TVTV Recaps

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM “Dark Cousin” Recap

And we’re back!  This week American Horror Story livened things up with a fun appearance by Frances Conroy (who played the older version of Moira last season) as the Angel of Death, proving that even when this show is filled with enough characters and plotlines that it seems ready to burst, it still finds ways to layer on more.

We open with two young Briarcliff nuns discussing the classic film Lilies of the Field and Sidney Poitier’s performance.  One of the nuns says she hasn’t finished the film yet, and the other says she promises not to spoil the ending.  This is a really minor way of just introducing us to the episode, but it piqued my interest for a couple reasons.  First off, in 1964, how were these nuns watching this film in the first place?  For one nun to say she “hadn’t finished it yet,” implies she could finish it again later, but VHS tapes weren’t invented until the late 1970s, and it’s not like televisions had DVRs at the time.  I’m not entirely sure this is a factual goof, but it seems a little odd that one of the nuns would have a 16mm print of Lilies of the Field for home viewing.  Aside from going to multiplexes, how did people watch movies in the 1960s?  Secondly, I haven’t seen Lilies of the Field, but from what I gather it’s also a film about an unemployed construction worker (Poitier) who helps some nuns build a church in the desert, and it also features an overbearing Mother Superior.  So the subject matter and parallels are certainly appropriate for this season of American Horror Story.

Tangent aside, the nuns find Grace where we last left her, covered in blood.  As Grace fades from their help, the Angel of Death appears to Grace, but disappears as one of the nuns manages to jumpstart Grace’s heart and bring her back to the living.

Next Sister Mary approaches Dr. Arden, who is busy gardening.  Mary tells Arden about how sister Grace was almost killed due to his messed up sterilization, though we know from two episodes ago that Arden never performed the operation, and it was in fact aliens who did the task, though we have yet to find out why the aliens thought this was a good idea.  Also this is definitely over-thinking things, but wouldn’t an advanced alien race with micro-bug chips and the ability to abduct people instantaneously have to the technology to not perform botched surgeries?  Maybe they don’t have much understanding of human anatomy.  Either way, Mary’s cockiness causes Dr. Arden to slap her, which really riles Mary up.  “You touch me again, you will die,” Mary says.  When Dr. Arden moves to slap her once more and Mary finally reveals her telekinetic demonic powers, as Arden is hurled across the room by an invisible force.  There’s a new nun running this asylum now!

Making her angry would be a bad HABIT. Get it?!

We next see a patient, Miles, working in the kitchen.  He appears to be schizophrenic, and the voices in his head cause him to cut open his hands with the bread-slicing machine.  As the other nuns attend to him, Sister Mary comes to see what has gone wrong.  Miles has written a name on the wall in his blood, but the language is Aramaic.  Sister Mary recognizes the name and is furious, asking, “Did you summon her?”  Miles doesn’t seem to remember writing the name, so Sister Mary demand that the nuns stitch him up and the walls be scrubbed.

After Miles has had his stitches, Frank the guard tries to comfort him.  Miles says he doesn’t want to be there anymore.  At first Frank thinks Miles is talking about the solitary room, and tries to tell Miles it will only be for the night.  But Miles replies, “I don’t mean this room, Frank.  I mean this world.”  As Frank leaves, the lights go out, and the Angel of Death appears.  Seeing her, Miles undoes his stitches and begins to die.  The Angel asks Miles if she wants her to kiss him, and Miles does.  And with the kiss of Death, Miles is gone.

Suddenly the door opens, surprising the Angel.  “Who dares look upon Shachath?” she asks.  “Show yourself.”  It’s Sister Mary, who requests that the Angel leave now that her work is done.  The Angel is surprised that a simple nun is able to look upon her, and recognizes the possession within Sister Mary, saying, “I was invited, unlike you” and calls Sister Mary “cousin” (episode title alert!).  For a moment the real Sister Mary within the demon pleads for release to the Angel (the first time since possession that we’ve seen a glimpse of humanity hiding within Sister Mary), but the demon manages to get that side of herself under control, promising “She likes it here.  We like it here.  And we have work left to do.”  Shachath departs, but promises the demon within Sister Mary (and the audience), “We’ll meet again.”

Arden inspects Grace, noting the infection was caused by a botched hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).  Arden says he wishes he could let Grace die, but doesn’t want his reputation to suffer since he will take the blame for it.  “You will live, if only to set the record straight,” he growls.

