against Mary Eunice, and the two tortured souls have some wonderfully small but pivotal moments. Well, if we forget when she referred to a vagina as a “warm, wet hug” (for those keeping tally, that’s four hilariously tacky euphemisms for “vagina” this season).

And then something resembling rape happened, and were this most other shows, I might be furious. As it stands, I’m merely annoyed at the idea that Mary Eunice rapes Monsignor Timothy, who ends up relenting when she asks, “Do you want me to stop?” and he replies, “Yes… No!” Ryan Murphy learned everything there is to know about rape from gossip in college, I guess.

Monsignor Timothy tries to kick the devil out of Mary Eunice, but it doesn’t work — even though the angel of death told him he could totally protect himself with his rosary and God would help him exorcise the devil, but those were just words and apparently angels aren’t reliable counsel.

But I’ll take the ending we received, which involved a sweet moment where the real Mary Eunice emerged long enough to let the Monsignor throw her off the stairwell, and the angel of death took the devil and Mary Eunice’s soul up to heaven… or space… Maybe the angel of death is an alien too?

Oh, and some other things happened this week: Grace had Kit’s baby, Thredson is back and practicing as a psychiatrist, and Lana is still pretty close to escaping because she hid Thredson’s taped confession really well, which means she’d probably be the Briarcliff hide-and-seek champion if she’d stick around a little longer.

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