Hello, sports fans! We’re back for a second season of American Horror Story, this time set in an insane asylum in 1964 in Massachusetts, far away from last season’s Los Angele-based murder house. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Pictured: The American Heath Care System
We begin the episode in (presumably) modern times. We meet Leo and Teresa, newlyweds who are on a “haunted honeymoon tour” where the goal is to “visit the 12 most haunted places in North America and screw our brains out in every one of them.” They are sneaking onto the ruins of Briarcliff, a 100-year old tuberculosis sanitarium that has a particularly violent past, but then, don’t they all? As they sneak into the abandoned building, taking pictures and talking about how badly they want to sex each other up on each and every piece of medical equipment, Teresa notes that the staff used to get rid of the dead through an underground tunnel called “the death chute” and demands sexy time in said chute. There’s probably a double-entendre there in buried behind all the bodies. She also notes that once the Catholic church took over Briarcliff and turned it into a mental asylum, the most famous resident was a serial killer called “Bloody Face”. Once all the expositioning is done, the lovers strap themselves into an shock treatment bench and commence with the sexy time, but are interrupted by a noise coming from somewhere in the asylum. They find a closed off cell with a meal slot that they can look into. Teresa offers to give Leo a blowjob if he sticks his arm into the room with her camera and we all can see where this is going – something is in the room, grabbing his arm and ripping it from its socket. Teresa screams as we lead into the main credits, which is all creepy images of nuns, crazy people and nuns having sex with crazy people. Yup, sounds right.
Act I! The year is 1964 – our hero Kit, played by the actor who played Tate last season, is at the end of his shift at the local gas station when something triggers the bell. Kit investigates and as he does, the power all suddenly fails and cows in the distance start yelling. The power comes back and on Kit is surprised by three “friends” who are drunk and asking to borrow Kit’s gun because the “niggers” have been messing with one of their sisters again. One of the guys asks about Kit’s new maid. Later Kit returns home and we see the “maid” is actually his new wife which they’re keeping secret due to the racial difference between them. Kit and Alma head to the bedroom, meaning that less than 10 minutes into the new season we’ve already had two sex scenes. During the afterglow, the power starts shuttering off again and Kit sees a bright light like headlights pass through the windows. Kit grabs his gun, when suddenly a bright light from the sky shines down on him and Alma begins to scream. Suddenly everything (including Kit) flies up to the ceiling and Kit is briefly seen in a white room with a monster like hand moving toward him and frankly I’m amazed that it took this show this long to bring aliens into everything. Cut to Lana Winters, a reporter who is ostensibly doing a story on the Briarcliff bakery, driving up to a hale and healthy asylum. As she approaches the main doors, a developmentally disabled inmate named Pepper startles her. Sister Mary Eunice, a young nun played by Lady Macbeth from last season, orders Pepper away. When Lana says she was just being harmless, Sister Mary informs Lana that Pepper isn’t harmless and in fact is here because she drowned her sister’s baby and cut off his ears. Sister Mary brings Lana to Sister Jude, played by Jessica Lange, who is currently shaving the hair off of inmate Shelley, a nymphomaniac who’s been caught with her hand in the boy jar again. Sister Jude believes that mental illness is just a fashionable way of excusing sin and that the goal of Briarcliff under her supervision and alongside Monsignor Howard is to purify those who need it. The interview is interrupted by Sister Mary who informs Sister Jude that “the bad person will arrive any minute.” Lana correctly infers that Sister Mary is referring to the notorious killer Bloody Face, who decapitated three women and apparently wore their flesh like a mask. Bloody Face himself is soon brought in under armed guard and surprise of surprises, he is Kit.
Man, this is totally better than that Spelling Bee beat they had me on last month...
Kit insists that he is innocent, but Sister Jude tells him that she will make him repent for his crimes and that she doesn’t believe his story about seeing aliens. Kit says that what came for him weren’t human, but monsters. “All monsters are human,” Sister Jude states, clearly representing one of the thesis statements of this entire season. When Kit spits in her face, she has him whipped and sent into the common room where all the inmates are allowed social time while listening to The Singing Nun’s recording of “Dominique” on repeat. When Kit tries to shut down the music, he is stopped by a kindly inmate named Grace who tells him that it’s a rule to keep the song playing. When Kit asks why he should trust her, she says, “because I’m not crazy.” Kit may be able to get out of this until one of the other inmates picks a fight with him, causing pandemonium to break out in the common room until Sister Jude calmly enters, blows a loud whistle and sends everyone cowering into the corner like a boss.
