AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM “Tricks and Treats” Episode Recap
The second episode of this season starts off right where it ended, with modern-day Teresa getting attacked by the “real” Bloody Face. She runs screaming through the abandoned asylum back to Leo’s body, trying to wake him up. Yet when the monster gets too close she is forced to lock herself in another room (possibly even a cell, it wasn’t clear) and watch as the creature mutilates Leo. I’m a little curious if and how the modern-day story of the two newlywed lovers will pay off as it seems rather disconnected from the rest of the show, but time will tell. For the rest of this episode, we are back in 1964.
We start with Wendy lamenting with friends about her decision to commit Lana to the asylum. She’s a nervous wreck, and when the doorbell rings she is terrified it could be the serial woman-killer on the loose. Her friends remind her the killer was already caught (if you remember, Kit is supposedly Bloody Face), and when they answer the door it’s instead a group of Halloween trick-or-treaters (unlike Season One of AHS which had a whole episode based around Halloween, this is the only reference to the holiday in the episode). Wendy is ashamed to admit she doesn’t have any candy, but the kids let her off anyway, since it seems she is a well-liked teacher at the local school.
Wendy eventually tells her friends she just needs to shower and relax, and the next day she will retract her statement and get Lana out of Briarcliff. As she takes her shower, we are treated to more great ’60s music with Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin'” (which, accurately, was a Top Ten hit in 1964!). I’m curious if each episode of AHS: Asylum will feature an old ’60s tune, since we also had one in the pilot episode. I’m all for it, since I love 60s music! Anyway, after Wendy steps out of the shower she is attacked by a monster resembling the same Bloody Face that menaced the two lovers in the modern day opening. Looks like the serial killer hasn’t been caught after all! Unfortunately that’s all we see of Wendy for the rest of the episode, so we’ll have to wait until next week to learn more about her. Was she actually killed off? I’m unsure, as it seems the story of her and Lana has more to be told, but I could be wrong.
After this we’re back at the asylum. Sister Jude is doing a routine room search. She catches one patient with food in their room, which leads to Shelley’s suggestive remark, “I have a cucumber in my room. Not because I was hungry.” The guards catch Lana with a scribbled piece of paper in her pillowcase, as she’s been taking notes to break a story once she is released from prison. “Too bad your ambition outweighs your talent” sneers Sister Jude, destroying the piece of paper. “I have an excellent memory,” Lana whispers, to which Jude replies, “We’ll see about that.” Sister Jude requests electroshock therapy for Lana from Dr. Arden who obliges, though not without asking Sister Jude to assist. As Lana is forced to undergo the therapy, Sister Jude’s stern facade is rattled, and we see an expression of deep pity for Lana play across her face.
Next we are (finally!) introduced to Zachary Quinto’s character, Dr. Oliver Thredson. Thredson is an outside psychiatrist appointed to evaluate the sanity of Kit. If Kit is deemed crazy, he stays in the asylum. If he is judged to be sane, he goes to the electric chair. Kit knows this, and tries to explain to Dr. Thredson that while he is not crazy, he is also innocent and didn’t kill anyone. However Thresdon doesn’t buy Kit’s alien abduction story, diagnosing Kit with acute clinical insanity.
Dr. Thredson is a very nice addition to the show. Quinto has always been good at playing calm, methodical characters who seem to have the potential to boil if pushed. We saw it in his portrayal of Spock in the revamped Star Trek and even his outstanding breakout role as the villain Sylar on “Heroes.” While Sister Jude and Dr. Arden are often at odds on the whole science vs. religion aspect of the show, neither of them seems to really care too much for those in the asylum. Dr. Thredson, on the other hand, is actually a doctor who sympathizes with the patients and wants to see them get better! When meeting with Kit, in a nice touch of 1960s flair, he even remarks “No one should be denied a cigarette” before giving him one. Cigarette use is frowned upon nowadays, but back in the ’60s it was seen as classy, so it’s a nice gesture here. Lana also is shown smoking cigarettes constantly throughout the show, which makes for an interesting thematic point later.
