American Horror Story: Asylum Season 2, Episode 4: ‘I Am Anne Frank, Pt. 1’
So far, one of the most intriguing aspects of American Horror Story: Asylum has been the promise of exploring the dark side of psychiatry’s history: Skinner Box name drop (I’m still hoping that an upcoming episode will ignore the fact that Skinner’s baby-tender-as-human-isolation-chamber has been debunked, and run with it), misused electroshock therapy, exorcisms, and generally corrupt and creepy doctors. This week, as Satan Mary Eunice’s plotline napped with its opaque eyes wide open, AHSA dove deeper into that weird and awful rabbit hole, pumping the saga full of Nazi human experiments and aversion/conversion therapies. I call it Apomorphine & Anne Frank: A Bedtime Story for Young Children. The Parents TV Council loves this show, as you can imagine. Loving your recaps, PTVC!
We begin with Leo and Teresa’s disembodied heads having lunch at Legal Seafoods and looking at their Facebook pages. Just kidding. Those two are dead for now. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) is being walked by a guard to a cell with a patient who is in involuntary psychiatric hold (like everybody else): She was set off by an anti-Semitic remark and attacked, so here she is at Briarcliff. Sister Jude asks the woman (Franka Potente) if she lost someone in the war, and the woman starts whistling (a tune I can’t identify but I’m sure you can: What was it?), like, “Oh Sister, your attempt at sympathy is crazy-blithe.” This patient is, or claims to be, Anne Frank, but more on that later. So embarrassing for her. Everybody’s read her diary!
Zoom! Quick cut to poor, stump-legged Shelly (Chloe Sevigny) with a really wonky, goopy face being tortured by Dr. Arden (James Cromwell). Seems like he’s been at that a while. “Am I going to die?” asks Shelly hopefully. Nope! “As a matter of fact, after this, you’ll probably live forever,” Dr. Arden informs her, wielding a large syringe. He injects her and she howls. I see her shooting down the water slide to Rasperhood, though she won’t be able to run to eat her barrels of limb kibble like the others, and they’ll probably make fun of her for being so slow and oozy.
Down in the bleak nuthouse bakery, Kit (Evan Peters) and Grace (Lizzie Brochere) are chewing the fat about their “stories.” Kit has a cut on his lip from being smacked by Dr. Arden during a break from a marathon series of X-rays he was subjected to, completely nude, in order to try to find more SanDisk aliens living inside his nodes. Dr. Arden is convinced the chip ran back inside Kit and asks him, “Through which orifice?” Oh my God, Dr. Arden, do not. Do not go into this man’s asshole looking for the six-legged SanDisk. Generously, we’re spared this. Grace is telling Kit that she believes his crazy story about the magnetic aliens who beheaded his wife, and baits him into asking her about her alleged crime. “I wish I could forget my story,” she tells him.
OK, fine, go ahead: She was in the bedroom she shared with her stepsister when she heard a noise that prompted her to don some fuzzy bunny slippers and go creeping around the house, saw her father being axed to death by some schmo, ran and hid in a closet to discover her stepmother’s body as mixed grill stacked up on a shelf, and then finally realized that this was all an elaborate scheme devised to take her family’s farm and frame her for the murders. “I miss the horses most, the freedom I felt riding them; it felt like I was flying,” she tells Kit, which is pretty cold. She doesn’t miss her parents more than a palomino? Is she insane? Yes, actually, but more on this shortly.
Altruistic Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) has taken a liking to Lana (Sarah Paulson). He saw her attempted escape last week with Kit and Grace and wants to assist her leaving Briarcliff, fearing that if she stays “it won’t end well.” It certainly hasn’t gone well so far. His plan is to attempt to cure her homosexuality, but she protests that she isn’t sick, though according to the dusty AHSA DSM of 1964, she’s wrong. Back in the rec room, which plays your favorite song over and over, the patient soon known as Anne Frank is writing to Kitty about the shitty music of which she is already so sick. Lana returns to the room from her powwow with the good doctor and advises Anne to ditch the pen, lest she be thrown into solitary. Anne gives her the shade eye and Lana says, “OK, I hope you like pain.” Cue Dr. Arden, at whom Anne leaps and accuses of being a Nazi she encountered while at Auschwitz, and tells him who she is. For this, she’s sent to the office of Sister Jude, who is understandably suspicious that Anne isn’t Anne Frank. Anne offers up an explanation: She was lost in the mass-grave shuffle, everyone presumed she was dead, and she pickpocketed out on the strasse until she met a nice gentleman who became her husband, brought her to America, and then died in Korea.
