Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "The Coat Hanger"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Coat Hanger is definitely one of the best episodes of the season, and certainly one of the strongest from both series. Lana gets some shocking news, while she and Kit attempt to get Thredson to confess. Arden hatches an experiment to flush out the aliens. Jude finds the tables have turned completely. Eunice continues her reign, while Father Timothy's ambition clouds his judgement.

Much of my criticisms of the last few weeks have been made right with this one. The pacing and the suspense, the twists and the character development were superb. It hit all the right notes, including the revelation of the present-day Bloody Face. 

I'm really excited to see how this all turns out, given there are a few fantastic character pairings. It's evident that only a few are likely to survive the finale, and I already have my bets on who isn't going to make it. Fortunately there is an Angel of Death waiting for them.

Spoilers Now!
Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermot) is visiting a psychiatrist to help curb his compulsions. He's had impulses since he was a child, resulting in him bouncing from foster home to foster home. He reveals he started by skinning a dead cat, then learned that killing them was even better. His thoughts told him to retrace his roots—to find the house where his father lived, and to skin women. Unfortunately he doesn't have the medical training his father had so made a mess of his killings. The psychiatrist has had about enough, but he tells her his name isn't Morgan. He's Thredson. The son of Bloody Face. Later, one of the psychiatrist's patients arrives at her office to find her dead. She turns around to find Bloody Face still there. 

Back in 1964, Lana is brought to see Eunice, who announces that she appears to have conquered her sexual perversion but unfortunately she's pregnant. Eunice wonders if Lana was really raped, given she hasn't mentioned Thredson since she arrived, but informs her she will have the baby. She's not their first unwed mother, so their staff will have no problem finding a home for the child. Dealing with that shock, Lana realizes she won't get anywhere by defying her, and opts to faint instead.

Jude wakes up to Father Timothy standing over her. She's strapped in to the bed with a head brace, and he explains she's come unhinged and killed a man. He feels guilty for placing too much pressure on her running the asylum. She's being blamed for Frank's death.

Leigh (!), very much alive (though with bandaged throat), gives testimony to Jude's attack against him and Frank, even taking him hostage, with additional statements from Eunice, Timothy, Arden, as well as the Mother Superior. All of Jude's accusations about the Nazis and the Devil come out, including her alcoholism. Leigh does his best performance to admit to his culpability and regret for all his 18 murders. He promises to try to forgive Jude for stabbing him and carry on his own road to redemption. Father Timothy takes particular notice of his insight.

Timothy informs Jude she's been committed for life to Briarcliff and has been stripped of her vows. Jude screams after him as he leaves her. In her office he looks through the box of her things, finding the red satin slip. Eunice walks in on him. She's been busy packing up Jude's belongings and comments on her shocking choice of apparel, wondering who Jude might have been pining for. Eunice admits Jude told her that Timothy wants to be Pope, but agrees with the idea he belongs in Rome. She's there to serve him, too.

Jude finds no sympathy among the nuns formerly under her heal. Timothy stops them from tormenting her and brings in a visitor—Leigh. Timothy thinks she'll find his visit more medicinal than any pill. Flashing back to 1963 Jude had Leigh similarly strapped down in bed for days to reflect on his behaviour. She refused to forgive him them. Now Leigh kisses her forehead and forgives her. Timothy hopes they'll both begin a journey together.

Lana is locked back in her room after having secretly taken a coat hanger while working in the bakery. She later goes to see Kit telling him they have to kill Thredson before he's discovered and freed. Kit needs him to confess, and she thinks she might know a way. Lana goes to the room where Oliver remains bound and gagged, bringing him some water. She shows him the medical report about her pregnancy. 

He's elated at the notion of being a father, but Lana tells him she's getting rid of the monster he planted inside her, and shows him the coat hanger. Thredson his horrified. He can't bear that his child might die or be raised in foster care. Kit will take the fall for his crimes and he promises to change so he can raise the baby. He begs her to help him. 

She asks why he chose Donna as his victim. Thredson explains he saw her at the library and liked her skin. The other victim, Allison, was a secretary in his dentist's office and he always fancied her. And Wendy? He killed her because she gave her love to Lana.

Thredson sees that Kit has been recording the confession. He accuses Lana of lying about the baby, but she taunts him that she already aborted it with the coat hanger the night before. She adds she'll pocket a knife at bakery duty and kill him later.

