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‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “The Origins of Monstrosity”

FX

A creepy little girl visits Briarcliff and Sister Mary Eunice lets her hair down in this week’s ‘American Horror Story: Asylum.’ Oh, and those pesky present-day scenes have unfortunately returned.

Well, we just knew Thredson had to have mommy issues, right? Can’t have a serial killer who murders women and wears their skin without a little maternal influence. As much as I’ve admired Ryan Murphy’s willingness to have absolutely no discerning taste when it comes to adding any number of horror tropes to his plot stew, falling back on something so generic is just unfortunate, given this season’s daring attitude.

With that in mind, also troubling is the addition of the creepy little girl, who hasn’t proven to be anything other than your garden variety, apathetic killer kid. I will concede that watching little Jenny interact with the (literally) devilish Sister Mary Eunice was entertaining, and it gave us a peek at Mary Eunice’s back story, in the form of a ‘Carrie’-esque flashback to when she was invited to a pool party by her high school peers and tricked into stripping naked in front of everyone.

And I’m starting to agree with a fellow critic friend who believes that Lily Rabe is the MVP of the show. Her performance of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” while dressed in Jude’s red nightie, throwing her rosary beads at a crucifix and singing to Jesus was inspired. Disappointing that the sequence had to come to a halt for her to answer the phone, intercepting a call from the priest helping Jude and heading over to murder him before he and Jude have the chance to publicly out Arden. With that, Jude has seemingly lost her only chance to expose the Nazi doctor (whose name is sadly not Hans Gruber, but Hans¬†Gruper).

Tonight also brings the welcome death of Shelly, who has suffered for far too long at the hands of Arden. Resting up in a hospital bed, Monsignor Timothy is called in and finishes what Arden started by choking her to death with a rosary. We finally discover the reason why the Monsignor wanted to protect Arden, and that reason is obviously selfish — he agreed to let Arden perform his experiments, believing them designed to help people, but now he’s wrong and if he outs Arden, he outs himself for allowing these monstrosities to carry on. Luckily, Jessica Lange and James Cromwell left enough scenery for Joseph Fiennes to chew on, but I’m finding his character exceedingly extraneous.

Perhaps that’s the biggest problem with “The Origins of Monstrosity”: everything feels more tacked on than normal and reeks of the way Ryan Murphy feverishly continued to add more and more to the plot, threatening to crush the show under its own weight. Until now, the “throw everything at the wall and I’ll make sure that crap sticks” approach has worked well for ‘Asylum,’ but the creepy kid and the Monsignor’s entanglement with Arden feel limp. When the show is firing on all cylinders, you can tell how much Murphy and his writers are into it: Arden’s dalliance with the prostitute, Thredson’s basement of horror, Shelly, the royally f’d-up aversion therapy with Lana, and yes, even the aliens — all of this stuff doesn’t seem like it should work, but we really get into it because the writers are really into it. Not so with tonight’s episode.

The flash-forwards to present day feature a modern Bloody Face calling the cops to alert them to the bodies at the asylum, where he calls the cell phone of a victim to taunt them more and we see that the girlfriend from the first couple of episodes is still alive and well and on Bloody Face’s nightmare table. But then there’s the dumb detective who responds to BF’s, “You know who I am” with,¬†”No I don’t. Did you kill these people?” — said with all the enthusiasm of a seasoned robot. Moment effectively deflated.

I know I’m bashing this week’s episode a lot, but there were things I enjoyed. Lily Rabe, as previously mentioned, is becoming one of the best reasons to watch, as she marries the genuine nature of her character to that of the devil possessing her. And while Jessica Lange catches grief for her over-the-top accent and theatrics, she’s still Jessica F’ing Lange, and her presence is undeniably magnetic.

And maybe the Thredson mommy-issue stuff isn’t all bad — wanting Lana to be his mommy stand-in, we’re treated to the absurd/gross/hilarious line, “Baby needs colostrum” before he attached his face to her breast. It’s that magic Ryan Murphy ‘AHS’ combo that keeps me watching.

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