She didn’t want to taint the message of her diary by revealing that she hadn’t been martyred — I dunno, Anne, it was a pretty good book and probably could have stood on its own. She tells Sister Jude that Dr. Arden is a Nazi war criminal, and luckily for the Sister there isn’t a bottle of sauce around, because that would have been a good time to have a stiff drink. Anne leads Sister Jude on a flashback journey, telling her that Arden used to be known by another name and, though he at first seemed like a kindly Nazi, he would flip a coin to choose which female prisoners he would sequester, later returning them in quite a state: sick, damaged, not right. Nothing about missing legs, but I guess he evolved toward that. Sister Jude still isn’t completely sold, so Anne flashes her tattoo from Auschwitz. Hard to argue with that.
Dr. Thredson’s on a mercy kick and is now on a mission to help Kit as well as Lana. Kit’s still undergoing evaluation to determine whether or not he’ll be executed for his crimes; if he’s deemed insane, he’ll stay at Briarcliff forever. Dr. Thredson thinks that Kit is neither crazy nor evil, but “the innocent victim of a brutish society” that compelled him to murder several people because of a culture of racism. Dr. Thredson, you crazy! I think he’s caught up in a metaphor about skin color, as though Kit was removing the skin (“her race!”) and heads (“her identity!”) of his victims in some sort of avant-garde societal statement. Good grief. Thredson is willing to lie to the courts if Kit confronts his misdeeds, so his therapy involves essentially telling Kit what he thought happened to try to jog his memory. According to Thredson, after the chocolate-eating gas station creeps showed up at the house he shared with Alma, Kit freaked out in a fit of shame and killed her. Kit insists it wasn’t him, but Briarcliff is getting to him and he isn’t sure of much anymore.
He’s still mulling over this experience in the bakery hole, kneading that same dough prop that everybody in the asylum beats up when they’re pissed. Grace appears and he confesses that he isn’t sure if he’s crazy — maybe he really did block the memory of killing Alma because he couldn’t face what he’d done. Grace is so smitten she just sees a bunch of pink cartoon hearts coming out of his mouth and tells him she doesn’t really care either way, so he grabs her by the throat and bones her on the lightly floured surface of the bakery table. A guard, obviously, catches them in the act and they’re sent right up to Sister Jude and her closet o’ canes. Satan Mary Eunice is having a grand old time choosing one, and Sister Jude remarks that “I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, Sister, but it’s a decided improvement.” Regarding Kit and Grace’s sourdough-adjacent sexy time, Sister Jude accuses them of “purposely trying to make a murder-baby” and suggests sterilization, but doesn’t follow through because she’s called away by a guard. Another guard takes Grace for her punishment, and Kit is left with Satan Mary, who hands him Grace’s file and tells him that she isn’t as innocent as she says.
Lana is up on the ward having a fantasy that doesn’t involve rolling pins and being throttled: Sprung from Briarcliff, she imagines herself receiving an award for her amazing journalistic feat of exposing the horrors of the asylum, and lauds fellow patients like beats-head-on-wall woman and can’t-stop-jerking-off man. “I did everything I could think of to survive, and then I did what I had to do to get out,” she tells the audience in her brain, and then hot-tails it to Thredson to agree to whatever therapy he wants to try to cure her lesbianism, which happens to be a combination of aversion and conversion therapies. Neither one is any fun: Lana is put on an apomorphine drip and shown photos of sexy ladies, including one of her deceased ex Wendy (Clea Duvall, looking great, I must say), forcing her to cry and yearn and hurl until she has to take a break. Thredson removes the bucket of puke from Lana and tells her that he thinks she may enjoy the conversion part of the therapy, which involves a long-haired somebody named Daniel, wearing a robe. Thredson guides Lana through a series of horrifically unsexy instructions in an attempt to entice her into the realm of penis power (“you will regard his physique,” “try to focus on his genitals,” “place [your hand] on Daniel’s member,” “try to relate the pleasure you’re feeling to his tumescence”) while he pressures her into masturbating (because that was totally kosher at Briarcliff? What about Rudy the masturbator? Hypocrisy!).