Arden investigates the tunnels where Grace was taken, trying to find some evidence of what happened. He spies strange footprints in the dirt. Meanwhile, Kit hurries back to the infirmary and hides the tape recording beneath the bathtub, but Arden finds him. He wants to talk about his abduction story. He gives Kit a drink, but his friendliness confuses Kit. Arden admits to have seen what he saw, and shows him an imprint of the alien foot. 

Arden confesses they took Grace and asks if Kit had sex with Alma before she was taken. And he knows he had relations with Grace prior, as well. Arden suggests the aliens are dabbling in eugenics, and he wants Kit to help him to bring them back. If Kit's life were threatened, the aliens would return to save their specimen. He hopes Kit will cooperate, but he's not asking for his permission. Surprisingly Kit agrees on the off chance he could see Alma again. He and Arden drink to their experiment.

In the chapel, Timothy visits a praying Leigh. He's grateful for the opportunity to rehabilitate himself. Timothy thinks Leigh could be his miracle if he should be turned towards Christ. And as he ascends to the heights of the Church he would carry forward his dream of rehabilitation for others. He baptizes Leigh, but when he surfaces Leigh in turn plunges Father Timothy's head into the water.

Lana finishes her shift at the bakery and steals a knife, but is discovered by an orderly who takes it from her. Lana is escorted back to her room to lie down, but still has her coat hanger which she fashions into a weapon. She goes to Thredson's prison but finds him gone. Terrified, Lana searches the corridors, but runs into Eunice. She accuses her of letting him out. Eunice takes the coat hanger from her, but Lana tells her it's already done. Eunice can sense the abortion was unsuccessful, and reveals it's a boy.

Back in the common room, Lana attempts to figure out what to do, but she's shocked to see a dishevelled Jude wander in, much to the stares of nuns and inmates. A contrite Jude sits with her, telling Lana they didn't do any more to her than she did to Lana herself, and asks for a cigarette. Jude apologizes for all that she's done to her. She was immoral and criminal and promises to make it up to her by getting her out of there. Lana doesn't trust anyone, much less Jude. She promises to earn her trust and goes to the record player and stops the song, breaking the record to the cheers of the patients. 

Arden injects potassium chloride into Kit's heart to stop it beating. When he needs to revive him, Arden will inject atropine and adrenaline. Kit's heart stops. The lights in the lab begin to flicker. Arden rushes to the source of the flashes in the locked chamber where he kept his beasts, only to find Pepper sitting with Grace. "The baby is full term, and I'll look after her," she says, revealing a very pregnant Grace. Arden asks who brought her there. Meanwhile, in the lab, Kit remains on the table under the flashing lights.

A janitor walks into the chapel to find Timothy crucified like Christ above the altar. As he runs out the Angel of Death appears. Timothy asks her to help him. "I'm here," she says.

The Verdict:
I'm retracting all my criticism of stunt casting from my last review. I was really impressed (and surprised) that Ian McShane didn't die after last episode's throat stabbing. His return really rocked the boat (though his scene with Timothy in the chapel was confusing—I wasn't sure if it was all Timothy's daydream until the end). The icing on the cake was the return of Frances Conroy as the Angel of Death.

The Coat Hanger was free of all the whacky stuff and focused on moving events and characters forward in a more restrained but equally gripping manner in line with the Anne Frank two-parter. Instead of a series of crazy events we got a set of very effective and impactful scenes—crucified Timothy, Arden and Kit toasting, Grace and Pepper, Jude smashing the record, Lana and the coat hanger, Leigh kissing many good scenes.

Timothy finally got some needed focus. He's truly a victim of his ambition, blindly seeing how Leigh's redemption could elevate his position, while equally intrigued by Jude. But he's extremely naive, and easily manipulated by Leigh into a final, chilling scene (with a little bit of Silence of the Lambs thrown in).

It's great to have Dylan McDermot back, coming on the heals of Frances Conroy's appearance, too. And a nice reversal of roles from his character of last season. I didn't find the reveal about modern-day Bloody Face a surprise at all. How this part of the plot will resolve is still up in the air for me. Unless we encounter an old Oliver or Lana by the end of the series to bring it all together.

The dynamics are in a very exciting place right now. I want to see Jude and Lana team up to get out of Briarcliff. I want to see Kit reunited with Alma (or in lieu of that, Grace). How will it all end? I'm thinking Jude can't survive—the cost of her redemption in perhaps saving Lana. She's certainly being painted as a Christ figure, especially with her crown of thorns while strapped into her bed this episode.

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