The leaves are turning, the apples are falling from the trees, and the shelves at Duane Reade are sagging under the weight of millions of Hershey’s Miniatures. That can only mean one thing: Tis the season for Ryan Murphy’s giddily insane televised horror serial. This year we’ve got a new set of characters, fresh new faces, and a new setting, but the big question at the core of it all remains the same: WILL THEY MAKE IT TO NATIONALS?
Whoops – sorry, wrong nightmare.
American Horror Story is back, y’all – bringing with it a new location, a new storyline, and a new set of rules. Last year’s “House” miniseries pulled off the near-impossible: smashing nearly 100 years of horror movie tropes into a self-contained tale that was fresh, exciting, profane, ludicrous, surprising, gruesome, timely, and extremely satisfying. This year the gang is back with a new tale entitled “Asylum”, which tells the tale of a New England sanitarium that houses tortured souls on both sides of the bars.
I’m thrilled to be back this year to recap Round 2. And as a lifelong horror nut with 16 years of Catholic schooling under my belt, I would like to think that I am particularly well-suited to recapping this nuntastic installment. Let’s jump right in!
“Are we still gonna wanna bang each other when we’re 80?”
Such is the primary concern of Adam Levine as he and his new wife, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, as they creep into the abandoned, derelict skeleton of some massive, crumbling institution. The time is somewhere around the present, the location is New England, and the countdown has started for the couple destined to be the first on the slab in season two of American Horror Story. I mean, really – Levine is too busy spinning around in a bumper car seat to commit to an entire season, and Mrs. Channing Tatum has a full-time job beating straight women and gay men off of her husband with a cudgel carved into the likeness of Matthew McConaughey. (Their characters here are technically named Leo and Teresa, but let’s not waste any of their precious and rapidly dwindling time learning extra names.)
The climax of the newlywed couple’s “Haunted Honeymoon” tour is not, as it turns out, a recreation of the classic Gilda Radner/Dom Delouise (in drag) performance of “Ballin’ the Jack” from the movie of the same name. No, the horned-up honeymooners are visiting the twelve hauntedest places in America … and banging in them. The last stop: Briarcliff Manor, an appropriately foreboding structure built in 1908 as a tiburculosis ward and bought by the Catholic Church in 1962 after 46,000 people had died within its walls. Said the Church: “We were looking for something with some real turn-of-the-century charm, and were determined not to be turned off by paint color, outdated fixtures, or a history of plague-like mass deaths.”
Mrs. Channing Tatum’s brochure tells her that in addition to Molton Brown toiletries and Frette linens, their luxury accommodation also features a “death chute” that was used to transport bodies of the infected out of the hospital and which now serves to birth to the immortal line “We should totally do it in the death chute.” She adds that the sanitarium’s most notorious guest was a serial killer named Bloody Face. Let’s assume that will come into play later.
As if on cue, Adam finds a hospital bed equipped with wrist and ankle straps and Jenna commands, “Tie me down.” Before you can say “And She Will Be Loved”, he’s strapped her in, dropped trou (sorry, fellas – no buns), and is introducing her to his Maroon Five-Plus.
But then… they hear something. She wants to go investigate, but he’s far too busy exploring a particularly inviting corridor. Eventually he relents and they jot off to the source of the sound, which gets Jenna so excited that she exclaims, “You could totally put it in my ass right now!” And they say romance is dead.
The source of the sound is a giant metal door with a slot in it (pay attention, because we’ll be back several times later). Adam excitedly sticks his cell phone through the slot but he can’t see anything. Inexplicably excited by the image of her husband elbow-deep in a steel gloryhole, Mrs. Tatum offers him a blowjob (sorry, censors – her word, not mine!) if he does it again…
He happily obliges, as does she. But moments later, something appears on the other side of the door to grab Adam’s phone … and, for good measure, half of his arm. He pulls his gnawed stump out of the hole, and also removes what’s left of his arm from the door.
