American Horror Story: Asylum Episode One Recap
Hello fellow Out Geeks! My name is Anthony Bamonte, and it is my tremendous pleasure to be recapping American Horror Story: Asylum for y’all. For those who, like myself, are either cable box or schedule-impaired, you can rest assured in the knowledge that these will not be posted come Thursday mornings, but I’ll try to have them for you by the weekend from here on out.
But enough about me and my deficiencies. For those who haven’t gotten on board Ryan Murphy’s horrorific bandwagon yet, it is not too late! Season two of AHS is not contiguous with season one (as near as we can tell - it may take place in the same “universe,” but we don’t know). A bunch of the brilliant talent from season one reappears in different roles, in a different plot, in a different decade on the other side of the country. Our setting is primarily an insane asylum in New England in the 1960’s, administered by a crazy, sadistic, cougar sex-nun portrayed by the magnificent Jessica Lange...but more on her later.
The episode opens with a cute, young, boy-girl married couple in a creepy forest, whose voices we hear while seeing a montage of scary baby dolls, underbrush and garbage. Perfectly reasonable horror setup. Oh, hi Adam Levine! I have to give the guy a hand here (um. spoiler?), with his painfully sexy tattoos covered up, he comes across believably as a slightly nerdy leading man.
So our cute couple is providing us with a lot of exposition during the course of their flirty banter. She’s nuts for horror stuff, he’s nuts for her, this is some kind of “fuck each other’s brains out in spooky places” honeymoon, they plan on having an active sex life into their eighties, and most importantly they are at this moment about to explore an abandoned insane asylum. They stroll in through the front entrance within about an hour of sunset, because they are brilliant.
Briarcliff Manor used to be a TB ward, so it was gross and blood-soaked even before it was bought by the Catholic Church and repurposed as a sanitarium for the clinically insane in 1962. This was the “you check in but you don’t check out” sort of facility, so people must have really liked it there. One of those lucky patients was Bloody Face, a famous serial killer. Someone drew a picture of him on a wall! Theresa, our horny horror aficionado, is beside herself with joy. The discovery of a chair with hard restraints only magnifies that joy, as our young married couple has a little bondage fun spiked with “tons of people like, died here” excitement. Our hearts swell for them, and Adam Levine shows us his tattoos. Hi Adam! Email me.
They hear a noise, they go investigate, they contemplate anal sex but settle on oral. Theresa’s iPhone camera has some kind of night vision feature which Adam Levine is using to probe the inside of one of the old cells, from which said mysterious noise seems to be emanating. The music and the editing warn us that something f’d up is about to happen, and Adam Levine loses a third of his tattoos in a tragic arm-tearing-off accident. Roll the opening titles, because we’re just getting started.
It’s 1964, we’re at a gas station. Evan Peters, whom we loved in season 1, is Kit, the downtrodden station attendant. He’s looking well, with not-quite-a-pompadour as he closes the station for the night and does a little singing and dancing like nobody’s watching. An unseen figure enters the gas station. Ugh, customers, am I right? Kit informs the intruders that the station is closed, can’t you read the sign? The lights go out, we get a jump scare, and it turns out to be Kit’s good ol’ boy frienemies. They want to borrow Kit’s boss’ gun? Sure, why not, they’re just drinking some Pabst out of the old-timey cans and want to go put the fear of hot lead into some guy who messed with somebody’s little sister. 1964. An unsettling reference is made to Kit’s “maid” and chocolate... what, does he have a black wife or something?
Whoops, yes he does. She’s really pretty and they obviously love one another a great deal. I already hate where this is going. Damn you Ryan Murphy! They only wear their wedding rings in the house, oh be still my ice cold heart. Kit wants to tell everybody. Alma’s much smarter than him, but she has faith that the world will be a better place someday, because she is wonderful. They make tender beautiful love, and it’s a marked departure from the nasty Adam Levine and horror fangirl Theresa were doing. The beef is over cooked, dinner is ruined, but they’re in love, so it’s ok. We catch a glimpse of Kit’s 1964 underpants, and that’s nice, but then there are spooky lights. Assuming an attack of the racist country folk, Kit grabs his shotgun and storms out of the house, but thankfully he’s abducted by aliens instead. What?
An amazing powder blue Cadillac (I think? Or did they all have those fins back then?) pulls up to Briarcliff. The lady inside has an appointment with Sister Jude. Her name is Lana Winters, and she is another repeat offender from first season, as is Sister Mary Eunice, who escorts her into the asylum. People mill about, shouting incoherently. It’s unsettling, but seems pretty standard for a home for the criminally insane. Sister Jude calls this her stairway to heaven? That seems perfectly reasonable. I’m not at all worried about this Sister Jude character and you shouldn’t be either.
We come upon Jessica Lange, shaving Chloe Sevigny’s head. “You can shave me bald as a cueball and I’ll still be the hottest tamale in this joint!” Priceless. Sister Jude is not thrilled to have been interrupted, and would you knock next time? Jesus, the mentally ill won’t humiliate and torture themSELVES, and a woman needs her focus.
