Friday, November 9, 2012

American Horror Story, Season 2, Episode 4: I am Anne Frank: Part 1

Anne Frank? Really? You’re going there American Horror Story?

There’s a new patient in Briarcliff – she has no identification and wouldn’t talk to the police who found her so they dropped her at the asylum “involuntary psychiatric hold” since it cuts down on the paperwork. Sister Jude goes to interview her new patient and we learned she reacted vehemently in response to an anti-Semitic remark. The woman points out they made an offensive joke – and it is through these dehumanising jokes that persecution starts. Sister Jude asks if she’d lost anyone in the war – and she starts whistling.

And poor Shelley is still in Dr. Arden’s… “care” being experimented on. He’s been a busy bee, has Arden, as Kit tells Grace Arden’s been looking for the little 6 legged chip in his body again. Grace gives him her “I totally believe you honest” rely but we hear her story – because it’s important to them to have their story known and believed in a building full of people who doubt them and think them insane. It seems she heard a commotion at night and went to explore a room newly decorated in streaks of blood red – and a man chopping her father into pieces with an axe. She ran from him –into a closet filled with pieces of her step-mother. The next day, her sister accused her of murdering them, she was the axe-murderer’s lover and they wanted the farm. They framed Grace for the murder.

Dr. Oliver interviews Lana about where she went during the film – but she knows better than to answer. He says she doesn’t belong in the asylum since she isn’t a danger to anyone but Lana is scornful – she points out that the psychiatric profession considers her sick, diseased for being a lesbian. Dr. Oliver offers to help her – if she can convince them he has cured her they have to release her. Lana, visibly restraining anger, tells the Doctor she has been a lesbian for as long as she can remember – there is no cure. But he’s only there for a week and he may be her only ticket out of there.

To the common room (AAAAAARGH that damn nun song is playing again?! You make me listen to that on a permanent loop, I’d be a danger to myself and others) and  the new patient is writing a letter to someone called Kitty in which she refers to how they didn’t give up in Amsterdam and how everyone around her – crazy and diseased – is resigned to die. Lana approaches her and warns her about writing. She offers friendship but is rebuffed – this is when Dr. Arden enters the room. She says he was there in Auschwitz – and attacks him, calling him a Nazi. She says her name is Anne Frank.

Sister Jude interviews Anne, clearly thinking that she is delusional. Anne tells her story – she survived the camps but was thought dead due to the sheer number of bodies. She explains why she’s in the US and why she kept silent - her book would be more impactful and teach more people about the atrocities of the holocaust if she remained a martyred, 15 year old girl. Sister Jude calls her story “indecent” (which is the LEAST of the words I have for this storyline) and Anne calls Jude indecent since she has a war criminal working for her. She tells Jude that Arden was a doctor in Auschwitz called Groper who experimented on the inmates. Jude doubts her – and Anne shows the tattooed number on her arm.

Dr. Oliver is having another ethical dilemma – he doesn’t think Kit is insane, but nor does he think he’s evil. He thinks Kit did the murders because society forced him to and then succumbed to a delusion to deny doing something so against his character. He says he’s willing to lie for Kit – so long as Kit is willing to face the truth. The “truth” that Kit killed women and skinned and decapitated them, removing them of signs of race and identity, the things society was punishing Alma, his Black wife for – and later he turned on his wife in bottled up rage (including a brutal depiction of Alma’s murder which is so far from what we’ve seen in their relationship and was beyond gratuitous). Wait, didn’t Dr. Oliver tell Lana last week she didn’t think Kit did it?

Kit in the bakery starts doubting himself and his story, wondering if Oliver is right until Grace arrives with some confusing advice. He grabs her by the throat and asks if she thinks he’s a killer – she says, either way, she’ll be with him and they have sex on the bread table. Eww, guys have you ever heard of hygiene? And are caught by the security guard – time for a visit to Sister Jude’s office where Sister Demon Lettuce picks out a cane wrapped in barbed wire and Jude praises the new demonic sister. But Jude decides on sterilisation – as soon as she can get the paperwork sorted (sterilisation of psychiatric patients was far from uncommon and often had little oversight). They’re both taken to solitary – but not before Sister Demon Nun gives Kit Grace’s file.

Jude is free to bustle off and “accidentally” walk in on Arden being interviewed by detectives. Oh she’s just eager to help, being the person who handles the asylum. And as a nun she’d be an excellent character witness – and she has so much to say about Arden’s character. It seems the doctor has been accused of roughing up a prostitute – Jude is shocked, SHOCKED (and I love Arden’s response “no need to retire to your fainting couch.”) and we got a flashback of Arden with said prostitute and his un-rested roast (she of the mossy bank) and this time we learn she not only saw his naughty piccies – but also Nazi memorabilia as well. The revelation of that shakes Sister Jude. When Arden leaves the detectives reveal to Jude that they’re homicide not vice – and ask her whether she thinks Kit Walker has the surgical skills necessary to remove a woman’s skin and head.

