TV Review: AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM 2.05 “I Am Anne Frank: Part 2”

Well, I did not see that coming. 

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I believe this episode is what those in show business call a game changer. "I Am Anne Frank: Part 2" has delivered virtually everyone in Briarcliff to new, unfamiliar circumstances. Are any of these changes for the better? I think you know American Horror Story: Asylum better than that, don't you?

Let's talk first about the direction of the episode, by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. In the past, Gomez-Rejon has directed two of the best episodes of season one, "Birth" and "Home Invasion," and this week's episode set the stylistic standard for the rest of the series. With unnerving angles, close-ups and filters, "I Am Anne Frank: Part 2" is an exercise in the unexpected. Nearly every technical and creative decision made by Gomez-Rejon sets the audience at unease, coloring each moment as just slightly off-kilter. It's an incredibly effective and unconventional approach.

For instance, the flashbacks to Anne Frank's - make that Charlotte's - life at home are notably disconcerting. Yes, as one might expect, the inmate claiming to be Anne Frank is actually a postpartum-addled housewife whose husband urges her to come home and raise their baby. The flashbacks to her home life are shot in eerie Leave it to Beaver angles, like faded old snapshots with something amiss. Franka Potente makes the easy transition from convincing Anne Frank to convincing June Cleaver after Arden's lobotomy, but she appears no happier for it.

Charlotte may have been wrong about the whole Anne Frank thing, but she was right about Arden. That guy is a Nazi. Unfortunately, the reveal of Charlotte's delusion led Sister Jude to doubt her accusations, but hopefully Mr. Goodman, the Nazi hunter played by the ever great Mark Margolis, will stay on the trail. After all, as Mr. Goodman tells Sister Jude, "Instincts are everything. We ignore them at our peril." I hope she remembers that before it's too late, although it's already too late for poor Shelley, who somehow makes her legless way to an elementary school (presumably at the mischievous behest of Sister Mary Eunice) and terrifies a gaggle of schoolchildren. Chloë Sevigny, talk to your agent. This is the most thankless role on television.

Jessica Lange grows increasingly sympathetic throughout the season, this week turning in a heart-rending monologue about a squirrel she loved as a child that almost made me forget her tendency to cane willful inmates. As the odds stack up against Sister Jude, she bolts from Briarcliff, slides on some matte red lipstick, smokes a cig and beds a random from the bar. Will she return once she learns her instincts about Dr. Arden are correct? Will Sister Jude become the unlikely heroine of this season?

Here's hoping, because we could use a good guy around here. Naturally, one of the most sympathetic characters at Briarcliff is revealed to be the most vile. Dr. Thredson - gentle, wise Dr. Thredson - makes good on his promise to get Lana out of Briarcliff, only to bring her back to his lair, show her his Buffalo Bill decor and trap her in a subterranean prison with the frozen and toothless corpse of her late girlfriend. Thredson is Bloody Face, people! As disappointed as I am to lose Zachary Quinto's soothing benevolence, I applaud Murphy and Falchuk for pulling the wool so thoroughly over our eyes. Did anyone see this coming? Now Lana is free of Briarcliff and subjected to a far more debilitating form of aversion therapy. This isn't going to be easy to watch. 

Finally, we have Kit and Grace, no better off than their cohorts. After a beautifully touching scene between the two in solitary, reaching out and comforting one another through the concrete walls, Kit is tricked into confessing to the Bloody Face murders by Dr. Thredson and is carted off by the police at the end of the episode. And Grace? Grace was abducted by aliens, exposed to some sort of gynecological horror and introduced to Alma, Kit's supposedly murdered wife. 

As crazy as all of this sounds, I believe a unifying theme is emerging from the madness. American Horror Story: Asylum seems to be about the ways we oppress those who are different. Whether she's a Jewish Holocaust survivor or an unhappy housewife, Charlotte does not fit in this society. Shelley's love of sex, Kit's marriage to a woman of another race, Lana's homosexuality, Grace's sexually abusive past - they don't fit into the tidy constraints of 1964 America, and so they are discarded, shunned, punished. 

Even Sister Jude suffers from this oppression. As Frank the security guard (the terrific Fredric Lehne) sadly tells her, "Men are never gonna accept a woman in charge, especially not a woman as strong as you are. In my opinion, you never really had a chance." If Jude can in turn stop oppressing others, maybe even work with them, it's possible she could be the salvation for those tormented by Arden, Thredson and the Monsignor. Wouldn't that be something?

I'm not holding my breath for a happy ending on this show, but I'd love to see at least one of the little guys score against the menacing patriarchy of Briarcliff. But I rather doubt we'll see that happen any time soon.

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