Last night was Ladies’ Night at Briarcliff, and by “Ladies’ Night” I mean that ladies were on the torture menu exclusively. Nipple lampshade appetizers? Sure thing. Sliced abdomens over alien babies? You got it. Lobotomy frozen islands? Falling-down-a-trap-door parfait? Cold-corpse-of-your-ex-girlfriend flambé? NO THANK YOU, I’M FULL. But we’ve removed the teeth, sir. Well, then. OK!
Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) is paying a visit to Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis), a sort of Nazi-hunting private eye and Holocaust survivor referred to her by Mother (Superior) Claudia. She reveals her suspicions about Dr. Arden’s (James Cromwell) Nazi past, handing over a dossier on Arden with his supposed real name (Hans Gruber) and address. Goodman tells Sister Jude about Operation Paperclip, a program that relocated “the best Nazi scientists” and employed them in the U.S. after World War II, assigning them false biographies. The SS scientists were identified with tattoos of their blood types on their upper arms; Goodman warns Sister Jude not to try to check out Arden’s nude torso on her own, however, because “if he is who [she] suspects, the last thing [she] wants to do is corner him.” Even with his bum leg with the gunshot wound? He’s kind of ripe for cornering in his current state.
Dr. Arden, meanwhile, stumbles into Sister Jude’s office with a gun pointed at the back of his head by Anne Frank (Franka Potente), finding Satan Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) in Sister Jude’s place. Anne tells Satan Mary that Arden is a monster and that she “should see what he has in his office” — that’d be legless, blister-faced Shelley (Chloe Sevigny) — but Satan Mary immediately summons a guard, who points a gun at the back of Anne’s head, forming a Human Centipede pistol chain. Anne presumably drops her weapon, because she ends up sedated and straitjacketed in a cell with Sister Jude, anxiously trying to tell the nun about the Thing that Shelley has become. Sister Jude has already poked around in Arden’s office and, fortunately for her (Shelley’s so gross at this point), found no trace of Shelley, just some boring brains in jars. “Could it have escaped on its own?” asks Jude. Nope, because “it had no legs.” Well, maybe Shelley mounted the six-legged microchip Arden pulled out of Kit and ran away on that.
Satan Mary enters the cell and summons Sister Jude to her office, saying that a man has arrived who wants to speak with her: It’s Jim Brown (David Chisum), who claims, it would appear sanely, that Anne Frank is not Anne Frank at all but his wife, Charlotte. She’s also the mother of his baby, who’s “a sweet little boy, but he has a colic.” That colic made Charlotte a little “cuckoo” (Jim tends to think Charlotte is a bit fragile anyway), and after seeing the Anne Frank theatrical adaptation, Charlotte latched onto the Nazi fascination a little too hard. (A flashback with whoooo-weeee-whoooo alien music, shot with a tin can and a flashlight, shows us Jim busting in on Charlotte as she gives herself a little homemade Holocaust tattoo.) The Auschwitz babies, explains Jim, made Charlotte neglect her own, driving her to the library and into her study to make crazy-person newspaper collages. Seriously, if Charlotte had had the Internet none of this would have been an issue. You can iPhone all the war crimes you want while bouncing a baby on your lap, pretending you’re reading BabyCenter, and nobody cares.
Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto, or “Dr. Buttinski”) materializes in the doorway to offer his diagnosis of postpartum psychosis, which — oops — doesn’t exist yet. Jim wants his wife home, and against Dr. Thredson’s protest, Sister Jude agrees. Charlotte isn’t too keen on leaving Briarcliff (those free-form gowns are really comfortable), but she isn’t allowed to escape the domestic bear trap of her 1960s duties. That’s a mistake, advises Dr. Thredson again, as is the planned sterilization of Kit (Evan Peters) and Grace (Lizzie Brochere), which remain on the agenda. Kit and Grace are still in their solitary cells, yapping at each other through the wall and imagining stroking each other’s murderfaces. Grace opines that Sister Jude is the devil, when (you rang?) Satan Mary Eunice opens Kit’s cell door to spring him in time for supper. No operation for him; Sister Jude changed her mind because he “showed signs of true redemption.” Grace is not so lucky: first, because her operation is still scheduled; second, because her scripted meltdown is uninventive; lastly, because her cell door is pried open by aliens.
But first, Lana (Sarah Paulson) is gulping down her Dixie cup of pills on the ward and staring listlessly out the window when Dr. Thredson’s hand, accompanied by the kind of ominous music that stamps EVIL on his previously sympathetic-seeming character, appears to rest on her shoulder like an Edward Gorey bat. HMMM. Thredson is at the end of his tenure at Briarcliff and is taking Lana with him when he leaves, right after dinner. “Is this real?” asks Lana. Yes! You have foreshadowed enough! It is real, and it will be a horrible mistake!