And now the screaming starts.
The powers that be have decided to keep last season’s atmospheric, kicky jazz theme under the opening credits montage, which once again features fast-cut, disjointed images that likely serve as clues as to what lies ahead. Here are a few highlights:
People in cages
A woman in a white gown crab-walking up the stairs
A pig head:
A nun mounting a bandage-wrapped patient:
Ke$ha before brunch:
Aaaaaaand of course a smiling, evil statue of the Virgin Mary:
Nuns, harder and more often
Crazy people, harder and more often
Soooooooo it’s basically a tumblr of my adolescence.
When we return it’s 1964. At a rural gas station, we get the biggest shock of the episode, season, and series thus far:
Gas was 30 cents a gallon!!!!
I’m gonna give you a moment to recover from that one, because I got faint just typing it.
A family in a car makes unpleasantries with the station attendant, who is played by Season 1 MVP Evan Peters. Gone is Terrible Tate’s blond mop and red-rimmed, permateared eyes: this season Peters’ character is more mature and hopefully less serial-killy. But let’s not double-down on that just yet.
Kit (as we will soon learn he is called) locks up the cash box as the radio croons “There goes my baby…”. Not that that means anything, I’M SURE. The night is quiet until the bell goes off announcing a customer. Kit grumbles that the sign says “closed” and goes out to see … and the lights go out. He panics momentarily, but then a few guys around his age appear. It’s a prank! Ah, kids those days.
It turns out Billy (Joe Egender, looking a bit like an undercooked Giovanni Ribisi) wants to borrow Kit’s gun, because – and here we go – “some n***er tried to mess with Randy’s little sister.” Kit looks about as happy as I am to hear such talk, and Billy pushes further by asking how Kit makes enough to hire “a maid.” I think we all know where this is going. Billy then takes out a candy bar and takes a bite, cooing, “Mmmm… chocolate.” Yeah, WE GET IT, BILLY. He then produces a vintage Mister Coffee machine, brews a fresh cup, and presents it to Kip, asking, “I’m guessing you take it black?”
Later, Kit comes home to his charming little house that has chickens in the yard and – you guessed it – a lovely young African-American woman (Britne Oldford) waiting inside with a home-cooked meal for her husband. Secret husband, as Kit reveals when he puts his wedding ring on after walking in the door. Turns he wants to go public about their marriage: “We didn’t commit a crime – we drove to Provincetown and got married!” Considering I know several gay couples who did the very same thing before we won marriage equality in New York, the parallel being drawn between interracial couples in the ’60s and gay couples today seems deliberate.
But enough political talk: It’s sexytime! Ignoring the roast rapidly turning to jerky in the oven, Kit and Alma make sweet, tender newlywed love – you know, the kind that will be replaced by arguments over which one of them has to get up to turn the TV to the other channel in about a week.
Afterward, the radio plays as Alma gets up to check on the roast. At the line “Please don’t take her…” the radio goes silent and lights blaze through the windows. Thinking that it’s Billy, Kit runs out with a shotgun. But unless Mini Ribisi is flying a helicopter with a powerful floodlight, this ain’t the case: it’s Fire in the Sky time at the Walker residence.
Kit hears Alma scream for help and he runs back inside, unable to find her. Suddenly the windows implode at a massive sound, the lights blinding from seemingly all directions at once. A pencil levitates up to the ceiling, then a lampshade, then Kit. More lights and loud noise, then he hits the floor. We see flashes of a sweaty Kit in a blinding white light and of a long, inhuman finger reaching out to touch his face.
We then find ourselves at the gates of Briarcliff, hovering above a classic convertible, as the unforgettable score from Carrie sets the tone. (I half expect to see Nancy Allen crouching under a bush biting her heavily-glossed lip.) I’m so glad that they’re continuing the practice of borrowing bits and pieces of classic horror and suspense film scores – maybe by the end of the season we’ll have a scene with all of the patients performing the choral chant from Troll.