Sister Mary meanwhile is in the woods talking with Dr. Arden. She’s curious about the creatures she has been feeding, but Dr. Arden assures her, “All in good time” and that it is a secret that should only be kept between the two of them. Dr. Arden offers her a candied apple, which Mary at first refuses. Arden gets a bit more forceful, and the soundtrack changes to the foreboding main theme from John Carpenter’s The Thing, written by Ennio Morricone (one of my all-time favorite composers)! As I mentioned last week, AHS is never afraid to borrow from the horror films that inspired it. Sister Mary finally has a taste of the apple, which seems to please Dr. Arden. As Mary enters the asylum from the forest, Shelley notices the apple in her basket.
There’s a lot to glean from this scene. Are the monsters Sister Mary has been feeding related to the real Bloody Face monster that exists in both 1964 and today? And the whole candied apple bit is loaded with symbolism. Could Sister Mary be tasting from the Tree of Knowledge? Or is she Snow White, biting the poison apple? Either way, Mary is certainly and innocent character, and white is historically the color of purity. And while we don’t know everything about Dr. Arden yet, we certainly know that he is far from innocent himself.
Back in the hospital, Lana desperately tries to take notes about her electroshock therapy, but is having trouble remembering because her brain is so rattled. Behind her Kit meanwhile meets with Grace, telling her he’s worried about going to the electric chair because he “can’t fake crazy.” He’s trying to find a way to escape, which Lana overhears. On her slip of paper she writes “tunnel,” referring to the one Sister Mary used to sneak her inside.
We cut to Dr. Thredson meeting with Jude, concerned about the asylum’s abusive conditions, particularly Lana’s electroshock treatment which he was witness to, unbeknownst to Sister Jude. She tries to brush him off since he’s only there to treat Kit, but instead he interrupts a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Potter, who have come for help over their 17-year-old son Jed. At first Dr. Thredson tries to dismiss Jed as just being a moody teenager, but when the parents mention that Jed has hallucinations, hears voices, and even tore apart their best Guernsey cow and ate it’s heart (shown in a bloody fun flashback sequence) Thredson asks that the boy be brought in for examination.
At first Jed seems fine–just a terrified kid. But then he lashes out, his eyes grow zombie-like, and he begins speaking in tongues. Dr. Thredson is taken aback, but Sister Jude knows what’s up. This boy needs an exorcist!
Back in the ward, Grace and Lana are taking baths in special containers they can’t escape from. However Grace has been around the block before, and has smuggled a sharp object so she can break free. She let’s Lana out too, and Lana uses the opportunity to ask Grace about escaping, telling her about the tunnel. Grace says she refuses to escape without Kit because she knows he’s not a killer; she’s seen plenty before. I thought this dynamic between Lana and Grace was really interesting (we still don’t know very much about Grace yet), though it was a bit incongruous why Lana felt she needed Grace to help her escape in the first place if she already knew about the tunnel.
We then cut to the one scene of the episode that stuck out like a sore thumb, in what otherwise is a show improving and building on itself. Shelley approaches Dr. Arden and tries to seduce him, spouting a ton of blatant exposition and backstory about how she had a jazz-playing husband but cheated on him and got thrown into the nut house. AHS has never been a subtle show, but this sequence felt way too on-the-nose for me; exposition can be tricky, but Shelley’s monologue here was incredibly overwrought and unrealistic. Regardless, Arden manages to resist Shelley’s advances, finding her whorish and disgusting.
We come back to the main demonic possession plot-line, where Dr. Thredson argues with Sister Jude and Father Howard, appalled that something as hokey as an exorcist (the wheelchair bound Father Malachi) is being brought in to deal with Jed. Father Howard insists that this is what needs to be done, but also asks for Thredson’s assistance, since a licensed doctor on site during the exorcism will be necessary to seek to the boy’s medical needs. Father Malachi also requests that Sister Jude be absent when the exorcism begins, as it is no place for a woman and she will be needed to comfort Jed’s parents.