Lana is a reporter, and is totally there to do a story on the asylum’s bakery (Lana is not there to do a story on the asylum’s bakery), and Sister Jude declares that mental illness is the current fashionable excuse for sin. Oh boy! Lana, to her credit, does not spin on her heel and run out of there like her ass is on fire. Jessica Lange’s New England accent is about as fantastic as her perpetual scowl of piety, which is to say, QUITE. Sister Jude expounds on the Monsignor’s “work, pray, and … purification” philosophy of mental wellness as Lana takes helpful notes: “Hiding Something” “LIES”. Girl you might want to write down some of what she’s saying. I take notes like that during staff meetings, and they are not helpful later.
Sister Mary Eunice fails to knock again, and you can just see her hating herself because of how stupid she is (this will emerge as a theme for her character, because storytelling). Apparently today is the day that Bloody Face comes to Briarcliff, and Sister Jude is so onto Lana. She doesn’t care about Briarcliff’s good works at all! She just wants to write a story about some mass murderer. I’ll bet Sister Jude fixes her little red wagon.
Bloody Face arrives. Bloody Face is Kit! Kitty Face?! He looks unhappy, and his day does not improve as he is sprayed down with a fire hose, hit with a big ol’ scoop of delousing agent, injected with a fat syringe of institutional terror and restrained in a bed. Sister Jude acknowledges that check-in is an ordeal, which she pronounces “ah-deal.” Love you Jessica. Kit swears he didn’t kill anybody, and Sister Jude makes a nasty comment about Alma, and how tender her dark meat must have been. Ugh. Poor Alma, we hardly knew ye. Kit spits in Sister Jude’s face and we get an agonizingly brief jump cut of some old-school Catholic discipline. Is it getting warm in here? Just me? Cool.
And just like that, Kit is wandering around...the day room? It’s awfully dark in there, but there are schizophrenics playing checkers with themselves, so I guess that’s the day room. Chloe Sevigny wants a piece of the new guy, and is admiring his new backside decorations but Kit isn’t having any of it. Just as Chloe’s nymphomaniac character threatens to become tiresome, she says “I speak French...and Greek,” indicating her face and butt respectively, and I die. “He’s MINE” she warns the other female crazy people, who seem not to notice anything at all. We are introduced to a cute girl with an accent who swears she isn’t crazy, and the record player which You Must Not Ever Touch. The local asylum tough guy decides he wants a piece of Bloody Face, so he punches our boy Kit, the record player gets knocked over, and Sister Jude comes in all Nurse Ratched. Everyone is so mean to Kit. He gets clubbed in the face, and his only comfort is a dream/fantasy of having sex with his dead wife. Accent-girl is pretty comforting too. She brings him his dinner and gives him a drag off a cigarette. She explains that she believes in The Secret, and that she didn’t chop up her family. Her name is Grace, which I’m sure was selected completely at random from a list of female names.
Uh-oh, Sister Mary Eunice is crying because one of her favorite patients is gone. There was a medical emergency in the night, and he was brought to Doctor Arden. Guess what, everybody! Sister Jude isn’t actually the scariest person in this terrible place. Sister Jude and Doctor Arden get into a pissing contest about how much she hates not having power over his activities. He lets us all know he can make mutant plants with gamma rays (gah??) and has a huge boner for the power of science over nature. It seems that four patients disappeared into Doctor Arden’s nightmare wing recently. He insists they died, and were cremated. The quick cutaways to some...thing in one of the cells...scooping bloody bits out of bowls, coupled with Sister Jude’s observation that none of the vanished patients had families suggest otherwise.
Mercifully, we leave Briarcliff for a little while, and take a glimpse into Lana’s home where we finally see Clea DuVall, whom I truly love (Carnivale, gone too soon), lighting up a joint before dinner. Hey look, another relationship that won’t be looked on kindly in 1960’s America. The horror is us, people. The horror is us. The horror is also apparently Lana’s cooking, which they joke about lovingly. They close the blinds before they kiss, it’s heartbreaking. Clea DuVall is a schoolteacher, so the homo stakes are pretty high. They make out, and we try really hard not to think about Kit and Alma. These two will be fine, right?
Cut to Sister Jude cooking coq au vin and applying perfume to her scarlet-bra-swaddled decolletage. We linger over the simmering aromatics and the female form, before the latter is buttoned back up under the habit. It seems like someone has some issues with the pleasures of the senses. It’s sad, if Sister Jude would just give it all up and connect with her love of s&m and french food, we could be pals. But there is no time to consider a career change, the monsignor is coming to dinner! He’s young and handsome (and British?), and awfully bold with his casual compliments and indulgence in non-sacramental wine. He needles Sister Jude about her decadent cooking, and she blushes. She tries to take the doctor down a peg, but monsignor isn’t having it. He’s too busy fantasizing about being Pope someday, I mean we just had a Catholic president, why not? The scene dissolves into Sister Jude’s masturbation fantasies pretty quickly, and that is in no way a joke or an exaggeration. In her mind’s eye the penguin suit comes RIGHT off, and she is wearing her red négligée and mounting the monsignor at the dinner table.