We then cut to the ickiest scene yet in the series, as Dr. Thredson/Bloody Face has sex with Lana (eeeeew!!).  In her despair, Lana sees a vision of someone just out of reach…Shachath.

In jail, Kit tries to explain his situation of the false testimony given by Thredson to a lawyer, also mentioning that since Grace saw Kit’s wife alive, it’s another reason he must be innocent.  The lawyer tries to explain that Grace is also considered crazy, and that the recorded confession will surely get Kit convicted, not to mention the fact that there it seems unlikely Grace will be able to testify at all, since she is incredibly sick.  The lawyer tries to drum up another plan of action, but Kit, hearing the news about Grace, makes his choice.  He grabs a hole puncher on the table and uses it to knock out the lawyer.  Then he leaps through the window to escape, finally deciding to take the law into his own hands.

In Thredson’s lair, the Angel of Death appears to Lana, but Lana says she is not ready to go yet.  Thredson returns, and Shachath vanishes.  Thredson angrily decides that he and Lana have “reached an impasse,” and that he has finally decided to kill her.  Debating about which way to do it, he finally decides the most humane way is to give her some sort of lethal shot (either that, or it’s a tranquilizer so she will feel no pain when he does kill her), even trying to comfort her by saying she will now finally be reunited with Wendy.  However Lana has other plans, and smashes Wendy’s portrait on Thredson’s head, then stabs him with the syringe instead.  She ties Thredson down to the bed, and runs.  Escaping through the woods, she is picked up by a surly man (played by William Mapother, aka “Ethan” from Lost).  Unfortunately her rescuer doesn’t turn out to be the nicest guy either, and refuses to let Lana go once she is inside his car.  It turns out he caught his wife having sex with another man after ten years, and is pretty angry at all women because of it.  Lana notices Shachath in the backseat of the car, and realizes she has yet to escape from Death’s grasp.  The man reveals a gun and shoots himself, and the car goes flying out of control and crashes.

When Lana awakens, she finds herself back in Briarcliff, with sister Mary’s “caring” face watching over her.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

More like “out of the fire, into the frying pan, out of the frying pan, onto the flaming hot bunsen burner, into the fire.”

Next we catch up with Sister Jude finding the body of Mr. Goodman.  A flashback shows Sister Mary killing Goodman (using a piece of the broken mirror, the running visual theme for this character), just in case you hadn’t figured out that part yet.  Jude calls for the police, while in the background Shachath comes to take Mr. Goodman.  Suddenly Jude notices a bottle of alcohol by the phone, and on the television the article about the missing girl Jude hit with her car and the word “murderer” scrawled on the screen in blood.  Has Jude been set up?  There is a knocking at the door, and for a moment it appears Jude may be framed, but in a moment we cut to a…

Flashback!  Shot partially in black-and-white, it’s 1949.  A young black man named Bill has come to see Sister Jude at her motel room during her singing days.  She has been singing for their jazz band, but didn’t appear the other night because she was drunk.  He hands her an envelope with some money, but then tells her that she is out of the band.  Jude tries to stop him anyway she can, even trying to seduce him, but it’s no use.  Bill pushes her away, and also mentions the number of a detective is in the envelope as well, who wants to investigate a hit-and-run that had happened the night before.  Apparently this is the morning after Jude killed the little girl in the blue dress on the street.  Sister Jude hurriedly packs, rips up the card, pays the motel bill, and drives away in a frenzy from the hospital.  News of the hit-and-run plays on the radio and we see images of Jude remembering she hit the girl (a flashback within a flashback).  A complete mess, Jude tries to drown her sorrows by drinking while driving, which unsurprisingly causes her to hit a tree, the second car crash this episode!  Coming to, she sees a white angel statue, and realizes she has stopped at a church or convent, full of nuns.  And with that, we see how Sister Jude chose to take her path with God.

Don’t blink, Sister Jude.

We cut back to Sister Jude in 1964, drinking (again) and remembering.  The phone rings and she answers.  “Who is this?” Jude asks.  “It’s your conscience calling” replies Sister Mary on the other line.  Sister Mary finally reveals to Jude that she is in fact the demon possessing the boy in the second episode, and that she will tell everyone Goodman was investigating Jude’s hit-and-run case.  Mary tells Jude she can try to run, but probably won’t get very far.  And as a precaution, Mary left behind the bottle of bourbon as well as a razor…likely as a ploy to get Jude to commit suicide.  Jude goes to a nearly empty diner to try and sort everything out.  As she washes up in the diner bathroom, she suddenly slits her wrist.  And with that, Sister Jude, the fallen nun who has lost her faith, lies in a huge pool of blood, dying.