Lana, meanwhile, tries to write instructional notes for the tunnel in the common room, when it is closed early for the night due to the exorcism taking place. In the commotion Kit manages to steal her notes.
Next we are treated to a new location–Dr. Arden’s home! A huge theme of this season of AHS is very much about forbidden desires, and we are finally going to learn what makes Dr. Arden “tick.” He prepares a sumptuous dinner for two, clearly enjoying himself. Eventually his date arrives, calling him “Stanley” (his first name is “Arthur,” which is the first hint something might be up). As it turns out this woman is a prostitute, and she begins her “job” by talking dirty in a similar way to Shelley. Arden is disgusted and reprimands her, as he is a man of taste. Instead he serves her dinner and plays some Chopin on a record, speaking of how as a young man Chopin never was able to be with his one true love (as a classical pianist myself and huge fan of Chopin’s music, I really liked this touch). “Can you hear the longing?” Dr. Arden asks, making one wonder if Dr. Arden too had a lost love. The prostitute appeases Arden and nods, though this night is clearly different to her than most. Arden offers the woman some fine wine, promising “An evening of romance,” but when the woman protests, saying she never drinks while “working” Arden instantly becomes far more threatening, demanding she sit down and enjoy the meal and cutting the pot roast with much more force than necessary.
Back at Briarcliff the exorcism is under way. The bed shakes, books fly across the room, Jed speaks in tongues and tries to rile Dr. Thresdon who, while shaken, retains his composure up to the point when Father Malachi is lifted and thrown across the room like a rag doll. Realizing Malachi could be seriously injured the exorcism is temporarily called off as Father Howard and Dr. Thredson leave to attend to him. Sister Jude is asked to keep an eye on Jed.
Jed pleads with Sister Jude, sounding again like a pathetic troubled boy. Against her better judgement Sister Jude enters the room, only to have the demon reappear, moving a chair telekinetically to trap Sister Jude inside. As the demon begins calling Sister Jude a whore and other names, we are treated to a flashback of Sister Jude as a jazz singer during what appears to be World War II, continuously getting drunk and philandering with soldiers. One night Jude drove home drunk and ran over a little girl wearing blue. Instead of stopping she drove away, leaving the girl to die. We knew Sister Jude was far from pure, but this is an altogether new dark secret. It seems clear that the promotional material for the show featuring the white nun bleeding black is actually symbolic of Sister Jude herself in addition to the broader themes of the show. She appears to be a pure woman of God on the outside, but under the surface oozes a sinister dark evil.
The demon continues to terrify Sister Jude, appearing as the dead girl in blue and labeling her a murderer. “You never even bothered to get out of the car!” he bellows. Sister Jude finally loses it, slapping the demon right as Father Howard returns. Howard leads Jude out as the demon snarls, “It’s you she thinks of when she touches herself at night!” (after seeing Jude’s fantasy sequence from the last episode, we have to admit he has a point there!). The demon finally causes the lights to flicker and shatter throughout the hospital, causing a power outage. On the ward everything becomes bathed in a red light as all of the patients’ doors open. Patients begin wandering through the corridor, and Lana and Grace decide it is time to make their escape.
As Father Howard and Dr. Thredson continue with the exorcism, Sister Mary comes to tell Sister Jude about the power failure. Meanwhile Kit catches Lana and Grace leaving and tries to come along. Lana objects, at which point Grace decides to leave with Kit anyway whether Lana likes it or not. Lana, worried she’s about to let a murderer go free, screams for help. The guards come for Kit, and yet again he is beaten to the floor. Poor guy can’t catch a break!
Back at the exorcism things are not going well. Jed appears to be going into shock, and Dr. Thredson tries to perform CPR (I wouldn’t want to give mouth-to-mouth to a demon, but I guess Thredson much braver!). Unfortunately Thredson is unable to resuscitate Jed, and the boy dies. At the same time a crucifix falls from the wall, and Sister Mary, having just arrived, “faints.” Or did the demon possess her? Hmm…
At Dr. Arden’s home, he has asked the prostitute to wear a nun outfit. As the woman gets her outfit on, she discovers a box on Arden’s dresser. Searching through it, she sees numerous photos of other women Arden has tied up and killed. Terrified she drops the box just as Dr. Arden enters, catching her in the act of going through his belongings. Dr. Arden forces her onto the bed to have sex with her, but she bites him and escapes. This is the last we see of the prostitute, but I’m curious if she’ll return to rat out Dr. Arden. However I don’t think this means Dr. Arden is the serial murderer necessarily (at least not directly, since the monster could be one of his creations), since it seems most of the other murders happened to ordinary women, and Arden seems to prey only on prostitutes.