Sister Mary Eunice, at Doctor Arden’s behest, brings some buckets of bloody gristle to some...things...that seem to be wandering the grounds of the asylum. They’re getting hungry, they need meat. It’s fine, they’re probably just carnivorous gamma-irradiated incredible hulk flowers. While feeding the offscreen horrors, Sister Mary Eunice is surprised by Lana! Oh no, Lana, what are you doing here? Get out! Definitely don’t use Sister Mary Eunice’s constant state of skittishness and panties-wetting fear of Jessica Lange to work your way into the asylum!
Where, at this moment, Kit is vomiting. Gross. Thankfully, the doctor is there. Or is it aliens? Kit isn’t sure! Oh wait, it’s Doctor Arden, ok, cool. The doctor knows Kit doesn’t belong here! Phew. He’s ok now. Oh, what’s that? “There’s so much to learn,” he says ominously before sticking Kit with another syringe. Uh-oh!
Back to the frame story. Adam Levine is wondering whether he’s bleeding out. Of course you are! But don’t worry, your wife is a panicked mess and you’re only five miles from town. Salvation is practically in your grasp.
As we return to the sixties, we cut back and forth between Sister Mary Eunice and Lana, who have an unpleasant encounter with poop (it gets in her mouth. IT GETS. IN. HER MOUTH.) in the men’s ward courtesy of Mark Consuelos, and Kit, who is strapped to a gurney and is being wheeled into an examination room. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t use anaesthetic...it interferes with my readings,” he is informed by Doctor Arden, after some supervillainous monologuing about how we have entered the age of science.
Lana sees an orderly being unprofessional with Chloe Sevigny, who directs her to the solitary wing, where she might find Kitty Face. Dammit Lana, this is no time to be a plucky reporter. RUN!
Kitty Face, meanwhile is strapped down pretty firmly, where he is being informed that the devil resides in his occipital lobe. Eep. He is fitted with a Clockwork Orange eyeball rig in between flashbacks to his possibly-hallucinated alien abduction. It’s hard to tell who’s doing what to poor Kit, but someone DEFINITELY sticks a needle into his eyeball, and there is a strongly-implied anal probe. So yeah, that happens. THEN it gets weird. The doctor finds a lump! It’s too hard to be a tumor! Obviously the thing to do is to cut into Kitty Face’s throat and yank whatever it is out. Somehow this is harsher than the eyeball invasion, and if you still have any humanity in you, you really squirm as this poor kid gets incised. Doctor Arden extracts...what appears to be a small piece of circuitry. He lays it on a piece of gauze and the damn thing grows six spindly little mechanical legs and runs away. And it takes our minds with it. Good-bye, mind!
Lana is peeking into the mail slots that the solitary cells have in them, because she didn’t learn from Adam Levine’s mistake. Something reaches out of the darkness and grabs her by the neck, and we are all very afraid.
The next morning, Sister Jude is so mad at Sister Mary Eunice that she might just break one of her favorite canes against her desk. Sister Mary Eunice gets a big heavy cane (seriously, Jessica Lange has a big wooden armoire in which they are lovingly displayed) and BEGS Sister Jude to punish her because she’s so stupid and weak. Somehow the fact that Sister Jude’s response is “I don’t have time for this” makes it that much weirder! I thought this was business, Sister, but apparently it really is pleasure, and we just don’t have time for that right now. We have lesbian couples’ lives to destroy. Sheesh.
And in the emotional climax of the episode, Lana awakens, and sees Sister Jude standing over her. She’s strapped to a bed, and her head is fitted with a halo (the medical kind...the sort you put on somebody to keep their spinal cord from being severed after a serious neck injury). We cut back and forth between Sister Jude talking to Clea DuVall at their home, and taunting Lana at Briarcliff. She threatens Clea DuVall with exposing their relationship, while assuring her that since she isn’t legally a family member that she can’t see Lana or help her in any way. As a respected member of the community, however, she can have someone committed to Briarcliff with a signature. Which she’d better do if she doesn’t want the community to find out that their children are being exposed to a homosexual. It’s awful, and amazing, and I can’t do it justice in this incredibly long-winded recap.
We close once again on the frame story, with Adam Levine drifting off into exsaunguinated peace, as Theresa runs around the asylum like, well, a crazy person, ultimately coming face to face with the real (?) Bloody Face, and he doesn’t look like Kit at all. He’s got this bloody face thing going on, you see.
Well, I’m hooked. When I heard that this season would take place in the 1960’s, it didn’t occur to me just how much of the horror would come from the day-to-day realities of the United States in that period. Normalized racism, the automatic assumption of heterosexuality (paving the way for the stigmatization and pathologizing of that which today we lovingly call queer), and the unquestioned benefit of the doubt granted to institutional authority are where all of the really gut-wrenching scares in this show came from. Please, give me over to the aliens and the monsters in the forest. Just don’t let the doctors and the clergy get me.