Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Dark Cousin"

Non Spoiler Review:
A new supernatural agent makes its influence known to the principles at Briarcliff, while Jude struggles with her purpose in life and reaches an epiphany. Lana's circumstances take an interesting turn, and Kit makes a radical choice to get to Grace.

Frances Conroy becomes another season one alumna to take a role in Asylum. I hope it's a recurring one, otherwise it comes off more as stunt casting if it's a one-shot.

Dark Cousin was a crazy ride, even for American Horror Story, but a little too crazy this time. So much so that plot and character suffered as a result. While it made for a fun and sometimes breathless episode, some major plot lines appear to have been cast aside in order to get characters back into their proper places at Briarcliff. As such, much of the great storytelling from the Anne Frank two-parter comes undone.

Spoilers Now!
Grace is feverish and bleeding in the infirmary, and the nurses talk among themselves that Arden likely did it to her. Grace has a vision of a woman in black coming towards her. This angel of death sprouts wings as she leans in to kiss her. Grace says she's ready, but one of the nurses does CPR and brings her back.

Eunice visits Arden to inform him Grace nearly died because of his botched sterilization. Arden angrily tells her he performed no such procedure, and demands she address him with respect, given he's now head of the institution. He gives Eunice a slap, who warns him he'll die if he touches her again. He does, and she throws him across the room.

In the kitchen, one of the patients, Miles, is hearing voices, and he cuts his wrists open on the meat slicer. Eunice is summoned to deal with the mess as he's taken to the infirmary, but she sees he's painted a word in blood on the wall. She recognizes it as ancient Aramaic. She demands to know if he summoned her. He doesn't know why he wrote it, so she sends him off to the infirmary and orders the wall scrubbed.

Miles gets a visit from the dark angel, who claims she's there to help, as that's what he wants. She kisses him and Miles dies. But Eunice appears, and the woman is startled that she can see her.

Eunice orders her to leave. The angel asks who she is that she can look upon her and recognizes something else resides in her—a fallen one. A cousin. The angel can detect the real Eunice begging for release, but the Devil quiets her. Both have work left to do and the angel warns they'll meet again.

Grace wakens to Arden standing over her. He's found an infection in her likely caused by a botched hysterectomy. He won't be the one to take the fall for her dying, so is determined to cure her to set the record straight.

Thredson has sex with Lana, who endures him in silence, but the angel appear to her, too. After he's gone, the angel is about to kiss her, but Lana has second thoughts. She's not ready yet.

Thredson appears to have an abrupt change of mind and says they need to talk. He believes they've reached an impasse and offers to cut her throat or strangle her. Then he opts to sedate her but she hits him with Wendy's photo and struggles to get the syringe out of his hand. She stabs him in the leg and begins to strangle him with her chains, takes his keys and frees herself. 

She escapes the house and runs off down the road, stopping a car and jumping in. She tells the man to drive. The man thinks she had a fight with her boyfriend and wonders what she did to deserve it. He refuses to stop the car and let her out, as he's angry about his own wife's infidelity and suggests she brought it on herself. He pulls out a gun. Lana sees the dark angel in the back seat, but she doesn't want death after all she's been through to escape. Then the driver shoots himself in the head and the car crashes. Lana wakes up with Eunice looking over her. The driver is dead, but Eunice assures her she's safe in Briarcliff again after her adventure.

Kit is trying to get his confession taken off the record, but his lawyer doesn't see much hope, and Grace's testimony won't mean anything. He's also informed she's sick and might not make it anyway. Kit opts for a radical solution and kills the man with his hole punch.

Back in Sam's hotel room, his dying breath reveals one of her nuns killed him. She tries to call the police but sees a vision of the angel coming for Sam in the mirror. 

Flashback to 1949, Jude is woken from a drunken night by a member of her band explaining she missed her gig. Unfortunately he's kicking her out of the group. He also gives her a card from a detective who wants to talk to her about a hit and run, wondering if she saw anything. Jude packs up and leaves in a hurry, but gets into another drunken car accident—this time at the foot of an angel statue. One of the nuns comes over asking if she's okay. 

