Friday, October 26, 2012

American Horror Story, Season 2, Episode 2: Tricks and Treats

We begin with the present and the disposable visitors who I’m still not sure fit into this story at all (did they just get Adam Levine and decide they had to stuff him in somewhere? No that wasn’t an innuendo. But if it was it’d be a good one.) Anyway, Teresa is running away from Bloody Face who is doing the classic slow… serial… killer… stalk… everyone knows serial killers can’t run. Despite this, he manages to keep up with her (they can’t run but they can teleport) and stops her dragging Lee into the cell for safety. At the last minute she leaps in herself and pulls the door shut – watching through the hatch as Bloody Face stabs Lee – and then begins pounding on the door.

Back to the past - 1964, where the actual plot is happening. We join Wendy who is tortured by grief and pain that she betrayed Lana, the love of her life by agreeing to have her locked in an asylum, that she gave her up out of fear and that she doesn’t have any candy for hallowe’en. She’s very very sad indeed (which I’m happy to see, we needed more depth to this relationship before it was torn apart) Wendy is comforted by her friends and expresses her determination – despite their doubts as to how it’s possible – to recant. She assure she friends she has a plan – hot shower tonight and tomorrow it’s recanting time! She will get Lana out!

Plan unfortunately scuppered by her getting out of the shower and running into Bloody Face. Alas poor dead lesbian… ok we knew this relationship wasn’t going to have a happy ending, but I’d have liked to see some fighting for Lana’s freedom before she was shuffled off to the dead gay trope in the sky.

Having dusted her under the rug, we can move to Briarcliff where Sister Jude is having a room search just to generally show people who is boss. Pepper makes an appearance so we can have a point and laugh at the disabled, and Sally reminds us that she’s a nymphomaniac by suggesting she’s using a cucumber as a dildo. And the real target comes up – Lana has been hiding notes about conditions and treatment in Briarcliff, including her denied phone call. Sister Jude mocks her sexuality (“who will you call? The American Civil Lesbians Union”?) and when Lana claims her editor will be looking for her and knows she’s writing a story in Briarcliff, Jude reminds her that her sexist editor had her writing, at best, fluffy, nonsense pieces. As Jude leaves, Lana strikes back claiming she has an excellent memory, she doesn’t need notes.

Which leads Jude to Dr. Arden to suggest to the doctor that Lana is tortured by burdensome memories and it’d be best to have them removed through electroshock therapy. Dr. Arden is surprised because even Sister Jude has called such “treatments” barbaric, Dr. Arden knows she’s up to something. When Lana is tied down, screaming, to the bed, he pushes Jude to be the one to put the electrodes to Lana’s head – which she does, even though it clearly troubles her

In the common room, that damn brain melting Dominique song is playing again and Kit is dragged by orderlies to see Dr. Oliver Thredson, the court appointed psychiatrist who is there to assess whether Kit is sane or not and he quickly notes that Kit is being denied cigarettes which he doesn’t consider necessary. He questions the cynical Kit who, accurately, sums up his options as either 1) be found sane and go to the electric chair or 2) be considered insane and get to stay in Briarcliff when  he wants non-existent option 3) innocent and sane. He then goes to convince us all of that sanity by saying Alma’s body may not have been Alma since it didn’t have a head – and she could still be being held by the aliens. Dr. Oliver seems very earnest and posits the theory that Kit may have killed his wife out of a conditioned sense of the relationship being illicit and, after the alien story, notes that he’s acutely insane.

In the gardens Dr. Arden and Sister Wet Lettuce are not!flirting over discussing the rampaging unknown monsters Arden has in the grounds. And Arden shows his seductive style by browbeating Sister Wet Lettuce into eating a candy apple – nothing says affection like bullying people into eating – hey, I wonder if he’s read 50 Shades of Grey? (Sister Wet Lettuce is torn between Arden’s orders and Jude’s orders. And she’s a Wet Lettuce). Sister Wet Lettuce also needs to raise her bribery prices  - a candy apple? C’mon, Sister, you can do better than that

Back to the common room and more agonising Dominique. I think the inmates have suffered enough without this song on permanent loop. Lana  is there with burns on her temples, confused and trying to re-write her notes while the room buzzes. She does manage to overhear Kit meeting Grace – she’d advised him to throw faeces or spit on the doctor to fake being mentally ill – but Kit couldn’t do it, he wants to escape. She thinks there is no escape – and while they’re thinking about it, Lana remembers the tunnel she came in to get into Briarcliff in the first place.

