Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, American Horror Story: Asylum. While the pilot wasn’t as scary as I’d hoped, last night’s episode delivered plenty of the gray-faced exorcisms, shots of knives carving bloody meat during unsettling conversations, and electroshock treatments that are so close to my weird old heart. And what about Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) refusing to be seduced by Shelly the nymphomaniac (Chloë Sevigny) as she sexily begged him for five measly minutes outdoors? “No! Whores get nothing!” The euphemisms in this installment were top-notch: I think “Now slowly, show me your mossy bank” has got to be the most potent gender-neutral boner-slaughterer ever introduced into the aural atmosphere. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
Leo (Adam Levine) is still, illogically, semi-alive but minus one arm on the floor of current-day Briarcliff. His wife Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) is chased by Bloody Face as she tries to drag Leo across the floor to safety; no dice. Leo is stabbed as Teresa watches. I felt that this scene was redundant because I’d assumed they were both already dead, plus I hate how it’s shot (like Saw on a dimmer switch), so I was happy to be sent lurching back into 1964 to Wendy’s (Clea Duvall) very nice apartment to find her weeping to her friends about giving in to Sister Jude’s (Jessica Lange) blackmail to have her girlfriend Lana (Sarah Paulson) committed. Wine is poured, the killer still at large is addressed, and then the doorbell rings. Psych, it’s only trick-or-treaters, and Wendy’s tears increase because she forgot to buy candy and she’s a schoolteacher with a heart of gold, bless her. She’ll recant in the morning, she decides, but first she needs to unwind with some fine cheeba, Dusty Springfield, and a nice hot shower. For this ultimate-satisfaction-noise double pleasure she will be punished, as everyone in the world of American Horror Story: Asylum is when they indulge in some sensory ooh la la’s. Bloody Face appears to stab her in the head — does that mean Kit isn’t Bloody Face? I think so! — and then probably steal all her vintage 1960s weed and raid her icebox (killers do this).
Back at Briarcliff, there’s a room raid in progress. Pepper (Naomi Grossman) has committed a food violation, which is a no-no because of the “RATS!” Speaking of vermin, Lana has squirreled away some notes that she hopes to pass to her editor at the local paper about her treatment at Briarcliff, which Sister Jude finds and confiscates (and wonders if she’s planning to send them to the “American Civil Lesbians Union”). Unfortunately, Lana mentions her excellent memory, so immediately you know that the nuns are going to muck around with her brain. By the way: Shelly has a cucumber in her cell, and she’s not planning to whip up some sunomono. This episode’s tiny but remarkable planet of a C-plot is Shelly’s vagina, which began receiving visitors at age 5 (her hand; mother-prescribed mittens), and which seems to be shushed by exposure to sunlight and fresh air. Coupled with Sevigny’s orgasmic guest spot on Louie, I’m going to have a hard time rewatching Big Love without imagining exciting underpants under Nicolette’s prairie skirts. Sister Jude visits with Dr. Arden to suggest electroshock therapy for Lana (she was once against it, but because she’s a vengeful little kitty, she’s “prayed on it” and changed her mind in Lana’s case), and this treatment is carried out in short order. I find electroshock very uncomfortable to watch, as I’m sure most people do, regardless of whether or not it’s effective; the fact that ECT is often used as a “last resort” is already morbidly fascinating, but the idea that a person might be forced into having it (which is, apparently, a reality) and then find themselves robbed of their memories is downright haunting. Lana’s electroshocks were graphic (aren’t they always, though?) and a good way to establish how powerless she is in the asylum. Bold for the second episode, too.
I must say that whiskey and a typewriter really suit Zachary Quinto in his new role as Dr. Oliver Thredson, court-appointed psychiatrist. I almost prefer this to his role last season as Chad, relationship-drama fiend and interior-design enthusiast. Writing his profile on Kit, he deems the patient to be acutely insane, mostly due to the fact that Kit’s pretty set on the idea that his wife Alma isn’t dead, she was just lifted off by some mysterious aliens with powerful magnets. Who may or may not have taken her head. While attempting to establish whether or not Kit is sane enough to stand trial, Thredson happens to observe that the conditions at Briarcliff are sort of terrible. Why would he think that? Could it be the single French pop song that plays forever in the common room? Sister Mary Eunice is approached in the woods by Dr. Arden, who wants to feed her a candy apple. She attempts to decline (“Sweets lead to sin,” according to Sister Jude), but nobody ever stares at a candy apple for more than 10 seconds without finally giving in. And nobody ever eats a candy apple without regrets: either demonic possession, or a cavity (demonic possession of the tooth root). Chloë Sevigny is lurking in a window upon their return, and somehow divines from the apple that there’s something brewing between Arden and Sister Mary No-Sweets.
In Sister Jude’s office, the parents of a 17-year-old boy are wringing their hands over his odd behavior. Dr. Thredson comes in just as Sister has finished informing Wacky Jed’s parents that “Good boys gone bad are my area of expertise” (more of this please!) and attempts to take over as some sort of reasonable force in the machinations of the asylum. What’s up with Jed? Oh, he sees and hears things that aren’t there, worries his parents, and dismembers cows and eats their hearts. Those kind of antics. We’re treated to flashbacks of Jed eating his rare burger in the barn, which are, again, suitably horrific. Sister Jude responds bossily to Dr. Thredson’s insistence that the boy needs medication, but in this case she’s right. Clearly, Jed is speaking in Exorcist. He’s very fluent.