Luminous lesbian genre mainstay Sarah Paulson (who last year played hilariously shallow psychic Billie Dean and started her TV career playing a ghost on American Gothic) is behind the wheel – it turns out she’s a reporter named Lana who is doing a story on the sanitarium’s bakery. Ha! I recommend the crazy bread.
Inside the gates, Lana runs into a particularly delightful inmate named Pepper, who is clearly styled to look like Schlitze from Tod Browning’s classic Freaks. Schlitze was actually a man who wore a dress (and played a woman in the film) and may in one sense be one of the first trans film stars. Anyway, historical accuracies aside, Pepper really needs to attend to that unibrow:
A kindly nun named Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe, last year’s gloriously evil, abortion-happy Mrs. Montgomery) gently tugs Lana away from Pepper, noting that Pepper drowned her baby sister and cut its ears off. Okay – this is officially the worst community theater production of Annie EVER.
They enter Briarcliff and find themselves facing an enormous spiral staircase and more music from Carrie. They ascend and enter a room to find Jessica Lange shaving Chloe Sevigny’s head. Yes, I just typed that sentence.
Sister Jude (Lange) quickly dismisses Shelley (Sevigny) and reprimands Sister Eunice for not knocking. One immediately gets the sense that Sister Eunice gets reprimanded quite a bit. One also gets the sense that she cries at commercials for cotton, and that she’s somehow going to find her voice in the third act and help the nuns win a big gospel competition.
Lana confirms that she’s there to do a story about the nuns’ molasses bread (no, that’s not a euphemism. Yet.) and asks what was up with the Sinead O’Connor routine. Jude tells her that Shelley was diagnosed as a woodland fairy (Lana translates this to “nymphomaniac”) and declares that “mental illness is the scientific definition of sin.” Ah – it begins already, does it? Last season one got the impression from all the fortune cookie platitudes that spilled forth from the mouth of Lange’s Constance character that they had some indirect descendant of Oscar Wilde chained to a computer writing her lines for the entire season. This year they’ve replaced that writer with an atypically literate member of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Lily Rabe as Sister Whoopsies
Jude launches into a pitch of the Monsignor’s 3 P’s: Productivity, Prayer, Purification, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. But then Sister Whoopsies barges back in (without knocking, again!) and stage whispers loudly to Jude that “the bad man” is being brought in. Lana, instantly forgetting about the nuns’ delicious sticky buns, asks if this is Bloody Face, the notorious serial killer who beheads women wearing a mask of human skin. He’s apparently being admitted. Today. Lana would kill to talk to him, but Jude – incensed that the reporter pretended to like her butterscotch scones as a means of getting to Bloody Face – won’t have it. She then calls her “Lana Banana”. I had to rewind to make sure I heard that right but yes, I did.
Turns out that Bloody Face – at least the man they THINK is Bloody Face – is Kit, who is led in wearing shackles. He is hosed down in the nude (sweet pooper, Evan!), then covered in what looks like flour, and then dredged through buttermilk and dropped into a skillet full of hot Crisco.
Later, after Kit has woken up from whatever shot it was that they gave him, Sister Jude tells him that he is there for storage until he faces trial – and while he’s there, they are going to have fun getting him to repent. He insists it was a monster that took Alma and she tells him, “All monsters are human – you’re a monster.” She then asks, “Did her dark meat slide off the bone any easier than your other victims?” and then whips out a Mister Coffee machine, brews a — wait, what? Sorry. Moving on…
Kit spits in her face, and she growls, “You’re gonna wish you didn’t do that.” We see a flash of Jude grabbing a cane from a cabinet and of Kit wincing, face-down.
Mark Consuelos as Spivey. No, really.
