This review contains spoilers.
I thought that last week’s episode of American Horror Story, for all its oddly-placed seriousness, was a very good episode. It moved the story forward and got into some really creative camerawork in the process. I thought that it was going to be one of the better episodes in terms of cool set-ups and editing tricks, but I was wrong. Continuum took the show in an entirely new direction with an entirely new, very well-done shift in style thanks to director Craig Zisk.
And that direction, before you can ask, is upside down and hanging off a crane. We’ve seen a lot of tonight’s tricks before – unusual shot framing, Dutch angles, time-jumping smash cuts and match cuts – but nothing has been quite as elegantly executed as that not-so-simple crane shot where Kit walks under the camera, gets into his truck, drives off, and is replaced by a meth-smoking (I assume it’s meth, because he’s dressed like a meth head) Johnny Thredson blasting aggressive rock and roll music in a white-trash sports car in the parking lot of a failed bookstore. It was smooth, well-executed, and the best of a bunch of good match cuts and time slips throughout the season; the edit was impossible to detect, at least by my untrained eyes. Even if you can pick out the seam, it’s amazingly well constructed.
It’s also pretty disconcerting. After all, this is an episode where we leap from modern day to 1967, then again to 1968, and 1969, all within the same storyline. Given the jumps in time, it’s no wonder that the storyline that’s most effective is the slow unravelling of the former nun Judith Martin, who finds herself hallucinating, suffering, and trapped as Briarcliff goes from a charitable institution of the Catholic Church to a state-run facility to a halfway home and overflow facility for prisoners. Each of these hand-offs gets worse and worse for the inmates in Briarcliff.
It’s interesting to watch the progression, or I guess regression in this case, both of the facility and of Sister Jude. Protesters march for equal rights on the streets, while within the walls of Briarcliff, Judy Martin slowly loses her grip. It’s a brilliant performance by the always brilliant Jessica Lange, and it’s very well edited and executed by Ryan Murphy and the crew at AHS. It’s also the strongest of the three story lines this week, with Kit and his new families on one end and Lana’s rise towards fame and fortune on the other. The three story lines intersect in interesting ways throughout the episode, with Kit seeming to serve as the connecting lynchpin through all three groupings.
Like in the first season, the titular location seems to serve as an irresistible draw for the characters. Jude is trapped there, Kit is compelled to return there time and time again in a search for justice, and Lana mines her memories of the place and its inhabitants for her success. That’s the thing about coping. Everyone does it in different ways (or fails to do it). Kit becomes a crusader, befitting the martyr and saviour complex he’s displayed throughout the show. Lana returns to how she was when she was the plucky reporter poking her nose where it didn’t belong, a self-serving, self-interested hard case looking out for number one. Grace becomes an obsessive; Alma represses her memories almost completely. And Jude, well… we see what’s been happening to her.
The show is rounding the corner to the final episode of the season, and they’re tying up loose ends at a rapid pace. It’s giving American Horror Story a little bit more of a ramshackle feeling than the earlier episodes of the season had, but it’s also giving it a little more of that familiar AHS craziness that we all know and love (the fact that Dylan McDermott keeps showing up to chew scenery as the most deliciously white trash serial killer ever really turns the dial to eleven). Even without secret Nazis, demonic possession, cannibal mutants, and serial killers, this show never ceases to be packed full of insanity.
During the first season, AHS seemed to peak early, but much like Sister Mary Eunice raping a priest, it looks like Asylum will climax at exactly the right time.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Spilt Milk, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan cannot wait for the last episode of American Horror Story: Asylum. A great show has somehow managed to become better, but the awesome setting will be missed. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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