American Horror Story: Asylum: Burn, Waiting for the World to End

Categories: Film and TV

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Don't mind me. Just quoting my favorite Cure song is all. Warning, spoilers to follow more than usual. To business then.

Asylum has been on vacation for a while, sparing us a New Year's Eve-themed horror outing to match the misfire of their Christmas endeavor. All is still as we left it. Briarcliff now hosts, by my count, one Nazi, an augmented microcephalic, aliens, one woman impregnated by aliens, Satan, a serial killer with a flaying fetish, possibly one Santa Claus-themed murderer, and a quartet of crazed cannibalistic mutants. As far as a Twelve Days of Christmas tune goes, I'm stuck for a rhyme, I'll tell you, folks.

American Horror Story is at once at its best and its worst when it mimics a traditional television show. On the one hand, it loses its episodic Twilight Zone feel when it focuses on story and not on the scare-of-the-week. On the other, such outings allow the show to wrap up loose threads in an effort to solidify the story. This week's episode showed both sides perfectly.

Lots is happening at Briarcliff. Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto), in reality the murderous Bloody Face, is still on the loose and practicing psychiatry after having been freed from a storeroom in the asylum. The Devil still holds sway over Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who uses her powers to push both Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) further into madness. Meanwhile, the aliens have resurrected Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) and she is gestating some kind of alternababy in her womb.

Caught up? Good.

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Let's make this brief. The episode has an awful lot of action, but is somewhat strangely short of substance this week. Many of the loose threads I mentioned are not so much tied up as burned to prevent fraying. Arden's little tribe of murder mutants are unceremoniously shot in the head outside the asylum by a despondent Arden, who laments the death of his experiments after witnessing the majesty of alien technology. For a man who participated in Nazi experimentation, the witness of his fall is both a little fun and ultimately kind of sad. Evil is evil, but can you really celebrate a man realizing his life's work was utterly misguided and in vain?

Then there's Mr. Fiennes and his... stolen virtue. Asylum is a weird show in that it has a rare talent in Fiennes that it kind of hamfistedly uses. Last we saw him, he was crucified by an escaped inmate who had betrayed his trust. Here he's a wounded warrior of Christ trying hard to overcome the devil in Mary Eunice. He fails in this so hard he winds up fucking her.

Now, for all intents and purposes this is a rape of him by her, and I have to give some props to FX for going there. A woman more or less forces sex on an unwilling male participant, who for extra fun is also seriously injured and unable to fight back. It's a hard scene to watch, honestly, and it's one of the few truly great ones to come out of the episode. A lot of people will view it only as someone getting to nail the smoking hot Lily Rabe, if the comments of our stories on female teachers molesting their students are any indicator, but ultimately it's a rare chance for two of the show's greatest talents to shine in a moment of brilliant drama and utter consumption of choice.

Utterly unheralded is the performance of Naomi Grossman as Pepper. She was a pinhead throwaway character earlier in the season, but she's returned as a force to protect Grace in her pregnancy, It's very disconcerting to see her wield guile, wit, and out-and-out threats after having her last line before her reappearance be "Pepper go pee!" Here she's a calculating, powerful entity, and it is frankly magnificent.

In the end, though, Howard manages to kill Mary Eunice to free her from the devil, and Dr. Arden rides her cremating corpse into the furnace to commit suicide. While I'll admit that the scene is fantastic, even logical, it does carry two of the best reasons to watch this show out of the cast in a herald of fire. This is why part of me wishes that we'd gotten a scare of the week instead of honest good storytelling. So much has happened, but it's also changed things forever.


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