Act II! Kit is in his room bound in a straight jacket and remembering Alma when Grace delivers a tray of food through a trap door. She admits that she’s in Braircliff because “they say I chopped up my family”, although she swears it’s not true. In the common room, Sister Mary is sobbing because one of the inmates has died suddenly. Sister Jude confronts Dr. Arden, the facility physician, about the dead inmate and why four now, all of whom were family-less, have now died under his care mysteriously. Dr. Arden isn’t afraid of her and says that he cremates the dead, but we see intercut images of bloody meat being tossed into bowls and then thrown to someone or something. Sister Jude gives as good as she gets here and watching these two antagonize each other, especially given that they’re both played by such strong actors, is really fun to see. Later, Lana is at home having dinner with Wendy, her partner. Lana wants to infiltrate Briarcliff so that she can write the story about what’s happening there, which Wendy supports. Wendy shuts down a kiss because the blinds aren’t drawn and she doesn’t want to be found out and risk losing her job as a schoolteacher. This marks the second time in this episode that we’ve seen a non-traditional coupling with the same fears. Back in the asylum, Sister Jude cooks what looks like a remarkably good meal. Intercut are images of her wearing only her habit and a red negligee and seductively applying perfume to her chest before covering up with her habit again. Later, she is dining with Monsignor Howard, whom its clear she has desires for, despite holding back on them. Monsignor compliments her cooking and flirts, though his motivations are unclear. Sister Jude wants to know how the Monsignor found Dr. Arden, but Monsignor asks for her trust and holds her hand, outlining a plan with her whereby the two of them would become so renowned for running Briarcliff that they would collectively ascend through the Catholic hierarchy together. As he speaks, Sister Jude slowly removes her habit and wimple, straddling the Monsignor in her underwear before we suddenly snap back to reality and see that this fantasy was in Sister Jude’s head and the dinner is progressing much more chastely in reality. Elsewhere, Sister Mary and Dr. Arden say that they can hear “them” outside in the woods and that they’ll be needing meat soon. Sister Mary heads to the forest with buckets of meat that she leaves in a clearing, while rustling and growling can be heard. Running back to the asylum, she finds Lana. Back in Kit’s room, Dr. Arden comes to his cell and injects him with something, saying that he has so much to learn.
Act III! The Present day – Teresa is tying a tourniquet on Leo’s severed stump, trying to save his life and get him to the car. As she runs to the front door, she finds it has somehow been locked with chains behind them. She runs through the asylum, finding her way to the death chute. Fade back to the same chute in 1964 as Lana and Sister Mary reenter the asylum. Lana wants to know what Sister Mary was feeding out there, but tells her that she won’t say anything to Sister Jude about it if Sister Mary lets Lana look around inside the asylum. Dr. Arden wheels Kit into an operating room on a gurney and asks about the murders, particularly why the victims were skinned, and Kit remembers his abduction experience including a monstrous arm looking like it is scooping something out of a corpse. Dr. Arden discovers something embedded in Kit’s neck and removes it, finding a microchip that suddenly sprouts legs and runs away.
But wait, we haven't even gotten to the Ultra-Violence bit yet!
Meanwhile, as Lana and Sister Mary go through the men’s ward looking for Kit, Lana finds one of the orderlies getting a blowjob from Shelley, who tells her that Kit was removed to solitary. Lana finds Kit’s cell, opening the meal slot when something attacks her. Later, Sister Jude reprimands Sister Mary for “almost ruining everything” by smacking a riding crop against her desk and doubting whether Sister Mary is capable of what Sister Jude has asked of her. Sister Mary sobs and promises to be better, going as far as to suggest that Sister Jude get a bigger crop to beat her with. We see that Sister Jude actually has a wide collection of them to pick from, but Sister Jude softens and refuses.
Act IV! Lana awakes strapped to a bed with Sister Jude standing over her. Lana says she was attacked by something, but Sister Jude insists it was only her overactive imagination. Lana says someone will be coming for her, but in a flashback we see that Sister Jude has already blackmailed Wendy into essentially committing Lana to the asylum, saying that if she doesn’t, Sister Jude will expose Wendy. Sister Jude promises to treat Lana for her “inversion”, leaving her screaming in her cell. As she leaves, Sister Jude passes the cell that Lana says she was attacked in and finds Dr. Arden cleaning the cell with disinfectant. The cell walls have scratches all over them and Sister Jude is horrified that someone was living in the cell. Dr. Arden insists that was not the case and he’s only cleaning the room because he plans to use it for extra storage space. Back in the present, Teresa runs through the death chute before abruptly running into a man standing at the end with a bloody skin mask covering his face.
And with that, we start the new season. Good to see that the crazy has remained largely in tact. I’m definitely most intrigued to see how potentially political this season will be, given the recurring social themes that underlay this episode. Also, Jessica Lange is again playing with an extremely meaty role and infuses even more depth into what is already a rich part. Exciting stuff ahead!