With Sister Jude occupied, Lana and Grace (Lizzie Brochere) are luxuriating in the hydrotherapy room, chatting about the hidden tunnel out of the institution and trying to figure out which of them will wander out of her respective tub naked and stand pensively by the window, as people do (Grace wins the coin toss). Lana doesn’t want Grace to share any of the deets of the Super Special Escape Tunnel with Kit, either because she truly believes he’s Bloody Face or because she’s jealous of his relationship with Grace. Grace suggests that Lana has a difficult time trusting people, perhaps because her girlfriend INSTITUTIONALIZED HER AGAINST HER WILL, and claims to also know betrayal. Hey, just make out already. Isn’t that where this is going? It’s very Girl, Interrupted. Dr. Arden, meanwhile, is having a chat with Shelly, who wants to show him her candy apple in exchange for a constitutional in the fresh air. He rebuffs her: “You’re just a dirty little slut.” She slumps down to her knees. Oh, Chloë. That does nothing for Dr. Arden, who pushes her and tells her that whores get NOTHING! NOTHING! Except an unfriendly ear into which to dump her backstory: Before Briarcliff, Shelly fell in love with a jazz musician, married him, and then cheated on him with some Navy men. He had her committed. I don’t know, Shelly. Maybe he had you committed because you slouch around like a sex panther and talk about produce all the time. I really hope that Shelly is able to successfully seduce Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) and anger Sister Jude. There would be no cane big enough for Shelly in that case (titters forever).
Dr. Thredson is called on to assist the Monsignor and exorcist on call. In preparation, the common room closes up early and the patients are sent back to their cells. Kit yoinks Lana’s notes (“Don’t forget/Burning flesh/Sister Jude’s face”), explaining that she’ll get in trouble if she’s caught with them, and then reads them in his cell because that’s what you do with stolen notes, especially juicy ones you pilfer from people in the nuthouse. Dr. Arden apparently has the night off to chill at his pad, light some candles, hire a prostitute who looks like Mary Eunice, fix a nice roast, and listen to classical music. The tart arrives in a fur coat and starts talking tarty to the doctor, who recoils and tries to force her to enjoy Chopin and a fine Cabernet. When she attempts to lift this creepy veil from her one-and-a-half-hour time commitment by suggesting they dance, Dr. Arden stabs at his beef and starts talking shop (hey, nice young prostitute, how you feeling about that killer on the loose?). He sends her into the bathroom to remove her makeup and put on a nun’s habit, and she discovers his hidden stash of bondage photos. She freaks, Dr. Arden busts in, and she is forced to lie on the bed and “Slowly, show [him] [her] mossy bank.” She, obviously, bites him on the arm, kicks him in the balls, and bolts.
He’s lucky, though, because over at Briarcliff the exorcism is going the way exorcisms usually go — not great. Jed has been strapped down, so naturally the bed is levitating and he’s able to send the exorcist guy flying through the air to crash against a far wall. Sister Jude, who hadn’t been invited into the room during the holy-water-throwing portion of the ceremony because she’s a woman, gets to reenter for the juicy part: the last rites. The all-knowing devil possessing Jed seems to really hate Sister Jude, because suddenly he’s the one-man Silence of the Lambs hallway gauntlet: He calls her a whore, talks about her “smelly clam,” waves his grubby crotch around, and mentions the “53 cocks” she has put in her mouth. Not at once. I think. However derivative this whole exorcism scene is, the makeup is fantastic and I’m totally buying it. Flashback to Sister Jude, de-nunned, crooning in a bar in a red dress in her Blanche DuBois former life; she’s trying to get a soldier to take her home but is met with rejection, so drunkenly climbs into her car and proceeds to run over a little girl in a blue dress. Back in the exorcism room, Jed’s gossipy demon recalls this event and sends Sister Jude into a fit of rage, so she thwacks him repeatedly until the Monsignor and Dr. Thredson burst in to inject Jed with shut-up serum. Jed foams at the mouth and expires just as Sister Mary Eunice arrives in the doorway. She faints and (it is strongly implied) absorbs the demon into her pale, pristine body like the pure white roll of paper towels that she formerly was.
As you know, power outages are caused by demon body-transfer, so of course the cell doors open in the ward as Jed succumbs to death. Grace and Lana start to run, but Kit catches up with them and takes this opportunity to try to proclaim his innocence to skeptical and jealous Lana. She isn’t having it, and she blows the whistle on Kit, calling the guards to the ward and ruining everyone’s chance at freedom and a more diverse playlist to listen to during their recreational hours. The guards beat Kit as Grace stares at Lana like, “Why did you do this?” Seriously, Lana. Why did you do this? So fickle, that rascally Lana. There are other fish in the mental institution. I know Shelly’s down, for instance. She’s got a chopped salad in her cell and she’s aching to dole out plates. Kit, Grace, and Lana are summoned to Sister Jude’s cane closet so that the former can be beaten with a cane chosen by the latter as a reward for being a tattle. Kit offers to take the full punishment, so receives 40 blows on the bottom that really should be administered to the aliens who beheaded, but did not kill, his wife. Sister Mary Eunice, now Satan Mary Eunice, is sleeping peacefully nearby in a modest but haphazardly draped cotton thing, and Dr. Arden creeps up on her to loom awkwardly and lightly fondle her thigh. When she wakes up, he blathers about protecting her modesty and how to him the body is just sprockets and stuff. Cha, right! That’s a body of devil sprockets now, buster, because as soon as he departs Mary Eunice reclines again and sends shudders through a crucifix on her wall. I can’t wait to see how many candy apples that nun will put in her mouth before the end of this season.