Later, Kit shuffles into the common room, where a collection of graduates from the Girl, Interrupted Academy for Background Crazy Acting strut their stuff. There is French music playing (The Singing Nun, maybe?), because someone somewhere thought that would be creepy. (It is not.) Kit has a few words with Shelley, who notices the welts on his bare, gown-defying ass and offers to have a private hydrobath session with him. He turns down her offer for “Greek” and moves to turn off the annoying music, but a French girl with Manic Pixie Dream Girl-approved saucer eyes (Lizzie Brocheré) tells him he’d better not – the rules say that the music has to stay on. She adds that she’s not crazy, which is good for her.
Out of nowhere, a hulking thug who apparently devoured Mark Consuelos charges up to Kit, calling him Bloody Face and making yet another lazily racist comment. Seriously – it’s like watching Fox News coverage of the debates in here. Kit punches him. Spivey (Consuelos) punches back, and the two scrap until Jude walks in and puts a stop to it by blowing her rape-and-or-interruption-of-French-music whistle.
Lizzie Brocheré is not crazy, but she plays it on TV
Kit is in solitary, where the Manic Pixie Dream Mademoiselle brings him food and gives him a drag of her cigarette. She says they think she chopped up her family and tells her that, in the eyes of the law, it might be better if people DID think he was crazy, wink wink. Actually not a bad point.
Up in Jude’s office, Sister Whoopsies is crying. I already smell a drinking game. She seems upset that someone named Willie is gone, who we saw for a split-second earlier playing checkers. Jude looks peeved.
Sure enough, Jude storms the office of Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), who likes plants and the effect of gamma rays on man-in-moon marigolds, but clearly not Sister Jude. She asks what happened to the four suspiciously family-less patients whom she turned over to him and he reports that they died, and were cremated. The flash image of a bowl of bloody meat being passed through a dinner slot into a pair of grubby, hungry hands is either an indication to the contrary or a figment of Jude’s cannibalistic imagination.
Speaking of bad meals, Lana is at home serving a bad meal to her roommate. So bad, in fact, that Stokeley Wendy(Clea Duvall) has to get high on POT MARIJUANA before eating it. Hey guys, no wonder she hasn’t been able to snag a husband yet, amIright? [invisible high-five to imaginary straight male readers]
No, seriously, though – unlike Laverne and Shirley before them, Lana and Wendy are more than just roommates: they’re also gay homosexuals. And that’s awesome, especially considering that Lana is pretty much the heroine of the show at this point (with Kit a very pretty, very close second).
Wendy tells Lana to go for the big story at Briarcliff, and when Lana moves to kiss her, Wendy ducks and makes her close the blinds first. This makes me sad. Turns out Wendy is a school teacher and the parents would freak out if they knew their kids’s teacher was “a dyke”. Well, technically a “pot-smoking dyke”, but let’s not get hot-boxed in by the details.
Lana tells Wendy, “Anything I can do in my life I can do because you love me.” Awwww! Wendy asks, “So how you gonna get in?”
We cut to Jude cooking coq au vin (that’s French for “chicken with Christ sauce”) and daydreaming about wearing red lingerie and putting on perfume. Or wait – is she actually wearing red lingerie under her habit?! Because that’s amazing. Turns out she’s cooking dinner for Monsignor O’Hara (Joseph Feinnes), with whom she is clearly in nun-love. It’s just like The Devils! I’m calling nude nuns on swings in 3… 2…
Still got it!
We learn about O’Hara’s plans for the future (he wants to be Cardinal of New York and appoint her as Mother Superior of the Universe, or something) and that Jude has sworn off booze (or “spirits”, as she calls them in her clipped New England accent). They both believe that “Madness is a spritual crisis” but Jude questions him on his hiring of Dr. Arden, who is “not a man of God.” The Monsignor replies that God created everyone, including Dr. Arden and science and everything that ain’t no junk. He also put a Catholic in the White House, so they’ve got that going for them.
Jude hears none of this, as she is too busy fantasizing about dropping her nun-drag and riding the good Father like a 25-cent drugstore pony ride.