Dr. Oliver is not a happy psychiatrist and confronts Jude about the horrendous conditions and abuses and complete lack of any kind of treatment in Briarcliff – in particular he talks about using electroshock therapy to cure homosexuality which I liked but seems… inaccurate since aversion therapy is still being pushed today and electroshock therapy wasn’t uncommon.

Their meeting is interrupted by the arrival of the Potter family who have come for Sister Jude to help them with their troubled son, Jed. Much to Jude’s annoyance, Dr. Oliver barges into the meeting and insists on joining in and offering his medical opinion as they describe his situation – seeing and hearing things, speaking in unknown languages – and killing a cow and eating its heart. Oliver is shocked and pushes for medication – but Jude knows it needs more than medication. Put down some plastic sheeting guys, its exorcism time!

Oliver tries to talk the parents out of this – insists Jed will get better treatment at an actual hospital – but then the Monsignor arrives along with Jude who is angry at Oliver’s constant interference. Monsignor is happy Oliver is there – because an exorcism needs a doctor present. Oliver makes it clear he’s going to report the lot of them – and that’s when the exorcist arrives in his wheelchair, he likes to have a non-believer present.

Meanwhile, Grace and Lana are in the baths, pinned down by special bath straight jackets. Grace has a sharp thing to help cut them both free – which is a relief to Lana since it eases her burns and the view of Grace walking round naked is something she notices (which I’m glad to see, Lana isn’t just labelled as a lesbian, she acts like one. Together they talk about escape – and Lana tells Grace about the tunnel. Grace wants to bring Kit with them but Lana is adamant – Kit is a murderer who has killed 6 women, she’s not going to help him escape. Grace insists she’s seen plenty of murderers in Briarcliff and Kit isn’t one of them – but Lana won’t budge. Grace comments on Lana’s trust issues and Lana says she has been betrayed by the person she loved more than anyone else in the world. So… yeah trust issues are the least you can expect.

Sally tries to make her move on Dr. Arden, saying she saw him flirting with Sister Wet Lettuce. Arden responds with contempt – throwing her aside and calling her a slut and a whore.  Sally begs to go outside for 15 minutes, she just wants to feel the sun for once. He denies her,c alling her a whore again and she lashes back at the double standard, saying men are expected to like sex and aren’t called whores. She tells him her story, how she’d always been a sexual person and enjoyed sex, how she’d married a jazz musician who was happy to go out and sleep with other women, but when he came home and found her in bed with 2 other men, threw her into a mental institution. Arden has no pity and refuses to grant her request.

That night, at Arden’s home, he is entertaining a guest to dinner – and by guest I mean prostitute. Yes, hypocrisy thy name is Arden. He tries to maintain the charade that she is a guest – trying to talk about wine and music and getting angry when she uses crude, sexual language. She only half plays along, more concerned with getting on with business and lays down the rules – no kissing on the mouth and no alcohol, she likes to keep a clear head. Arden is enraged and demands she sits down before carving the meat – while doing so he growls out how dangerous her job must be, especially with a killer out there cutting up young women – she gets more and more nervous especially as the meat bleeds profusely (see, this is why you should let a joint rest after it comes out the oven).

When we return to them, she is in a room, scrubbing the make up off her face and wearing a nun’s habit. While doing so she opens a box on his dresser and finds pornography in it (he really should hide that under the bed or something) and under that pictures of women in bondage, some of which have their faces covered. Under that she finds pictures of cadavers. Rather disturbed she drops the whole lot when Arden bursts in the room. He doesn’t let her know and demands she pick it all up and then lay on the bed. While there, terrified, he makes her lift her dress and starts to undress and crawl on top of her. She bites him and knees him in the groin, while he’s helpless she runs and escapes (thankfully, didn’t expect that).

