Is this the calm before the storm? After last week’s plot forwarding, but largely lackluster episode, American Horror Story keeps the pacing slow and steady, hopefully in an effort to calm heart rates in anticipation of a heart-stopping finale. Tonight’s episode wasn’t without a scream or two, it wouldn’t be AHS without a little terror, but in comparison to the season’s shock and awe opening, this episode was definitely on the dull side. Veteran television director Craig Zisk formats the events nicely, breaking the plot lines into four neat segments, all separated by commercial breaks, but Zisk’s organization cant make up for the lack of fire on the writing end. Sure, the body count continues to climb and we definitely can see where the action is headed, but by judging the episode solely on its own merits, it’s easy to see that this week’s outing just isn’t up to par to the product we’ve come to expect. With only Kit, Lana, Jude and Johnny Threadson left to follow, the absence of sparkplugs Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto, who appears fleetingly) becomes even more apparent. We’ll wait for the finale to cast final judgment, but if tonight’s episode is any indicator, AHS just seems to have run out of steam just when it counts the most. For a show that we’ve marveled at for their seemingly endless ability to mine horror tropes, it’s sad to see the well go dry.
We begin the episode in Kit’s home, focused on a picture dated 1967 and featuring Kit, Grace and Alma with their children, all one big, happy family. The joy that radiates from the smiley portrait vanishes quickly as we see a bloody and spent Kit holding an axe collapse in a nearby chair. The show backtracks to show the trio almost playing house, with children frolicking and Kit greeted by his two loving woman after a long day. The sunny atmosphere in their home is a welcome change of pace from the dreary, bleak walls of Briar Cliff. The happy family image starts to turn sour when Alma begins to become upset over Grace’s obsession with the abduction. Grace spends her days trying to draw the aliens and make sense of the events that happened to her. She also believes it’s important that the children know where they came from. Alma couldn’t disagree more and the two’s difference in ideology comes to head in a tough verbal exchange. Kit awakes in the night to find Grace still sprawled out on the family room floor drawing and when Kit greets her, she instantly launches into a monologue about how they should suppress Alma’s influence and allow their children to embrace their extra-terrestrial orgins. Her spirited speech is cut short, literally, when Grace is blind sided by an axe from Alma, who hacks up the former axe murderer in fear of the aliens and their assured return. At this we cycle back to the opening scene, a la Quentin Tarantino.
We jump to 1968 and find Sister Jude still confined behind the walls of the asylum. However she seems well, looking after the other patients with care. She’s paid a visit by the Monsignor, but Jude refuses to look at the man at first, protesting that Jude is dead and that all that remains is Betty, the new name that the Monsignor assigned to her. The Monsignor is here to deliver the news that he has been chosen as the Cardinal of New York and that the asylum is now owned by the state, with overflowing prisoners from the state prisons being brought to Briar Cliff. He also promises Jude that he will finally help her gain her freedom. Jude is left only with his promise when the new inmates begin to arrive, including Alma. The new inmates file in and one in particular catches Jude’s eye, an inmate resembling the Angel of Death (Francis Conroy). The inmate tries to intimidate Jude but all Jude can do is protest her presence. Jude is confused and scared, thinking that the Angel has come for her. This tough inmate pushes Jude’s buttons until Jude snaps and attacks her, but when Jude is pulled off the new inmate, the inmate appears as someone else entirely. Jude had only imagined that she looked like the Angel. Everything goes hazy and Jude finally comes to in the psychiatrist’s office. Jude’s confusion only grows when she learns that two and half years has passed since her conversation with the Monsignor, and that her release will now likely never happen.
Next to check in his Lana, who is at a bookstore for a signing of her book Maniac, depicting the events of her kidnap. She begins a reading and it is here that we learn that Lana has fabricated the events to sell more books. In the middle of the reading she imagines Threadson and Wendy protesting to her lies. Lana snaps out of the fantasy and continues signing when Kit arrives. The two share a cup of coffee and catch up and Kit is appalled to learn that Lana has given up her crusade to shut down Briar Cliff. Kit tells Lana of his visits to the asylum to see Alma, which the viewer gets to witness first hand. Then, he reveals to Lana that Alma died inside the asylum and another shocking bit of information, that Jude is alive and that he spoke with her. Lana assures Kit that she did all she could to help the woman, but she isn’t sorry that Jude is paying for her sins. Kit is surprised by Lana’s coldness, but Lana stone-faced tells Kit that her cold exterior helped her survive.
The final moments focus on Johnny Threadson, visiting the same bookstore that Lana had her signing in, in the present day, He is searching for a copy of Maniac, but the stores owner refuses to part with the copy. Johnny launches into his plan to visit his mother and kill her, finishing his father’s work. Once again, Dylan McDermott’s ham-fisted delivery kills the menacing speech.
So, next week we’ll finally see the Son of Bloody Face confront his Mommy Dearest. Here’s to hoping the clash of the two titans washes out the taste left behind by the past two episodes and ends the season on a frightening high note.