But it’s all a vision (though it had me fooled!).  Though Jude considered it, she walks out of the bathroom, only to see the Angel of Death waiting for her at one of the booths.  In my favorite scene from the episode, Jude sits with the angel, like old friends.  This isn’t the first time Jude has considered killing herself, but this time Shachath felt it might be the real deal, as her “song was more plaintive” than usual.  We learn of other sad moments in Jude’s life when she despaired; the time she learned she couldn’t have children and her husband left her, and of course the night of her hit-and-run.  Jude wonders why she was not taken those times.  “God revealed he had a plan for you,” says Shachath.  “He gave you a calling.”  “And now he’s taken that away,” retorts Jude.  “I’ve been living on borrowed time.  Sooner or later he’s bound to figure out I never really rose to his challenge.”  “You deserve some peace” replies Shachath, encouraging Jude to finally die.  “I’m ready” Jude finally says, “But I need to do one last thing.”

In a nice bit of irony, two waitresses watch Jude, who appears to be talking to herself.  “Poor thing,” one of them says.  “Maybe we should call Briarcliff.  At least they could give her a bed for the night.”  Sister Jude, the once stern matron of Briarcliff, now appears every bit as crazy as the people she once lorded over there.

Jude is next seen talking with the parents of “Missy” the girl she ran over, at first claiming to be her teacher, but later admitting she is a nun.  Finally trying to absolve herself of sin, she is about to admit she killed Missy, when a pretty young nurse walks in the door.  As it turns out, Missy was never killed and survived the accident!  Jude figures it out just in time, and her faith is renewed.  She tries to cover her tracks by saying Missy’s story inspired her, and all seems well.  Unfortunately for Jude, Missy’s father Hank, appears to see through Jude’s lies and figures out the truth, while Missy’s mother obliviously says, “We get to live with our daughter, the monster who left her there gets to live with himself.”  Jude has found a reason to keep on living, but has unwittingly irked the wrath of an angry father who has been waiting years for revenge.

A closer inspection reveals the newspaper only said Missy was missing, not murdered. Jude jumped the gun!

Back at Briarcliff, Lana refuses to take her pills, asking to see Jude.  However Mary replies that she runs Briarcliff now.  Lana tries to explain to Mary her story about Dr. Thredson.  “Kit is innocent, Oliver Thredson is Bloody Face,” she cries.  In a brief flashback, we see that while possessing the boy, the demon was already aware of this.  Yet the demon within Mary pretends to comfort Lana, saying she believes her story, and that Lana is finally safe.

Yet as Mary leaves, Frank asks how Lana is doing.  Mary recounts Lana’s story, but Frank replies that Kit cannot be innocent, since he’s heard that Kit attacked and escaped custody, and his orders are to be shot on sight.  Below Briarcliff, Kit enters through the tunnels on a mission to rescue Grace.  Unfortunately one of Arden’s horrific creatures is in hot pursuit.

In the kitchen, a perfectly healthy Grace works with a nun (as a side note, this episode did a nice job of showcasing some of the other nuns and patients working in the asylum other than the main cast).  Grace calls herself “Arden’s little miracle,” as it seems the doctor was in fact able to heal her completely.  When the nun leaves the room, Kit appears, and he and Grace embrace.  Unfortunately the nun returns and screams for help.  Just then Arden’s monster appears and kills the nun.  Kit and Grace run for dear life, and Kit manages to disembowel the creature before it can get to them.  Just then Frank runs in and tries to shoot Kit.  In the confusion Grace tries to defend him, and gets a shot to the chest.  Noooo!!!

Shachath appears once more as Grace lies in a pool of blood on the floor.  “Are you ready for me?” she asks.  “Yes,” Grace replies.  And with a kiss, Grace the axe murderer with a tender heart is no more.  Too bad, I was developing quite a crush on her.  Of course, with American Horror Story it’s hard to know if anyone will ever truly be gone from the show.

Goodbye, Grace.

Read last week’s recap here.  Also, next week features veteran actor Ian McShane playing a crazy murderous Santa Claus.  God I love this show.

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The Author

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. Son of an archaeologist, he spent his childhood years developing a fondness of nature and the outdoors, which was rivaled only for his love of filmmaking and storytelling.
In 2008 he graduated from the University of Southern California's film program, and currently makes a living as an editor in addition to working on his own creative projects.
He has a weakness for redheads, seafood pasta, and dinosaurs.