Back in the common room (yes, Dominique is still playing. Yes, that song can drive a man to run screaming from nuns at this rate) Grace warns Lana to stop writing down their escape plan. Lana says she has to in case she forgets – which is when the orderlies barge in for early bed time so they’re all out of the way when the exorcism starts. Kit grabs the note and hides it in his shirt – telling her she can’t be found with it again.

Monsignor has him taken away to the infirmary and gets Jude in to watch Jed. Jed complains about his eyes burning in a normal voice and Jude goes to his side – but the minute she’s in the cell, the door slams shut and won’t open. Demon!Jed points out how annoying it must be for Jude to be the smartest person in the room and be constantly ignored (I’d be happier with the exposure of the sexism if it weren’t for the misogyny in the process) and refers to the red underwear Jude wears under her habit (confirming if there was any doubt, that this is actual possession) and talks about her past. Before becoming a nun she was sexually active, a jazz singer in a club. And one night, after getting drunk, she ran over a little girl in her car – and didn’t even stop and check on her.

She screams at Jed to shut up and starts slapping him, needing to be physically pulled off Jed by the Monsignor. When she leaves, the light begins to flicker and Oliver worries about Jed’s health as it rapidly deteriorates. He reaches for a sedative and the lights explode – in desperation he tries CPR to try and bring him back as more lights are destroyed. But it’s not enough – he dies, the crucifix falls from the wall and Sister Wet Lettuce, in the doorway, throws back her head in a totally-not-demonic-way-honest and faints.

In the cells, Lana notices the lights flickering, going out and being replaced by red, emergency lighting. Lana’s cell door shakes and then opens. She goes out into the corridor and finds all the doors are open and the power is out. She and Grace instantly seize on the chance to escape and run to the tunnel – but Grace insists on including Kit. Lana adamantly refuses, she will not help a serial killer escape to kill more women, but Grace won’t budge either and eventually decides that she and Kit will escape on their own. Seeing Kit escaping, Lana screams for the orderlies that the murderer is escaping – they arrive and bludgeon Kit unconscious while Lana watches, crying.

The next day, Dr. Arden arrives to stare creepily at the unconscious Sister Wet Lettuce in her night clothes. When she wakes up he pretends he wasn’t staring at her and advises her to have lots of rest and relaxation. She agrees – and her behaviour, look and speech were totally not-suspicious and in no way demonic. *ahem* Demon nun in the building for next week!

Lucky Lana gets to have an interview with Jude – who is visibly shaken from the exorcism. Jude praises Lana for calling orderlies despite what it cost her and knows the decision can’t have been easy. She deserves a reward – she gets to watch Grace and Kit punished while not being punished herself! Yeah, Sister Jude probably needs to be clued in what “reward” actually means and Lana calls her twisted. Kit and Grace are shown in. Jude makes Lana pick a cane – she tries to pick smallest, but Jude isn’t having that. Before she can begin, Kit tells Grace to stand up and takes all the blame himself. Jude accepts this though she mocks his chivalry - and says it was 20 each so it’s now 40 for Kit

Ooookay, American Horror Story seems to be continuing the same track it started last week – showing us horrific, brutal awfulness in the stark light of the times. And then challenging it – albeit not always well or completely. It is a major change from last season but, again, doesn’t make for easy or comfortable watching.

Lana is going through horrendous electroshock therapy – and even Sister Jude is disturbed by what she’s doing and Dr. Oliver Thredson openly calls it barbaric. As he calls all of the horrific treatment and abuse that infest Briarcliff.

Dr. Arden shames and attacks Sally for being sexual, but she challenges it as a double standard with her history. And later we see Dr. Arden hiring prostitutes and definitely leering and Sister Wet Lettuce – showing the hypocrisy and the misogyny of him.

Even when talking about the possibility of Kit killing his wife out of “racial guilt” it’s presented a s a consequence of being conditioned rather than the natural order of things.

The mentally ill depictions still remain poor though – with only those who are “sane really” presented sympathetically.

The acting is also really good and subtle – Lana’s guilt and sadness over giving up Kit and Grace, her pain over Wendy, even Jude being disturbed by the electroshock and shaken by the exorcism – it’s all really well carried out.