Outside, Sister Whoopsies is carrying buckets full of what might be human gore into the dark woods. Something moves towards her from the trees, and she drops the buckets and hurries away – running right into Lana, who is on a smoke break from being a busybody. Sister Whoopsies drags her off, hurriedly. This scenelet is intercut with Whoopsies worriedly asking Dr. Arden if he can hear “them” and his reply: “They’re getting hungrier.”
In his cell, Kit eats without his hands, which are tied behind his back. The door opens and the light momentarily blinds him and causes him to flash back again to his alien encounter – but it’s just Dr. Arden with a giant needle, who tells him, “You don’t belong here, not when we have so much to learn…”
Back in the present, Jenna Dewan-Tatum (hey, remember her?) is finishing up a lovely tournaquet that would do the cast of The Walking Dead proud. She asks Adam where his phone is but he’s too busy bleeding to death to answer. She thinks it might be in the car and she runs off. But the front door has been locked with chains (the exact same thing that happened to Mary Cherry in the “I Know What You Did Last Spring Break” episode of Popular!! Ryan Murphy revisits the well…) so she runs down the Poop Death Chute instead…
Nice match cut to Sister Whoopsies dragging Lana in the opposite direction down said Chute. Lana says that she could tell Sister Jude about what she saw but she’ll keep quiet if Eunice lets her look around. She asks where Bloody Face is kept and Whoopsies fails to stop her from nosing into the men’s ward…
Arden wheels Kit, strapped to a gurney, into a gloomy operating chamber.
In the men’s ward, Spivey catcalls the ladies from his cell and then flings feces on Whoopsies’ face. Sheesh – Clarice Starling had it easy! She makes a hasty exit to the powder room. Lana, undaunted, goes further in, interrupting Shelley and an orderly with a conspicuously open fly. He hurries off and Shelley tells her that Kit is in solitary. Jude suddenly appears, and Lana hides in a cell.
Standing before a bookshelf displaying various brains in jars, Dr. Arden tells Kit that his sickness is in his mind. He also mentions that he’s going to do whatever it is he’s going to do to him without any anesthesia before asking Kit what his method was of skinning Alma. Suddenly Kit – who has what might be electrodes his head and those Clockwork Orange eyelid-thingies on – has another flashback, this one to what might be an alien anal probe and the image of Alma flying up into the air.
While Kit is off on Memory Lane, Dr. Arden finds a hard lump in Kit’s neck. Curious, he slices the skin and pulls out what looks to be a microchip of some sort. He sets it on the table beside Kit’s head, and seconds later it sprouts legs and scurries off.
Okay, that was the first genuinely shocking moment of the episode for me, and it was seriously effed up.
Lana, meanwhile, hears a noise coming from behind a massive metal door (the same one that Adam lost his arm to). She calls out, “Mr. Walker?” and tries to peek through the slot – and suddenly a giant arm reaches through, grabs her head, and bashes it against the door.
Back in Sister Jude’s office, Sister Whoopsies is bawling her eyes out again (shooters!) while Jude gives her the ol’ “I coddled you and gave you a chance even though everyone else said you were stupid!” speech (or, as we call it in my family, “Christmas Dinner”). Whoopsies is apparently into this little game – because she looks at the cane that Jude has waiting on her desk for Spanky Time, decides that it’s too small, and runs to Jude’s Cane Hutch for a bigger model, which she slams down on the table, demanding, “PUNISH ME, SISTER, PLEASE – I’M STUPID!”
Jude kicks her out, telling her that if she ever hears her call herself “stupid” again she’ll beat the holy crap out of her. Boy – she’s got the whole “good nun/bad nun” one-woman show down pat, eh?
