'American Horror Story': Cults of personality
Alien-crazed Grace gets the axe and Lana lies to the top in penultimate 'Continuum'
Last week on "Asylum," another crucial villain bit the dust, Lana inched toward her destiny, Kit found himself as patriarch of an otherworldly blended family, and Monsignor Timothy at last removed his sheep's clothing in favor of the finest wolf attire. Poor Jude, of course, was considered legally deceased and left to rot and babble in what amounted to a glorified ventilator shaft.
The question then lingered: With a pair of episodes still to come, had Season 2 put the cart before the horse? Without Sister Mary Satan, Dr. Arden SS and Bloody Face PsyD, would there be enough nuts left in Briarcliff to keep audiences crazy for the show?
"Continuum" is a mixed offering in that regard. It's a jarring flash-forward that dedicates ample time to one tenuous storyline, boasts some unfortunate fashions and in some ways poses more inquiries than it resolves. On the flipside, there's at least one terrifically written sequence, a tense climactic scene that sets up a nerve-wracking showdown and a steady focus on the danger of cultish thinking.
So without further, "Hey toots, there's a new queen bee at this institution, and she looks an awful lot like Ruth Fisher but talks as if she just ended a run of "Grease" at a regional New England theater," here are the five central observations we took away from the penultimate installment of "American Horror Story: Asylum."
RYAN MURPHY MUST HATE JOURNALISTS
Whether smothering Kit (then the primary Bloody Face suspect) with flash bulbs and antagonistic questions as he initially entered Briarcliff, capturing Leigh Emerson's assault on Frank with tabloid bloodlust or setting off their own booby traps by digging for dirt (hey, Lana!), "Asylum" journos haven't exactly acted as ambassadors for the reported arts. In "Continuum," episode writer and show honcho Ryan Murphy puts a fine point on this motif. We catch up with Lana in 1969, and she's a feminist hero with a best-selling account of her Bloody Face Ordeal titled "Maniac." Except from Page One, her memoir is full of self-serving hyperbole that somehow disgraces not only her former lover, Wendy, but also Dr. Thredson. Both of them appear in her imagination during a reading, scolding Lana for burying her homosexuality and embellishing Oliver's crimes. Even in a fantasy encounter, her rebuttals are flimsy. "It's my job to tell the essence of truth," she hisses at Thredson, while assuring Wendy the details of their affair would only "distract" from the story. Lies upon lies, all to create a flimsy alternate reality predicated on fleeing from her trauma. As we learned with Alma, that usually doesn't turn out well. Hopefully, she heeds Kit's urging and puts those hard-nosed newswoman skills to good use, once and for all exposing the horrors of Briarcliff.
WELL, ALMA BE DAMNED
Speaking of Kit's wife and supernaturally resurrected, "Big Love"-style Mother Superior, Alma's doing her best to manage in their new environs and move on. Namely, a nearly polygamous living arrangement with Kit and their baby, in addition to Grace and her alien spawn. To make matters worse, Grace is obsessed with the little green guys, to the point of being convinced they're the path to enlightenment. This being the late-'60s now and all, it allows Murphy to overlap Grace's obsession with Kit's burgeoning interest in boilerplate activism, more or less equating and condemning them as under-nourished group-think. That said, Alma is wicked annoying, so when she axes her axe-murderess roomie in the back and winds up at Briarcliff, it doesn't just stir echoes of Manson Family-esque cult delirium, but serves as something of a relief.
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FRANCES CONROY IS THE REAL THUG ANGEL
Frances Conroy's been an awesomely dangerous presence on the edges as a dark angel ready to deliver the kiss of death to Briarcliff's poor and befuddled masses. Generally speaking, the actress forever known as Ruth Fisher is a must-watch addition to any cast, but we have to say her newest "Asylum" alter-ego may have fallen short of its potential. As part of a very disorienting chain of events, Monsignor Timothy informs Jude (now going by Betty Drake to complete her separation from reality) that he's off to be Cardinal in New York and has relinquished the hospital to the state, who are using it as a dumping ground for displaced weirdos. But, he promises, he's not leaving without her. What transpires next, depending on your point of view, is either a hilarious ode to exploitive women's-prison flicks or creative delusion on par with last week's musical number. In either case, when Conroy struts in as a tough-talking, cig-smoking, shiv-wielding badass looking to terrorize and rape Jude/Betty (while having no foggy idea that Jude mistakes her for the Grim Reapess and such theatrics aren't required) the whole song and dance is a bit cartoonish. Turns out that's on account of Jude hallucinating every detail, including the Monsignor's arrival. Hell, even her Candy Land partner Pepper (we'll miss you, Naomi Grossman) kicked it back in '66. But we have faith that our fallen Sister is just hopped up on too many pills. The real Judy Martin is still in there waiting to be rescued, and in contrast to the fatally demonized Sister Mary Eunice, she's made of tougher stuff.
STILL, WE DON'T WANT LANA TO DIE OF MATRICIDE
Dylan McDermott's Bloody Face Jr. has arisen from the ashes of Arden, Mary Satan et al as the surviving "Asylum" villain, the one who's been perpetuating the cycle of violence first authorized by a succession of desperate cowards some 40-plus years prior. And whether Lana likes it or not, or thinks she put history in its rightful place from the instant little Oliver parted ways with her breast, Kit was right. Hell, even Dr. Thredson was prophetic: There's still one more chapter to close, and she's the one to write it. "Continuum" winds down with a cracked-out Bloody Face Jr. haranguing an elderly bookseller over a signed copy of "Maniac." He freely regales her with his intentions to find momma Winters, show up at her door with the book and a magnum and redeem dear old dead dad. Much as the abrupt abandonment of circa-'64 Briarcliff was an adjustment, it's hard not to be amped up for a possible 2013 reunion between AARP-age Lana and the bastard child she sacrificed to survive. Time has come to officially cut the cord.