American Horror Story season 2 episode 7 review: Dark Cousin

This week's American Horror Story is a showcase for the talents of the wonderful Frances Conroy. Here's Ron's review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.7 Dark Cousin

The first thing I would tell any person watching American Horror Story: Asylum for the first time is that if they don’t like a particular character or plot development, then not to worry because it will change well before the season is over. Just look at the arc of Lily Rabe’s Sister Eunice. She’s gone from sweet little virginal nun to possessed by a demon tyrant to supernatural terror who occasionally begs for the sweet release of death, and man, is she incredible. Lily Rabe is probably the show’s greatest discovery. Rabe was good last season, but this season she’s absolutely crushing episode after episode, and none more so than this week. 

The presence of Frances Conroy (always wecome as she’s one of my favorite actresses on television) and her winged Angel of Death served as the centre point for the episode, tying the various characters together and serving as an omnipresent reminder of death and/or suicidal ideation for all involved, and it is through her that Lily Rabe was given one of her finest moments on the show by writer Tim Minear. Conroy also had another wonderful moment with Jessica Lange’s disgraced Sister Jude, reminding me of their wonderful scenes together during the first season of AHS

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No matter her role, Frances Conroy is an incredible actress, and she seems to bring out the best in those around her, from the writers creating the episodes to the other actors and actresses she’s involved in scenes with. Jude’s conversation with her old friend the angel of death revealed as much about Jude’s inner workings as any number of flashbacks to 1949, and in a much more honest and subtle way. She had a very touching moment with Grace at the end of the episode. Her presence both comforted Lana and warned her of dangers to come at various points in the episode. Using a gimmick like an angel of death is risky, even for American Horror Story, but when you’ve got someone like Conroy in that role (even if only for a few episodes), it feels safer because she’s going to pull it off no matter what. Even on this show, with exorcisms and possessions, a character like hers could easily go awry. 

Part of this credit has to go to director Michael Rymer, a Battlestar Galactica veteran. He mines some wonderful horror tropes for filming techniques (from the Dutch angle from the very opening shot to the shots of fleeing through shadowy hallways and/or fog-shrouded forests for various characters. Like most of the show, there’s nothing terribly new, but it’s all done in a very clever fashion and looks great without losing the grit that helps put the horror in American Horror Story. There’s a shot of Thredson and Lana together that was very unnerving, if only for how the camera was positioned to capture the shot. 

One of the things I like about the show this season is that Briarcliff has remained the centre of the action, aside from a digression to Dr. Bloody Face’s den of horrors. It’s a great setting, and while it can be a little frustrating for characters not to be able to get out, that gives us at home something to think about. Getting out of a place is always tougher than getting into a place, especially what is ostensibly a prison for the mentally ill. Doors, fences, and walls typically work to keep things in moreso than keeping things out, and when a place has as many secret doors and passages as Briarcliff, it’s no wonder Lana had no problems sneaking in yet significantly more problems trying to sneak out as an inmate.

I do have to wonder, though; is Briarcliff the important pivot of this supernatural world because of Mary Eunice’s possession, or is the presence of the devil that possessed her in that place a sign that the building itself is the source of Eunice’s problem? Can a building itself be evil, or is it the evil of the staff and inhabitants that renders the building inoperable? I suppose this is all stuff the show will be solving in the weeks to come as AHS: Asylum appears to be setting up for a huge conflict between the forces of good and evil. Flawed good and evil, but evil anyway.

 It looks like human monsters might be the least of anyone’s worry. 

US Correspondent Ron Hogan renews his call for more Frances Conroy next season, as well as a return from Denis O’Hare as someone without a burned face. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Origins of Monstrosity, here.

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