Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "I Am Anne Frank Part 1"

Non Spoiler Review:
I Am Anne Frank is quite a wild ride, but a different sort from the crazy stuff of last week. In a psychological, more talky episode, a stranger is brought into Briarcliff claiming to be Anne Frank (not really a spoiler, considering it's the name of the episode). Her time in Auschwitz leads her to accuse one of the asylum's employees (guess who) of being a war criminal. Kit and Grace grow closer. Meanwhile, Thredson vows to help Lana get out, but that involves some very unorthodox treatment. 

If the American Catholic League has avoided fits of apoplexy up to now, they certainly won't after this one. This was a big character-building episode, bringing interesting (and disturbing) insights into Thredson, Grace, Kit, Jude, and Lana. Some revelations of a greater conspiracy emerge and build on the mysteries we've seen so far. I was pleasantly surprised to see actress Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) in the role of Anne.

Four episodes in I'm really loving this season and all the various aspects of horror it's exploring. Any doubts about American Horror Story managing to recreate a similarly compelling storyline as its first season have been put to rest. I admire Ryan Murphy for the pure ballsiness in tossing the Anne Frank into the plot so I hope this resolves in a satisfactory manner.

Spoilers Now!
Jude's informed of a new addition to the asylum dropped on their doorstop. The young woman killed someone for insulting her for being a Jew. Jude isn't insensitive but has no patience when she doesn't answer her questions. 

In the kitchen, a beaten down Kit visits Grace. He's been thoroughly examined by Arden trying to search for the implants. She claims to believe his stories about the aliens, but he wants to hear Grace's tale of woe. So she recounts waking up with her sister at home on their farm to find her father being murdered. She fled into a closet, fooling the killer to run out of the house in pursuit. But she found her stepmother dismembered in there, too. Her sister blamed her for the murders. 

Lana visits a curious Thredson, who wonders where she was during the movie. She explains she went to the bathroom, but he doesn't believe that for a minute. He promises he won't tell Jude. She assumes Shelley made it out given no one has found her. Thredson realizes Lana doesn't belong in the asylum and was right to try to escape. She accuses him of hypocrisy given that according to his psychiatric bible she has a mental illness in her homosexuality. He wants to help her and convince the others that he's cured her. She explains there is no cure. Unfortunately he won't be there much longer, so if she wants help she has little time left.

Later in the common room she finds the new girl writing in her journal. Lana warns her that if they catch her they'll throw her in solitary, but gets nothing in reply. Then Dr. Arden arrives and the girl immediately recognizes him. She accuses him of being in Auschwitz and starts freaking out, demanding that he remembers her—Anne Frank (!).

Jude mocks the proposition that she is the genuine Anne Frank. Anne explains she was sick and too ill to tell anyone her name after they liberated the camp. She was nursed back to health by the Brits, became a thief and pickpocket (plot point!) and met an American soldier who brought her to the States. She married him but he died in Korea, the same year her diary was published. She wanted to contact her father but he had a new family and new life, and because of the diary people were paying attention to their plight. She could do more good as a martyr than alive. Jude declares her story is indecent, but Anne accuses her of the same, having a Nazi war criminal working there.

Anne then explains Arden was known then as Hans Gruber (Yes, Hans Gruber!...Yippee ki yay), and she saw him when she arrived in Auschwitz. He seemed kind at first, saving some Jews while others got herded away. But when (and if) the girls he took came back, they would be changed and would not reveal what happened. Jude still refuses to believe it, but Anne shows the numbered tattoo on her arm.

Thredson tells Kit he doesn't think he's crazy or evil. But he does believe his psyche forced him to concoct his elaborate alien abduction story to deal with his murders. He doesn't believe he should die and will lie to the courts to save his life, but only if he works with him in the time he has left to face what he's done. Thredson recounts two of Kits murders (a woman murdered prior to Alma). Kit needs to accept the truth in order to be cured.

Kit speaks with Grace later, wondering if he was crazy and made up all the aliens. Thredson is starting to make sense. Grace concludes self-doubt is a sure sign of sanity. He grabs her throat asking if he's a killer, but she doesn't care, she'll be with him anyway. They end up having sex in the kitchen and are caught by the guard.

Eunice has taken the liberty to choose a cane befitting their indiscretion. Jude is impressed with her initiative, but decides Kit and Grace should be sterilized to prevent further encounters and the chance of a murder baby. Jude is then alerted that Dr. Arden is being questioned by two detectives, so she leaves Eunice to write up the paperwork. Instead, Eunice gives him Grace's file, suggesting that she's not the innocent girl she claims.

Jude arrives in Arden's office, interrupting the discussion. Apparently Arden has been accused of roughing up a prostitute, which he dismisses as a lie. The hooker claimed to have discovered an assortment of disturbing pornography and Nazi memorabilia, which certainly piques Jude's interest. Arden storms out at the notion he's guilty of anything. Jude remains to talk to them, and the detectives explain they're actually with homicide, not vice, and seem to be interested in the method of the Bloody Face murders.

