American Horror Story season 2 episode 4 review: I Am Anne Frank (Part 1)

Review Ron Hogan 8 Nov 2012 - 10:47

This week's American Horror Story introduces a famous figure from WWII history, or does it...

This review contains spoilers.

2.4 I Am Anne Frank (Part 1)

Everyone has an infinite capacity for deceit. That's what we as humans do. We lie, to ourselves and each other, for any number of reasons both reasonable and unreasonable. Or, sometimes, we lie for absolutely no reason. However, the lies we tell ourselves might be the most useful fictions we spin, if only because sometimes the only way we can keep sane is to lie to ourselves. 

There's a new addition to the liar's club that is Briarcliff this week, and she's gleefully throwing haymakers at Sister Jude and Doctor Arden throughout the episode. Brought in by the police for stabbing a couple of strangers for making anti-Semitic remarks (racism is another one of the show's favorite talking points), a pretty Jewish woman is brought before Sister Jude and interrogated. When queried about her identity, she says she's the most famous Holocaust death in America: Anne Frank (Franka Potente). Turns out she didn't really die in the concentration camp after all, but after her father published her journals, she says the lie was more powerful than the truth. Anne Frank - the 15-year-old who hid in an attic to avoid the death camps - had to be dead. 

Other members of the ensemble cast tell lies for less altruistic reasons. During a very interesting reveal of her back story, this week the audience was revealed the truth and depth of Grace's fiction in one of the show's gorier moments from this season. We get two versions of what happened, Grace's version and the version in Grace's files, in two segments that seem inspired by Franka Potente's breakout role in Run Lola Run. They're basically the same scene, but with minor differences that add up to a completely different story. 

Writer Jessica Sharzer seems to have some interesting ideas about the nature of dishonesty, but the show's a little bit too much this week. There's no settling on any one particular storyline, but a bunch of different parallel story lines all spool out at once across a variety of settings. Sister Jude has her conversations with Monseigneur Timothy and her own Mother Superior, Kit and Grace have their discussions, Kit and Lana have separate meetings with Dr. Thredson, Anne Frank has her expository meetings with Jude and Arden... nobody really dominated the story, which is both good and bad. It's good because it allows the show to make broader statements, but it's bad because we don't really get a strong impression of any one particular character or plot. However, we do see Dr. Thredson guide Lana through aversion therapy as a cure for her lesbianism; the one thing you can't say about American Horror Story is that it doesn't find a way to work in crazy dialogue wherever it can, as Zachary Quinto gets to say some of the funniest phrases I've ever heard. The show even manages to sneak in a very funny reference to the first season's pregnancy story, which just goes to further remind us that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk don't take themselves too seriously. 

In the case of the show this week, I have to say that a wider focus across the whole of the cast - as everyone gets involved in some way - is a positive move for a back story show because there's just such a strong cast of actors involved. Franka Potente was a wonderful addition to the cast and an extra catalyst for conflict between Arden, Timothy, and Jude, three of the strongest veteran actors on the show. Potente is no slouch herself as she sells a pretty hard character; she may or may not be the actual Anne Frank, but her story is good and her explanation for staying “dead” seems downright reasonable and uncharacteristically tastefully done, by AHS standards. Thredson's attempts to cure Lana were a nice, sleazy counterpoint to the show's classy handling of a Holocaust plot, though handled very well by Quinto and Sarah Paulson. 

Even considering the show's reliance on horror elements, the strongest point of American Horror Story has been its actors. Tonight we got to speed up the action while watching them ply their trade with the various dreams, delusions, and fantasies of their characters, from Lana's daydreamed journalism awards and Grace's various lies to Anne Frank's memories of a very young Dr. Arden in Auschwitz (they uncovered a great young James Cromwell lookalike). It wasn't the most cohesive of episodes, but I think Sharzer and director Michael Uppendahl did a good job of giving the show a consistency of theme, if nothing else. 

On the whole, American Horror Story: Asylum continues to take the good things about the show's first season and build on them with a renewed emphasis on creative character stories. The episode might have been a little tougher to follow this week, but it's the sort of tough-to-follow that rewards multiple viewings, and I'm sure that the show will helpfully give us some flashbacks in future weeks if we missed anything particularly important. AHS is committed to keeping no viewer left behind even as it shows us everyone's behinds.

Read Ron's review of the previous episode, Noreaster, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan finds himself strangely sympathetic to every character in the show, save perhaps Doctor Arden. Even Sister Jude is kind of sad! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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