Thredson departs to meet with Kit and convinces him to record a confession to killing Bloody Face’s victims, supposedly to ensure that he’ll stay at Briarcliff and not be subjected to lethal injection for his crimes. Thredson coaches him to sound sincere, and to convince himself that he actually skinned those poor dames, including his wife, Alma (Britne Olford) — who, murdered or not, is stroking her swollen midsection in an eerie white-light chamber and hovering over Grace. A leggier cousin of E.T. scratches Grace’s midsection with its talon as she screams. Either Grace is hallucinating while being sterilized, being impregnated with an alien baby, or being implanted with the same SanDisk chips that Kit has in his neck. Or something else, I guess — this episode was pretty art-house for AHSA. Lots of close-ups of canes and fireplaces.
Sister Jude picks up the horn and cancels her Nazi probe with Mr. Goodman. Dr. Arden catches her at the end of the call, hobbles in, and says, “It sounded to me as if there was some juicy little tidbit stuck in your craw. Oh come on, Sister, spit it up.” Mmm, this man. Everything he says is delicious. Arden cuts to the chase and asks what Sister Jude found on her stroll around his torture chamber after Charlotte tattled on him, and Sister replies that “It wasn’t all that interesting.”
Relieved, Dr. Sadist takes a seat and informs Sister that he’s pressing charges against her because Charlotte was discharged without punishment even though she managed to swipe a gun from a guard and shoot him in the leg. Not that Arden didn’t deserve it, but he’s got a point. Unless Sister Jude “prostrated [her]self on the floor and begged [his] forgiveness,” her career as a bossy nun is over: Arden is calling the Monsignor for her dismissal, but not before he retires to his cellar to take off his pants and tend to his leg wound. Satan Mary Eunice appears to helpfully kneel in front of Arden and unwrap his bandages, giving him doe eyes and apologizing for attempting her satanic bow chicka bow wow on him during the storm. He forgives her, not just because she’s so cute now that she’s back in her demure habit, but because she removed Shelley from his torture chamber to protect him. She floats the idea that she might serve as a good right-hand woman for him, and he compliments her trustworthiness and upper-arm strength in dragging the Shellmeister out of his operating room (“You’d be surprised, she weighed very little”) and into the woods.
Unfortunately for the schoolchildren enjoying recess somewhere near Briarcliff, Shelley was not dragged into the woods, but into a stairwell a hop and a skip from the swing set. A wee ginger hears Shelley’s poisoned little monster-sighs and goes over to the stairwell to take a look. At this point, one look at Shelley’s all you need. The ginger screams and the whole schoolyard runs over to see Shelley, climbing the stairs on her hands in her skivvies, her mouth looking like a lobster tail and the rest of her looking like some garbage lit on fire. Everybody runs away, understandably, but maybe one of them will call for help? Is it too much to ask for Shelley to get a break at this point?
Not surprisingly, Jim Brown and his wife, Charlotte, née Cohen née Anne Frank, have come back to Briarcliff because apparently telling delusional patients that their babies and husbands need them to suck it up and go back to vacuuming and defrosting dinners isn’t the cure-all Sister Jude & Co. supposed it to be. Dr. Arden watches as Charlotte is taken to a cell by guards, like, “I am going to debase the shit out of you with my evil cane later, Anne.” He immediately waltzes into her cell, where she’s cowering in a corner, and casts his hooker-beating shadow onto the wall.
In Sister Jude’s office, Jim Brown is complaining that Charlotte hasn’t been magically reprogrammed into a “normal mother,” and we flash back to her trying to smother the baby in his crib. Sister Jude is reluctant to treat Charlotte, so Jim asks if that nice Dr. Thredson who apparently was decades ahead of his time in coining the term “postpartum psychosis” might be interested in rehabilitating his wife. Sister Jude asks a guard to find Thredson, who, as it happens, is preparing to meet Lana by the stairs to smuggle her out of Briarcliff with a disguise (a coat and a box of office papers) and a flourish (he lights the guard’s cigarette on the way out). It is harder to break out of a paper bag than it is to escape from this mental institution. Thredson pops Lana into his car as a guard comes out to call the doctor up to Sister Jude’s, but Thredson explains that “I don’t work here anymore, Frank. As a matter of fact, I never did.”
Guess we just found our killer! I can’t wait to see how he’s decorated his mid-century modern house with skin and body parts. I hear you can dress up a lovely Eames chair with femurs and sell it on Etsy for quite a bit of cash.
Dr. Arden emerges from Charlotte’s cell, inside of which a lot of unseen cane crimes probably just occurred, and meets her husband in the hallway to obliquely (she’d be home later that night, “a new woman”) prescribe a lobotomy. In no time flat, she’s on the table, her husband sitting in the operation theater seats (doesn’t he know what good theater can do to a person? Look what it did to your wife, man!). Eyes are pried open. Dear God, please don’t show us the ice pick going into the eye. Sister Jude is also praying when a guard comes into her bedroom to tell her that Lana has gone missing; Sister perches on the bed and embarks on a monologue odyssey into her childhood, during which she found a baby squirrel, put it in a shoebox, neglected it, and then found it departed for that big peanut butter sandwich in the sky. Her mother threw the squirrel in the garbage, and when Sister told her mother that God hadn’t answered her prayers, her mother “pahred herself a whiskey” and advised that “Gahd always answers our prayas, Judy, it’s just rayly the answah we’re lookin’ fah.”