Lana has a daydream that she gets an award for her exposé on the asylum, and her assertion that she did what she had to to get out of there. That makes her decide to work with Thredson to do what she must to get out. So she begins aversion therapy to train her body to be repelled by triggers (in this case women). But one of the images is Wendy, a photo Thredson got from her house when he was there. He then wants to move on to the conversion part of her therapy that she might enjoy. He brings in fellow patient Daniel, whom Thredson believes will help with her treatment. He disrobes and Lana regards his physique, but doesn't feel anything. Thredson doesn't stop there, and asks Lana to touch herself while looking at and groping Daniel. Unfortunately Lana ends up getting sick. Thredson sadly concludes aversion/conversion therapy won't work with her. 

Father Timothy wants to talk with Jude, who explains the situation with Arden. He warns her that her obsession with Arden must stop and he certainly doesn't believe he's a war criminal. Jude realizes the Anne Frank story sounds outrageous but she protests she's trying to protect him and Briarcliff. Timothy suggests her job is getting too much for her and brings up she's been drinking again—he was advised by several employees of her behaviour the night of the storm. He suggests she reflect and pray on it before saying anything further.

Meanwhile, Arden continues his experiments on Shelley (who is looking like she's had a few healthy doses of radiation). She shouldn't worry that she'll die, he muses, given she'll likely live forever after he finishes with her. Arden gets a call from Timothy warning him they're on to him, and if he has any housekeeping to take care of, he better do it now.

Jude consults with her Mother Superior, confessing she's slipped by drinking the communion wine. She also reveals her belief that one of Briarcliff's employees is a war criminal, but the monsignor won't pursue action. Mother Superior knows someone who might help her, but Jude doesn't want to go behind Father Timothy's back. Mother Superior tells her Timothy is not the reason she's on her path and she has a higher calling from God.

Kit is brought back to his cell near to Grace, but he accuses her of lying to him—she killed her stepmother and her father. Grace finally confesses that her father sexually abused her, and when she told her stepmother she gave her candy to keep quiet. So Grace cut her up with an axe and then her father. Kit finds he's not repulsed by the story, but admires her. 

Thredson visits Lana in the common room offering his apologies. He's sorry for being unable to help her, and wishes he'd spared her the aversion therapy. He gives her Wendy's photo and explains he's leaving at the end of the week. He doesn't know how yet, but promises he'll take her with him. 

Kit comes to Jude claiming to confess his crimes. While he doesn't remember killing those women, he  realizes he must have. The creatures can't really exist. He needs to be forgiven. Jude is touched and says God forgives all things. He wants her help to find God. 

Arden has caught Anne and brings her to his lab. While he mocks the notion that she's Anne Frank, her lies have caused him embarrassment. She continues to accuse him of atrocities in the concentration camp, so he warns her she's about to find out what goes on in his lab and locks the door. Anne pulls a gun (she encountered the detective on the stairs and pocketed his weapon). Someone comes to the door so she shoots Arden in the leg and demands the key. Arden gives it to her and she opens it, only to find a monstrous, legless Shelley on the floor begging her to kill her.

The Verdict:
Of all the stunt casting of historical characters, I think Anne Frank tops the list as most original. This week was a very intriguing episode addressing Arden's past (with a damn good actor to portray young James Cromwell—or maybe that was CGI like we got with young Jessica Lange last year—I"m not sure). While his past seems to be catching up with him, I'm wondering what Anne's fate will be. I hope she's not killed off, but higher powers (Father Timothy) are involved in what could be a larger conspiracy at Briarcliff. Do Arden's experiments serve Timothy's ambition?

This week brought a far more humanized Sister Jude than we've seen. She seemed positively motherly in a couple of scenes and—gasps—a bit sympathetic? Her Mother Superior obviously has a fondness for her potential. But is the change permanent?

Speaking of changes, what's going on with Kit? Is he lying in his confession to Jude? He swung wildly from his forgiveness of Grace's lie to feeling guilt for his murders. We still don't know all that Jude remembers of seeing the alien, or what  the detectives discussed with Jude about Kit. Have the police found a new Bloody Face victim (Wendy?) and realize they might have the wrong man in Kit? Is Arden now a suspect? It's interesting that Thredson's account of the two murders implies that Kit would have killed a girl already prior to us seeing him with Alma in the first episode. 

Arden represents one side of the mad scientist, but this time we get a new perspective on Mr. Spock Dr. Thredson. The comparisons to Arden are obvious, though Thredson (for the moment) appears to have altruism as his motivation for embarking on chilling therapy for Lana, oblivious to any moral debate on what he's doing. Interesting that Thredson expresses his concern for Lana but treats her as a test subject rather than a human being. Did Arden start out with a similar perspective in his youth? Thredson's moral code makes it acceptable to lie to his superiors and save Kit's life as long as Kit accepts his treatment (just like Lana). Not too much of a stretch that he could be a serial killer and justify his actions accordingly. It's also a bit creepy he managed to take Wendy's photo from their house, implying he was there long enough to have a thorough look around the place. Even if all of this is a red herring as far as Bloody Face, a lot of the shine came off Oliver Thredson this week.

A far more chatty episode gave us plenty to think about, including the prospect that a lot of what's going on could be in everyone's head. Hopefully next week doesn't conclude with Anne being crazy and delusional about her identity.

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