Lana, meanwhile, fantasising about getting out being awarded for exposing Briarcliff (and, in doing so, finally adds some names to the background insane inmates) decides to accept Dr. Oliver’s offer o treatment – doing what she had to to get out. Which means going in to Dr. Oliver’s aversion therapy – using emetics instead of electroshock in front of many pictures of half dressed women – including Wendy, a photo of which he got from her house.

This is followed up by bringing in a man – not a photo, an actual man – called Daniel to strip off and let Lana grope him while she masturbates. Ye gods – she vomits in a bucket in response. This is when Oliver realises his therapy isn’t going to work (uh-huh).

He comes to Lana later in the damn singing nun room to apologise to Lana; he’s not an advocate of conversion “therapy” and shouldn’t have done it. He gives her Wendy’s photo and says at the end of the week, he’s leaving with her – he doesn’t know how but he’s taking her.

Sister Jude goes to the Monsignor to try and expose Arden – but he ridicules her and accuses her of just hating Arden – and being a drunk. When he gets rid of her he calls Arden, still experimenting on the struggling Shelly – and tells Arden that they’re on to him and he needs to clean up.

Jude isn’t done though – she goes to see her Mother Superior who encourages her to get back on the wagon with her drinking. Jude tells her about her worries about Arden and how the Monsignor seems reluctant to pursue them to which the Mother Superior makes a very pertinent comment about the men of the church being more concerned with protecting themselves than facing hard questions. Oooh I see what you did there. She urges Jude to stick to her guns, Jude hates the idea of going behind the Monsignor’s back with all he’s done for her, but Mother Superior is all kinds of awesome in countering that and reminding her she owes the Monsignor nothing

In solitary, Kit and Grace talk to each other (doesn’t that defeat the point of solitary) and he confronts Grace that she lied – she did kill her family. She admits it – but says she was abused by her father and her step-mother covered it up. Kit isn’t repelled – he says he admires her.

Kit goes to see Jude, tearful and confused to confess to killing the women – not remembering doing it but everyone says he did so he must have – and aliens don’t exist. Jude is shaken and disturbed by his confession and probably her own doubts (she’s a fantastic actor). He wants her to help him find god so he can be forgiven. She is actually comforting – and confirms that he can’t remember his crimes.

Dr. Arden is cleaning up – he grabs Anne and throws her into his lab. He accuses her of lying and she continues to fight him.  He slaps her and she draws a gun – which she stole from one of the detectives. He tries to rush her when she’s distracted by banging in one of the cells and she shoots him in the leg. She demands the key to the cell, kicking his wounded leg and threatening to shoot the other. She opens it and finds Shelley – in horrendous condition, begging for death. Tune in next week for the rest... yes a cliffhanger

Ok no. No. NO NO NO NO NO NO. Really, no. They could have had Dr. Arden be a Nazi – gods know enough escaped after the war and his demeanour and behaviour certainly fits. They could even have had “Anne” as a survivor (though, given the situation and this show in general, I’d advise against it), but to appropriate the real life experiences of Anne Frank… I know there’s precious little limit on what is appropriated on television – but Anne Frank? Really? You’re going to go there? There’s crossing the line, then there’s stomping all over it.

And they had Arden – Groper – interested in twins. There was a Nazi doctor interested in twins. His name was Josef Mengele, who I’m sure everyone’s heard of.  Using Mengele’s atrocities for entertainment is… hard to stomach.

Really, there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Some issues that shouldn’t be appropriated for entertainment and some people who are not fodder for amusement.

We had some stark violence against women this episode with depictions of Kit’s crimes and a coupling of both belief Kit did them and sympathy for him as a serial killer, which was all kinds of squidgy (even though evidence points to Kit NOT being the killer). And Grace deciding not that she will be with Kit because he’s innocent, but she’ll be with him, a serial killer who kills and dismembers women, regardless – while he has a hand on her throat? No, no no and, again, no. I’d be screaming “no” but my brain is already battered by the Anne Frank.

A lot of the rest is hard to watch but real – like Lana’s vile aversion “therapy” even while she insists that there is no cure and she has always been a lesbian. It’s revolting to watch, but it’s accurate not just to the time but often the present as well.

Despite 2 names, the actually mentally ill inmates in the asylum remain background, almost “freakshow” characters – they’re presented in ways to make them seem as “other” and weird as possible. The only sympathetic people in this asylum are those who are there wrongly because they are sane, not the poor people who are “rightfully” enduring there.

I think there is an attempt at ongoing themes of identity and how they can be undermined in this episode - but that itself is highly problematic since that involves the horrendous appaopriation of Anne Frank and whether she is really who she says and Lana's identity as a lesbian being "treated" - mixing that in with Grace's reframing of events, Kit's doubts as to what he actually did and even Jude's question over who she owes for her current presence is highly troublesome.