This scene is the Langiest, and I loved it even if it did sort of smack of the best moment in your weekend acting class. Put her on a stool with a spotlight and stick some background audience coughs in there, and bam! You’re transported to the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
She then tells the guard that her “goose is cooked,” to which the guard responds that “she never had a chance” because she’s such a strong woman. Whoa, there! We have to get Sister Jude onto redemption island and pronto, or else Satan Mary Eunice needs to stage a female rebellion. As Charlotte’s lobotomy creeps along, Sister Jude, all cried out, dolls herself up like she used to in her pre-vehicular-manslaughter days and hits the bar to meet a fella. Charlotte’s eyes are orbitoclasted just as Sister Jude secures her Mr. Goodbar.
Dr. Thredson is showing Lana into his house, a Don Draper–esque pad for the criminally insane, and attempting to convince her that she can’t go back to her own home because she is, after all, a runaway from an institution. As he goes into the kitchen to pour her a “big delicious glass of wine,” Lana picks up the phone to try to call her friend Lois, but Thredson puts the kibosh on that before the first ring (he broke her out of the asylum, so he’s at risk if anyone finds out; also, he’s a psychopathic killer, and they’re really anal about their phone bills). Thredson compliments her narcissistically, telling her that she’ll win a Pulitzer for telling his story. His story? But his story is pretty boring … oh, hello, why does this lampshade have nipples staring at Lana as she sips her Pinot Noir? Why is this bowl of mints so wobbly and evocative of a human skull? I loved Quinto in this scene, munching on his brain cavity candy and boring holes into Lana with his eyes, framed in angry-eyebrow-style glasses.
Terrified, she excuses herself to the restroom, but instead wanders into Thredson’s closet of people hides and torture instruments. Oh, is this a hobby room? Yes, he makes furniture, “lamps mostly.” He makes the shades himself. What material does he use? “Skin!” chirps Thredson gleefully, then pulls a lever that sends Lana tumbling into a basement with the frozen corpse of her ex-girlfriend Wendy (Clea Duvall). Chained to the floor by one ankle, Lana has to sit through Dr. Thredson’s creepiness (he’s gloved now) for a spell: Normally by now he would have removed Wendy’s skin and head, “but we need to keep her around a little longer for our purposes.” What purposes might those be? Oh, just the resumption of Lana’s aversion therapy, which now includes making out with Wendy’s body, whose teeth have been plonked into Thredson’s Bloody Face mask. That probably won’t “cure” Lana’s homosexuality, but it will definitely gross her right out the door for the rest of her life. Wendy’s been chilling in that basement for a while. Gnarly.
Life at Briarcliff is looking positively idyllic now by comparison, at least for the single second (ah, the first cigarette after condemning yourself forever because you naively believed your psychiatrist’s empty promises!) between Kit’s confession and when he discovers Grace bleeding and hunched over in a chair, suffering from either a choppy sterilization surgery or that whole alien gut-slashing thing. Kit barely has time to start screaming for someone to help Grace (who’s hoarsely insisting “Alma’s alive! I saw her!” — she needs a lozenge or all of this is going to be drowned out in the ambient music) before he’s arrested for the crimes we now know Dr. Thredson framed him for.
Sister Jude wakes up next to her one-night stand and creeps out the door before he wakes up as “It Could Be a Wonderful World” plays, segueing us back into the grainy home-movie-style footage of Charlotte and Jim’s house. Charlotte is cuddling her baby, cooking pot roast (“with carrots, potatoes, and onions,” but no inflection), and looking very put-together and like she has, either temporarily or permanently, forgotten about that pesky Holocaust. Nice lobotomy, bro! Charlotte agrees to let Jim throw away her old newspaper clippings and tells him she’s never been happier. One black-and-white image on the old corkboard, though, assures us of the fact that young Arden (played by Cromwell’s son, John) was indeed a Nazi scientist — there he is, right behind Hitler. Would it be a conflict of interest for Satan Mary Eunice to get this photo into Sister Jude’s hands and cause more tension between the two? I know Satan and Hitler were probably pretty tight.
Next week: More screaming, more scalpels, and newly evil Quinto in an undershirt seasoning humans with nutmeg. I’m hoping that Sister Jude and Monsignor Timothy get blasted and hook up in the hydrotherapy room if she still has a job. Since Bloody Face’s identity has been revealed, we may be treated to some new patients chez Briarcliff, and that’s always a delight. Also, before I get my check, could I please request more aliens? I’d really like to see Sister Jude hop on a spaceship for a while. She seems like she could use a vacation.