Wrapping up the night, Sister Jude is forced to explain to the parents that their son has died. The scene is very artfully done in a wide shot, without any dialogue. Images are all that is necessary as the parents break down and begin crying as Jude tries to comfort them.
The next morning Dr. Arden comes to Sister Mary in the infirmary. Remember all that stuff I said earlier about her being pure and innocent? Well now she’s wearing white, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence! Again, Ennio Morricone’s music to The Thing plays (I wonder if it will continue throughout the series as the theme for Mary and Dr. Arden?) as Dr. Arden’s eyes scan her body. He touches her dress, only to pull it lower. When Sister Mary sits up startled he remarks kindly, “I was only trying to protect your modesty.” Mary smiles and then, somewhat suggestively, murmurs, “I would hate to distract you from the important work of the day” as she covers herself with her blanket. Arden smiles and replies in a scientific manner, “To me the human body is nothing more than a complex machine. Like a clock full of cogs and sprockets.” Yet Arden is still unable to resist taking a quick glance down at Sister Mary’s breasts.
As Arden leaves, Mary’s innocent smile melts away. She tosses the blanket off herself, and a crucifix on the wall suddenly tilts. I’m really enjoying the interplay between Sister Mary and Dr. Arden, but I honestly wish they hadn’t included this last shot. It would have been far more fun to guess whether or not Mary was actually possessed by the demon, and the cross slipping on the wall seemed to be too much of a giveaway. But I’ve already mentioned that AHS is rarely subtle, and either way this plot-line looks to be a lot of fun. Dr. Arden struggling to control his sexual perversions at work, the demon possessing Sister Mary using her “innocence” as a weapon, and the secret about the creatures in the woods is going to lead to some great material down the line.
In the final scene, Sister Jude calls in Lana. After Sister Jude puts out Lana’s cigarette (in direct opposition to Dr. Thredson’s kind methodology in his opening scene), she remarks how happy she is with Lana for calling for help when Kit was about to escape–so much so that she has given Lana a “treat” (hey, that word is in the name of the episode!). The doors are open, and Kit and Grace are brought in. Lana’s so-called “treat” is that Kit and Grace will be punished, while Lana will not. Sister Jude even asks Lana to pick the switch that will be used to beat Grace and Kit. Lana tries to apologize, but Grace won’t have it. Right as sister Jude is about to beat Grace, Kit stands up and declares that Grace is innocent and he is the only one to blame. Jude turns to Grace hissing, “He seems to think you’re just one big scoop of strawberry ice cream” and decides that since it was going to be twenty lashes for each of them, now Kit will have to receive forty lashes. Grace and Lana are forced to watch as Sister Jude beats Kit, and it seems clear that Lana is beginning to realize Kit’s selfless behavior is not in line with with the actions of a serial killer. Has she made a mistake?
I mentioned last week that American Horror Story: Asylum felt a little busy in its first episode, but just like Season One, I’m now enjoying the show more as it’s progressing. It’s wonderful to finally get a glimpse of Zachary Quinto’s character, and as I predicted the show indeed is following not only scientific horrors, but religious ones as well, as shown this time around with demonic possession. Within the framework of the science vs. religion theme, the show also seem to be exploring the idea of forbidden desires and how it taints people of both faith and science. And where desires are suppressed, it can turn people into even greater monsters. Aside from the poorly-executed scene of Shelley’s exposition, the show is starting to find its footing. Assuming all the threads come together, it looks like this season will indeed be a lot fun!
Read my recap of last week here!