Lana wakes up strapped to a hospital bed, and by the looks of it in one of those neck brace halo thingies. Jude says that she has a long road to recovery ahead, and when Lana says that they can’t keep her there, we flash back to Jude visiting the lovely, pot-smoking, PTA-fearing Wendy at their home. Jude tells Wendy that, as she isn’t a relative of Lana, she has no legal standing to have her released.
Wendy: “We’re very close.”
Jude: “Are you now.”
She jokingly calls Wendy a “spinster” and then dispenses with the cat-and-mouse by speaking directly to Lana’s “inversion”: “You’d never intentionally expose those little angels to a homosexual, would you?”
Jude tries to bully Wendy into signing Lana’s commitment papers, but she won’t do it. Atta girl! But Jude’s parting shot – “It’s a small town – a scandal will work just as well. You’ll never set foot in another classroom again” – hits paydirt, and Wendy crumbles. It’s heartbreaking, but I don’t think that we’ve seen the last of her.
Jude shows Lana the signed papers and comforts her: “We’re gonna slay that monster together, you and I.”
Jude has had Sister Whoopsies steal Dr. Arden’s keys, which she has apparently managed to do without crying all over his drapes. Jude takes the keys and lets herself into the room with the big metal arm-eating door to find Dr. Arden in there disinfecting the walls. Nope – nothing to see here! There are also huge scratches all over the walls. Arden’s all, “Darn those cats!” He denies that anything has been living there, and takes his keys back. He is also suspiciously dressed as half of Season 1’s Rubber Man.
We jump back to the present, as Adam Levine lies bleeding out on the floor. That love has, indeed, taken its toll on him.
Jenna Dewan-Tatum runs for her life down the Death Chute. Suddenly, Bloody Face steps into the light in his/her full, open-wounded glory. He kind of looks like a parakeet breaking through a blood-filled honeydew:
In his hand he holds a medical instrument used for administering frontal lobe lobotomies (NOT THAT I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE).
She screams. I don’t blame her.
Wow. Where to begin? As the season progresses and patterns emerge I’ll be adding some recurring features to the recap. For now, let’s tackle the differences and similarities between seasons one and two and highlight some of our favorite bits, shall we?
From House to Nuthouse
While Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have said that this season is completely different than Season 1, there are some subtle similarities. Both seasons begin with a scene of two characters exploring the ruins of the main, “tainted” location (last season the Twingers trashed the place between owners). Both combine wildly different horror subgenres into a single stew of terror: Season 1 was at turns a haunted house story, a demonic pregnancy story, a home invasion thriller, a mad scientist story, and more; Season 2 is so far an alien abduction story, a slasher movie, a psychological thriller, and a mad scientist story. And of course we have the recurring religious iconography, black rubber gloves, sexual compulsion, and that pig head.
My Favorite Things
1. The awesomeness that is the central gay relationship. One of my favorite horror subgenres is the “Anchorwoman in Peril” film – and the “Lady Reporter in Peril with the Schoolmarm Partner” setup is just as delicious. It’s like The Children’s Hour meets The China Syndrome. It’s The Children Syndrome!
2. The fact that Evan Peters is determined to prove that the upskirt isn’t just for ladies anymore:
3. The hilarious lack of subtlety involved in this:
4. The skillful employment of the tried-and-true “ocular trauma” card:
5. This hilarious moment from Jenna Dewan-Tatum:
6. Non-dead, non-jailbait Evan Peters:
7. Anything related to Sister Whoopsies.
8. Anything that comes out of Sister Jude’s mouth in that effing awesome Kennedy twang.
9. This harrowing image:
While at first blush I will admit that I liked the ingredients of the first season more, I do not have any doubt that they will be able to whip this season’s components into a tempting meal.
My diagnosis for this episode is: Engaging, with tendencies toward anal fixation.
Or, according to this season’s patron saint, Barbra Streisand, seven out of ten Nuts:
But that’s just one lunatic’s opinion. What did YOU think of the episode? And what do you think lies ahead? (Hopefully maybe top-billed Zachary Quinto?!)