Back in Sam's room, Jude's had a drink from the bottle by the bed and gets a phone call from Eunice who taunts that she's her conscience. She explains Sam was investigating Jude's hit and run case. Jude is horrified, but Eunice reminds her she was in her head (during the exorcism), and suggests Jude should start running now. Eunice left the bottle for her, as well as something else—a razor. 

Jude makes her way to a diner where she cleans up in the bathroom and contemplates slitting her wrists. She thinks better of it and goes out to find the dark angel sitting in her booth. Jude laughs and says she jumped the gun. The angel tells her she just comes when she's called. Jude wonders why now and not before—when her husband had left her on their wedding after he'd given her syphilis and learned she'd never have children. Or the night she ran over the little girl. God had revealed his plan for her, the angel replies, and she deserves some peace for her efforts to find meaning in life. Jude admits she's ready but needs to do one last thing.

Jude goes to visit the parents of Missy, the girl she killed. She's about to confess to Missy's death when a nurse arrives home. It's Missy (!). Jude is thoroughly confused, and admits she thought she died on the street when she was a girl. Jude explains her death was one of the reasons she took her vows and has recently been struggling with them. The mother explains Missy came home with a few broken bones, and while her husband wanted revenge, the monster who left her on the road had to live with himself all these years. 

Lana wants to speak to Jude, but Eunice informs her she's in charge. Lana spills that Thredson murdered Wendy and the other women. Eunice orders her back to bed and suggests she's confused. Kit is innocent and Oliver is Bloody Face, Lana goes on. Eunice professes to believe her, but explains no one knows she's there and tells her to take her medication. She's safe now. 

As she leaves Lana in her cell, Frank tells Eunice Kit escaped custody. In fact, he's returned to Briarcliff via the tunnels, pursued by Arden's creations. Grace is on the mend and has gone to the bakery to get out of her room, where Kit finds her. He plans on taking her away with him, but one of the expendable nuns finds them and starts crying for help. Arden's monster kills her and attacks them. Kit manages to kill it but Frank arrives and pulls his gun. Grace rushes between them and is shot. 

The angel appears. Grace says she's ready and dies. 

The Verdict:
It's easy to say I enjoyed Dark Cousin just for the usual shocks and twists, but I can't give this week a free pass. It really felt that Murphy ran off the rails trying to get Lana, Kit and Jude back to Briarcliff after the more subtle machinations of the last few episodes.

What was sacrificed was plausibility (which is saying a lot, I know, when we're dealing with aliens and demonic possession). How logical was it that Lana would be delivered right back to Briarcliff after the car crash? Was Demon Eunice behind it, and if so she doesn't show a great deal of omniscience about other matters, appearing somewhat surprised that Thredson was Bloody Face. I thought there would be more to Thredson's capture of Lana other than rape and an abrupt escape. Where does he go from here? Will Eunice reach out to him? 

It was all over the top fun, but nothing else. One shouldn't think too hard on how Kit managed to escape custody after killing his lawyer, and the ease with which everyone comes and goes at Briarcliff. Did Jude not check if Missy lived? After all the flashbacks to newspaper clippings, did she not actually READ them in all these years? 

Jude certainly appears on the path of redemption, and removing the big blot on her character (Missy's death) goes a long way of turning her into a potential heroine of this season. I did enjoy the daggers daddy Hank was shooting her, apparently realizing she was the hit and run driver.

Frances Conroy as the angel of death was a nice bit of casting given she's Ruth Fisher, but I don't know what purpose she's serving unless she appears again. And particularly odd was that Jude was fine having a chat with her knowing full well she was a heavenly being—the first time we've had any indication that Jude has come face to face with the supernatural (aside from aliens).

Will we ever get answers to what happened to Grace? Are medical procedures so willy-nilly at Briarcliff that no one can pin down who performed a hysterectomy on her? It all felt like weak writing trying to resolve plot threads at the expense of the great Anne Frank two-parter. Hopefully this is just a blip in the season. The series runs a fine line between camp and outright farce and it felt really close to the latter this time, leaving me wondering what it was all for if everyone finds themselves back at Briarcliff again.

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