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‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Review: “Tricks and Treats”

FX

American Horror Story: Asylum‘ has more tricks to offer than treats — and more drama than horror — in this week’s episode, which gives us a little more information about some of our more prominent players — specifically Sister Jude and Dr. Arden.

Well, if you guys were worried about Adam Levine sticking around with his “acting skills,” worry no more — he gets killed off in the first 60 seconds of this week’s episode. Dreams really do come true sometimes. As for his lady lover, Bloody Face isn’t letting her out of the asylum that easily, but thankfully this current-day plot is relegated to less than two minutes at the beginning of the episode. I still have a hard time caring about such a minor plot, Bloody Face or no, considering how magnificent the 60s era stuff at the asylum is.

And let’s start with Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson, who have been just fantastic in both episodes. Lange’s accent work is divine, but it’s Paulson that really stands out this week, as Sister Jude goes against her religious beliefs to court Dr. Arden for some electroshock therapy. Lana has been keeping detailed notes in case she ever manages to escape so she can blow the lid off the goings on at the asylum, and Sister Jude shows us she can be even more conniving and malicious than she was last week by asking Arden to electroshock Lana’s memories away.
Even more interesting, perhaps, is the overt theme of science vs. religion. We knew going into this season that this would be the running theme, but the introduction of Zachary Quinto’s Dr. Oliver Thredson as a (mostly) level-headed psychiatrist really drives this point home. Yes, subtlety is not a word in creator Ryan Murphy’s vocabulary, and we’re treated to Quinto awkwardly discussing the treatments for homosexuality (in the 60s they moved from electroshock to behavioral modification), but watching Quinto and Lange bounce off of each other in a surprisingly nuanced battle of the wills is fantastic. It’s not so much a testament to the show’s writing — which has admittedly improved — but a testament to the actors, who manage to find the humanity in their over-the-top characters and ground them with compelling performances. There’s always an air of mystery to the motives here, even when they act explicitly.

Sister Mary Eunice is still busy feeding those creatures in the woods and demurring from Dr. Arden’s seductive candy apple offerings, which opens us up to Dr. Arden’s secrets: namely, he’s got some weird kinks involving nuns and bondage, and maybe even a little torture and murder. Murphy does something — dare I say — brilliant this week by mixing modern pop culture with this specific 60s religious, conservative psycho-therapy aesthetic. I don’t know how it works, throwing so many ingredients in the pot, but it just does. Arden invites a hooker home for dinner and does his best Patrick Bateman from ‘American Psycho’ impression, lecturing the woman about the wonders of Chopin (no, really) before instructing her to dress as a nun. The little lady fights him off and gets away just before he can make any more creepy advances. This entire sequence is delightfully orchestrated, as is having James Cromwell say weird stuff like, “Show me your mossy bank.”

Meanwhile, a new patient is brought in and Dr. Thredson decides to make his presence at the asylum more permanent, much to Sister Jude’s dismay. Seems this new kid is possessed by the devil, and the Monsignor, with the help of a specialist and Thredson as witness, sets about performing an exorcism. It’s the least effective element of the show this week, though the added element of having Sister Mary Eunice faint just after the lights come back on — as if to indicate she is now possessed — is a nice touch. It seems they may just make a believer of Thredson yet, but I’m sort of hoping this battle between him and Jude continues. During the exorcism, it’s revealed that Jude has quite the salacious past, including promiscuity and a hit and run involving a little girl. It might have been better to tease out this information over time rather than having a possessed boy act as a plot device to feed us the details, but I’ve a feeling those aren’t the only skeletons in her closet.

And finally, Lana is working on an escape plan with the help of Grace, who insists that they allow Kit to come with them. Kit is struggling with pretending to be crazy — his only options are the asylum or, if he’s proven sane, a trial that will undoubtedly send him to the electric chair. I look forward to more conversations between Kit and Thredson over the course of the series, but for now, Kit takes a backseat to Lana and Grace, who fight over whether or not he’s innocent. When the lights are cut out during the exorcism, Lana uses the moment to make a run for it with the help of Grace (though it’s not clear why she’d need Grace’s help, exactly), and when Grace insists on letting Kit join them, Lana shouts for help, which leads Grace and Kit to Jude’s office for a good ol’ caning. Unfortunately for Lana, angry with her lesbian partner as she is, Clea DuVall’s time on the show seems to be over because Bloody Face pays her a visit early on in this episode, effectively proving that Kit is most likely innocent and Bloody Face is still out there, claiming lady victims in the night.

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