Friday, January 25, 2013

American Horror Story: Season 2, Episode 13: Madness Ends

It’s the last American Horror Story of the season – let’s see what they drag out of their bag of shock for this last instalment.

Bloody Face Junior stalks the halls of modern, ruined Briarcliff, listening to Lana’s book on tape about the asylum – and seeing hallucinations of Lana saying how much she hated him and Thredson saying how much he wanted to be a father to him (and blaming Lana) interspaced with odd figures from the Asylum when it was working.  Which is when the pointless modern couple (do I have to look up their names?) arrive – yes the ones from the very first episode.

Only now we see the scene from Bloody Face Junior’s perspective – including him being in the arm-eating-cell when they try to look through the flap. He puts on his mask and, when Leo puts his arm through the flap he hacks it off with a big, heavy knife.

Cut to a much older, modern day Lana and her new partner, Marianne. And it’s clear Lana has been very very very successful. She’s hosting a television interview in her fabulous house in preparation for a fabulous award she’s about to win. She’s confident (even enough to mention her plastic surgery), snarky but she will not talk about Bloody Face, she won’t let his fame continue and she won’t give him one more second of air time.

Instead they talk about (and cut to) Lana, in the past, taking a camera crew back into Briarcliff. She also reveals her motives weren’t altruistic – she wanted to move to television and for that she needed visuals, not just words and “crazy people” made for good television (because American Horror Story hasn’t used the mentally ill as shocking background colour enough, it seems.) We cut to her report where she goes through Briarcliff exposing filthy and horrendous conditions and neglect (when her cameraman gets emotional or upset she chivvies him back to action without a blink). After interviewing an orderly, she forces him to take her to see Jude. Jude is in a terrible condition – and Lana helps her leave, ensuring everything is caught on camera. Except it didn’t happen – that’s what she wanted to happen but when she got there, Jude was gone. She did succeed in shutting down Briarcliff though.

They break for Lana to get a drink – and it’s Bloody Face Junior who hands it to her. Someone needs to screen the interns better.

Cut to the past again and Lana goes to see Kit, they hug and he’s joyful that she shut down Briarcliff. Less so that she’s brought a camera crew to film their meeting. And she wants to ask questions about a “Betty Drake”. Her questions are aggressive to say the least. Kit won’t talk to the camera so she turns it off and shows Kit some documents she found in Briarcliff – of Kit getting a “Betty Drake” out of the Asylum. The name that Monsignor Tim gave Jude after he faked her death.

After Alma died Kit visited Jude frequently, he knew he couldn’t shut Briarcliff down or lead everyone out – but he could help Jude because she didn’t belong. We see a touching montage of his visits, coaxing her back to awareness and, with the overcrowded conditions, no-one cared when he took her out. When asked why, he says he needed someone to forgive, to move on. We see the flashbacks of him bringing her home to his house, with the kids, detox (from the extreme drugs they used in Briarcliff), kindness from the children and then her interacting with them (they apparently loved her even though she “barked” at them at times).  She had relapses and lashed out, thinking she was still Sister Jude – but the freaky Alien Kids calmed and comforted her. Seriously, I think I’d take the freaking out ex-nun over the creepy, creepy Children of the Corn.

After the Village of the Damned kids did their thing, Jude was healed and able to teach the kids how to sing and insist they break gender roles (teaching the boy how to sew and giving the girl trucks to play with rather than dolls). Eventually she fell ill and on her death bed shared some very wise words of wisdom with the kids (to Julia: “never let a man tell you who you are or make you feel like you are less than he is” to Thomas “never take a job just for the money, find something that you love. Do something important.”) Jude says “she’s come for me” which Kit doesn’t understand – but when he tells it to Lana, she does. Shachath comes for Jude and Jude says she’s ready.

Ok, Jude turned out fantastically, amazingly awesome and that’s one of the more beautiful death scenes out there.

Next part of Lana’s interview – Cardinal Howard; Monsignor Timothy. The Cardinal avoided Lana’s interview requests repeatedly until she cornered him with Dr. Arden’s files. Faced with the consequences of his actions he commits suicide, something many people blame on Lana but she blames on his guilty conscience.  She says he was a liar and lies scarred his soul – which segues into her confessing she lied about her son dying in childbirth and that he’s still alive out there. We see her giving up the baby and Lana says she prayed that someone else could be a good mother to him.

In the 70s she tracked him down at school where we see him being bullied with anti-gay slurs and Lana intervenes quite gloriously. It was the last time she saw him – and, of course, during this Bloody Face Junior is watching and listening. Lana never had kids –it being a different era for lesbians – but became godmother to Kit’s kids, and Kit remarried.  The kids did well become professors and top surgeons (your doctor is an alien! Yay?) – but Kit got pancreatic cancer; but didn’t die, he disappeared. The aliens collected their test subject – and the kids insisted there be no funeral because there was no need.

