Now that's more like it!
Last week I had some complaints about American Horror Story: Asylum, namely the show's lack of focus and Dr. Arden's unchecked misogyny coloring the entire series. And this week we get a more organized and concentrated episode wherein Dr. Arden begins to suffer the repercussions of his odious acts. Sweet relief!
One of the factors contributing to the episode's more focused feel is the absence of The Lovers, the present day framing device. Until American Horror Story: Asylum is able to tie these scenes in with the rest of the series in some sort of thematic or plot-driven way, we're better off without them.
And the absence allowed more time for our latest resident at Briarcliff, played by none other than the wonderful Franka Potente! As the episode's title suggests, Potente is playing either Anne Frank herself, who mysteriously survived the events of her diary but allowed her name to represent the ultimate in martyrdom, or just some crazy lady who thinks she's Anne Frank. Either way, she has the concentration camp tattoo to prove she's been to Auschwitz and she recognizes our own Dr. Arden as a psychotic Nazi war criminal.
While I know that throwing Nazis in with the aliens and deformed forest dwellers and lunatics doesn't really sound like a more focused approach, it works. Arden has already been written as such a mustache-twirling cartoon villain, and no fictional villain twirls his mustache as effectively as a good ol' Nazi. Of course, making your Big Bad a Nazi is just about the laziest thing you can do - who's going to argue that a Nazi's bad? - but we're not looking for nuance on American Horror Story. All we want, other than the guts and sex, is a story, and "Anne Frank: Part 1" finally delivers that.
Arden's being investigated for his savage mistreatment of the escort he hired in "Tricks and Treats," and his house of evil cards appears to be toppling around him as Sister Jude grows increasingly suspicious. And then Anne Frank gets the best of him, wrestling his gun away and nearly escaping before discovering what's left of poor Chloë Sevigny. While the Monsignor is still protecting Arden and his Nazi past, it was nice to see this sick bastard on bottom for a change. And Jessica Lange grows ever more sympathetic (relatively speaking) as she struggles against her alcoholic lapse last week, takes pity on a remorseful Kit and works to uncover Arden's detestable history without betraying her beloved monsignor.
Kit and Grace also have a nice arc as they learn to trust each other and even get some chaste counter mackin' on. Of course, Kit's still married to Alma, a relationship in which I became quickly invested in mere minutes in the pilot, but she's off with the aliens somewhere, and boys will be boys. We learn that Grace did, in fact, kill her family, but only after years of sexual abuse. Kit tells Grace that he admires her, and I melt a little. Team These Two.
And the final arc of the episode, and by far the most successful, is that of Dr. Thredson and Lana Winters. Zachary Quinto and Sarah Paulson are honestly remarkable in their scenes together, as the kind Dr. Thredson attempts aversion and conversion therapies to "cure" Lana of her homosexuality. Thredson doesn't agree with this therapy, and you can see that it's crushing him to attempt it, but he wants to get Lana out of Briarcliff at any cost.
The arc is so powerful because these barbaric acts - giving her an IV of ipecac to force her to vomit while she looks at pictures of women in lingerie, forcing her to touch herself and a male patient as she sobs - were actual procedures used to combat homosexuality. In fact, far worse practices have been tried in the name of turning someone straight - and more recently than you'd think. It's a heartbreaking part of our history, and lines like "Try to focus on his genitals" aside, the scene isn't overblown at all. It's poignant and sad, thanks to two tremendous performances by Quinto and Paulson.
Thredson quickly withdraws from the procedures, hating himself for going through with them, and he returns to Lana her picture of her lover as he promises, "I'm leaving here on Friday, and I am taking you with me." Of course, that will never be allowed to happen, but I'm touched by his insistence nonetheless.
Kit, Grace, Lana, Thredson - American Horror Story: Asylum has succeeded in creating truly sympathetic characters. If the writers focus more on these guys and let the insanity explode in the periphery, the show will work far more effectively both as horror and as a simple narrative.
Do you guys agree?