Lana weeps and vomits again and Dr. Thredson finally has to admit that, FINE, if that monologue wasn’t doing it for you nothing will. Later, however, he finds her on the ward and tells her that even though the aversion didn’t work (and he’s not generally an advocate of it), he still wants to get her out and he’ll be back on Friday to take her with him when he leaves Briarcliff. Obviously he’s not going anywhere but into Dr. Arden’s mutilation chamber, or into Satan Mary Eunice’s habit of horrors, or somewhere else deathly — that’s my guess, at least. “Hey, Leo and Teresa, see you for clam strips and chowder on Saturday! I’ll be the one missing my tumescent member and with sores all over my face!”
The emergency that required Sister Jude’s attention was, it turns out, some detectives who showed up to question Dr. Arden regarding his fisticuffs with “a certain lady of the evening,” the prostitute who served as stand-in for Satan Mary Eunice and who caught a peek at Dr. Arden’s cache of sadistic porn. Looks like she tattled — I’m glad to see that dangling plotline has been tied up into a nice little bow. Arden denies any wrongdoing, of course, but then the detectives bring up the prostitute’s testimony of having seen Nazi memorabilia, which certainly validates Anne Frank’s story for Sister Jude. Arden excuses himself, and when Sister asks the detectives if they’re going to arrest him they explain that they can’t — they’re from homicide, his hooker-beating just sort of reminded them of a certain serial murderer still on the loose with the surgical skill required to remove skin and heads from people. Now we’re getting somewhere! Sister, go tell Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes) everything!
She does, but Monsignor is weirdly unreceptive to her pretty solid argument that Dr. Arden needs to go. He accuses her of foolishness because of her drinking; apparently he’s heard about how sloppy she got during movie night and isn’t impressed. He dismisses her with a passive-aggressive “pray on it,” and as soon as she’s gone he rings up Dr. Arden to tell him to do some “housekeeping” because people are starting to think that maybe he’s a sadistic Nazi Dr. Frankenstein. Oh, so he’s in on it! Sister Jude contacts the Mother Superior for a rambling constitutional during which she confesses to drinking and shares her fears about Dr. Arden, complaining that Monsignor Timothy is unconcerned. Mother Superior gently reminds Sister Jude that her strength is her moral compass. That’s a good one. Sister Jude’s compass is all over the freaking map, and I don’t think Mother Superior knows about the hit-and-run 15 years ago. Sister Jude has been absolved from the drinking thing, though, and carries this power of forgiveness into her meeting with Kit. He tells her that he wants to find God and wants to be forgiven for the crimes he still isn’t sure he committed. Sister Jude, flashing back to pancaking that little girl of the past, suddenly seems sympathetic to his plight.
Having been dealt their punishments, Grace and Kit are sent to solitary cells separated by a wall thin enough to talk through (bad move, institution architects). Kit tells Grace that he’s read her file and knows she was lying about that tale she spun in the bun-baking room. She comes clean and admits that she killed her father after years of molestation, and then axed up her stepmom for failing to cease the abuse and trying to shut her up with candy. Plus her dad sold the horses on the farm, the beloved horses. Seriously, lady, stick to the point. She asks Kit if he’s repulsed and he tells her he admires her — I mean, horseback riders are always down for a crescent roll in the hay. That’s what I hear. Time to bake a murder baby!
In Dr. Arden’s surgery cellar, Anne Frank and Arden are facing off: He bats her around, angry that she’s outing him as a Nazi murderer-sociopath instead of just a murderer-sociopath. No, wait, he’s none of those things! “I’m from Scottsdale!” He locks the door, but Anne the former pickpocket points a gun at him that she lifted from one of the detectives on his way out from interrogating Arden and plugs him in the leg. He spits at her, which is rude, but she manages to get him to give her the keys because Anne Frank is such a fucking badass. Unfortunately, she opens the wrong door on the way out and is hit with the horrible sight of Shelly, whore, who looks even worse than she did earlier in the episode. Sort of like her face is a county fair cheeseburger with the bun peeled off and some teeth in the middle of the patty and sewn-up grody infected amputations, with lots of mustard. Shelly begs “Kill me,” but that’s not how things work around here. No, Shelly has a long way to go on the gross-o-meter; with any luck, we’ll get a real treat in Episode 7 when she’s just a little cardboard box of human chili cheese fries. In that case, the Parents TV Council may be sad to hear, Miller 64 might want to splurge on extra advertising.
What goes better with chili cheese fries and some tumescent FX near-porn than a refreshing light beer?