Interview concluded, the staff leave and Lana goes to the drinks cabinet and gets 2 glasses, despite being apparently alone – and offers to pour a drink for someone. Bloody Face Junior emerges. She has no illusions about what he’s there for, but she seems more steely resolved than afraid.  Turns out he joined the crew by murdering the intern and taking his place. Lana recognises him, unknown to Bloody Face Junior, because the police interviewed her about his murder spree (ye gods someone take the drugs off that cameraman. Yes, he Excessively Artsy Cameraman escaped again). She doesn’t flinch about talking about shooting Thredson in the head and, unfortunately, he heard the tape where Lana forced Thredson to confess on the threat of aborting the baby.

He decides then that Thredson loved him (which Lana disputes) and she didn’t (which she agrees with – which is why she gave him up). He has a temper tantrum, but this is Lana and she’s not even slightly ruffled. He points a gun at her head and talks about making Thredson proud while Lana calls Thredson a monster and, as he gets more emotional, she assures him that’s not him, he could never be like Thredson, that she always knew Junior was a better man than Thredson was. She takes the gun out of his hand. He cries over the people he’s hurt. She says it’s not his fault – points the gun at his head. And pulls the trigger saying “it’s mine.”

Well damn. Do. Not. Mess. With. Lana.

Flashback to 1964 when Lana first met Jude wanting to interview Bloody Face when they discuss ambition where Jude warns her of the loneliness, the heartbreak and the sacrifice it takes to be a woman with a dream on her own. Lana responds with “you have no idea what I’m capable of.” Never was a truer word spoken. Jude warns her that if she looks into the face of evil, then evil will look right back at her.

And we end with that damn nun song! Argh, I’d just succeeded getting that out of my head.

Ok, last episode of the season and I’m impressed. I didn’t think last week’s episode was necessary and the series could have ended earlier – but this was a rather wonderful and rather emotional wrap up of these characters who have been through so much. This episode concluded some extremely amazing characters that have been developed over the course of the season to incredible effect – part through writing and part through some truly amazing acting.

Kit surprised me. I’d put him down as bland and too-good-to-be-real, surprisingly it was this episode that made him feel more of a person than a caricature – and that through his almost saintly goodness and kindness. It suggested a reason why he was singled out for the experiments and made him special not through ability and ye gods not through intelligence.

Lana’s story has been incredibly compelling – and horrors she faced has produced a really nuanced character – a character who has still pursued her old ambitions and, if anything after what she endured, became more ruthless in seeking the life she wanted, even turning round last week’s rejection of her sexuality to embrace it this episode. It made her hard, sometimes even cruel, but also an awesomely strong and tough woman. Tough, but no cookie. She’s a truly excellent character

And Jude? Guilt ridden and tortured she becomes the ruthless, inflexible torturer to be completely and utterly destroyed and built back up again. Amazing character, amazingly well done.

I have to give American Horror Story kudos for the incredible acting and writing that gave us such powerful characters and for this episode that was so emotionally charged it was physically draining to watch.

It also had some truly amazing villains and they all got their comeuppance – Sister Demon Lettuce, you will be remembered!

In this season American Horror Story has also made improvements over the casual slurs, tropes and hate speech that so characterised the first season. That’s not much praise – the first season was truly horrendously saturated with endless, pointless, useless slurs and hate speech. This season wasn’t perfect, by any means, but the constant barrage of unnecessary prejudice was curtailed. I have to stress how much this is faint praise – less than the first season is akin to saying horse shit doesn’t smell as bad as a room full of rotting corpses.

There was prejudice this season but more of it was presented in a way that respectfully challenged the bigotry people faced and showed the evil people had to - and have to endure. It was hard to watch, painful even, but it wasn’t gratuitous and it was respectful.

But there are still problems, oh yes.

The Anne Frank episodes will probably always go down as most horrendous appropriation I’ve seen outside of a discrimiflip novel.

There were a terribly small number of POC on this show – and the majority of them died as soon as they appeared. A Black man committing suicide, Alma (appears, disappears, appears, institutionalised, dies), an unnamed Mexican woman (murdered), a sex worker who died at the hands of Bloody Face Junior. Yes this is a show with a high death count but most of the people who died got some screen time first

Perhaps most aggravating is the depiction of the mentally ill. This is a show that was set in an asylum, after all, but the mentally ill were consistently presented as wallpaper – tragic, comic, dangerous, disgusting wallpaper, props, tools for setting the scene. They weren’t people and the only one who came close to being a person was Pepper – but only after being aliened into a servant.  And, as is so common for stories like these, the horror is less the severe conditions in the asylum, though that’s an element, the horror is that people who aren’t mentally ill are being subjected to them – in fact, the mentally ill people are presented as part of the terrible conditions the cast faces.

Now the elephant in the room – rape. What we’ve said before applies and can be doubled with an addition of an inordinate number of demon pregnancies and a not-even-slightly-subtle anti-choice message. Singularly, all of these are nasty. Collectively it’s beginning to feel like an RNC convention. Stop. Just stop.

As for season 3… I think I’m more hopeful than I was for season 2, but still very very wary.