American Horror Story season 2 episode 6 review: The Origins Of Monstrosity

American Horror Story layers plot upon plot in a good, but not great episode...

This review contains spoilers.

2.6 The Origins Of Monstrosity

American Horror Story can get a little too heavy-handed with its homages to classic horror, and tonight’s episode was possibly the most heavy handed of episodes to date, thanks the the presence of a creepy little girl named Jenny (Nikki Hahn) who comes straight out of central casting for a remake of The Bad Seed. She’s like a miniature, strange little adult, and always has been, according to her mother, who promptly abandons the girl in Briarcliff even though, as Sister Jude repeatedly says, they don’t have a children’s ward. Not the best idea the mother’s ever had; even if her daughter’s a killer—and she is—Briarcliff is the last place you want to leave a kid. 

Still, between little Jenny and the lengthy explanation of just why Bloody Face is Bloody Face, AHS broaches an interesting concept. Specifically, it brings up the eternal debate between nature and nurture. Earlier in the season, Thredson brought up the concept of BF Skinner and using operant conditioning to cure Lana of her homosexuality. However, can you cure someone of something they were born to be? Are serial killers the product of terrific abuses forced upon them, or are they just born evil? Or, perhaps, it is a combination of both, akin to the combination of tuberculosis and syphilis Dr. Arden is using in his experiments? 

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It’s a great question, and a lot of brilliant people have spent their lives trying to solve those very questions, without a ton of success. This episode of American Horror Story, from the mind of series co-creator Ryan Murphy, is no more successful than anyone else, though it also does not attempt to answer the question definitively, either. It simply explores the various facets of the lives of the killers, particularly that of Dr. Oliver Thredson. We get his full explanation for why Bloody Face emerged from within Thredson’s mind, and it seems as though half the episode is dedicated to Thredson and his unwitting sound board Lana. 

Of course, Thredson isn’t the only exposition this week. We also get to see just how Monsignor Howard got hooked up with Dr. Arden, an explanation of how Arden went from Hans Gruper to Arthur Arden with a little help from the International Red Cross, and just what Arden seems to be trying to do with his monster-creation serum and his collection of creations that Sister Eunice has been feeding all along. 

It’s all very interesting stuff, but honestly, there’s probably too much of it for one episode to handle, especially with the addition of the new little girl character and her storyline. The little girl is limited in her scope—akin to the Pig Man from the first season she appears to be a one-shot character—but she feels kind of unnecessary. I would have been happy to spend that ten or fifteen minutes with Sister Jude as she squares off with Timothy or Arden or pretty much anyone else who is a regular on the show. I think that, perhaps, the show could have taken a page from The Walking Dead and just given us one storyline through the whole episode (probably Thredson and Lana, because the two were great together even if there wasn’t a lot of action. 

But, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have had the brilliant scene where Eunice does her celebratory song and dance routine after finding out that Sister Jude’s days at Briarcliff are coming to an end. That alone made her inclusion in the episode worthwhile, and I also liked her conversation while watching little Jenny (and her exchange with Arden that allowed James Cromwell to bellow the line of the night). Lily Rabe has been brilliant this season, and I dare say she’s overshadowing the other great performers in the same way that Jessica Lange had her break-out in the first season. Zachary Quinto does his best Norman Bates impression (with a hilariously disturbing twist), and Lange and Cromwell are solid as always in their limited role. 

However, it just feels like it’s really late in the season to do exposition, and most of it feels unnecessary, as if they had to pad the season in the middle. I do like the reveal of just how bright and optimistic and hopeful Monsignor Howard was when he first took over Briarcliff (and before Arden broke his spirit, it seems), and I also like how everything seems to be falling apart at Briarcliff as the organization’s various terrible secrets keep threatening to come to life. 

It goes without saying that Arden, Eunice, and Howard have come to a place of mutually assured destruction, to borrow a Cold War analogy from the Soviet-obsessed Arden’s playbook. Arden makes it clear he can bring Howard down; Eunice knows who Arden really is, and it seems that Howard knows who Arden really is, too… or at least he knows the highly unethical things that Arden is doing. The only one who seems to be clear of this whole situation is Sister Jude, which seems to be wholly out of control. 

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Even in a good, but not great, episode of American Horror Story, there’s some interesting content to be mined, and some clever plot machinations at work. They’ve even turned the modern Bloody Face scenario interesting again. This is going to end very messy, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it all wraps up.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, I Am Anne Frank (Part 2) here. 

US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to see a third season of AHS in which Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy do a storyline inspired by Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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