Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Previously on Ryan Murphy’s Collected Nightmares, Lana fell through a trap door into Dr. Thredyface’s murder room where he was keeping her girlfriend (literally) on ice, Kit was stunned to learn that his own confession could be used against him, Sistah Jude was increasingly just blowing off this whole nun thing, and Anne Frank got a lobotomy. And if none of that makes sense to you, just relax and let it wash over you like a wave of nausea.
This week we return to the present day abandoned Briarcliff, which I had completely forgotten about during the last two episodes. A man—presumably Bloodyface although it may or may not be Zachary Quinto’s voice—calls 911 to show off the lovely installation piece he made out of the “impostor” Bloodyfaces. However, when the camera pans up, we see not two but three Bloodyfaces suspended in midair.
THIS IS MY ART PROJECT. IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT I WILL KILL YOU.
Then after another round of the title sequence, which after six weeks is still enough to put me off my turkey dinner, we arrive back in 1964, where a worried mother is trying to persuade Sistah Jude to admit her 10-year-old.
Sistah Jude: “It’s always been my dream to open a children’s ward at Briarcliff. So many little souls to save and little hands to smack. I have a child’s-sized collection of canes I’m just dying to use, but until the Monsignor approves it, I can’t take your daughter.”
Mother: “Oh but my Jenny is very grown-up. She murdered her little friend with some kitchen shears just like an adult psychopath. And she really phoned in her alibi too.”
“Yeah, some guy killed her. He had, like, hair or something. I don’t
know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Sistah Jude: “Well that’s very sad of course but I still can’t…”
Mother: Runs from room, tires squeal in distance.
While Sistah Jude figures out what to do with this bad seed, we journey to Oliver Thredyface’s Evil Basement of Evil to further explore the theme of maternal abandonment. Lana wakes up in a nice, warm bed, surrounded by pictures of the tragically deceased Wendy, and for a second she thinks everything—Briarcliff, aversion therapy, “Dominique” on repeat—was just a bad dream. Then she hears Thredyface’s breathing and the knowledge of where she really is cascades over her. And I know I can be critical of this show, but I am always blown away by Sarah Paulson’s ability to GO THERE, even when “there” is the darkest, saddest, most emotionally taxing place you can imagine.
Anyway Thredyface is making her tomato soup and croque monsieurs—to which I say, get over the delusions of grandeur, sir, for that is a ham sammy. Once Lana is fortified with her snack, Oliver takes the opportunity to launch straight into his “why I did it” song and it goes like this:
Thredyface: “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY, MOMMY MOMMY MOM.”
Lana: Could you maybe be, like, a little more specific?
Thredyface: I grew up in an orphanage, abandoned by my mother, and deprived of the thing I wanted most: touch. It wasn’t until medical school when I saw a dead lady the same age as her when she abandoned me that I took my shirt off and put my skin on her skin and everything was right but then I needed more skin but now you’re here so WILL YOU BE MY MOMMY?
Lana: Um…this is a super good ham sammy.
IT’S CALLED A CROQUE MONSIEUR.
Back at the other loony bin, Sistah Jude gets a call from the raspy-voiced Nazi hunter, who informs her that Anne Frankly-I-don’t-give-a-damn was right about Dr. Arden’s past in Auschwitz. All she needs is to bring a copy of his fingerprint to confirm his identity, since the truckload of pictures of him high-fiving Hitler apparently aren’t sufficient evidence.
Going on his first solo adventure this week is the Monsignor, who has been called by a normal hospital to administer last rites to a mutant creature who turns out to be Shelley. As soon as he’s alone with her he strangles her to death with his rosary, and whiles away the moments as the light fades from her eyes in reminiscing about how he came to be in such a curious position.
A man so selfish he will have his own flashback during someone else’s death scene.
In 1962, when he was a mere priest overseeing the transformation of Briarcliff from a tuberculosis hospital to a sanitarium, he first met Doctor Arden, and they shared some words while hauling a body to the crematorium.
Doc Arden: It’s a shame I have to leave this place. All these helpless, dying people would have made such great subjects for my experiments.
Monsignor: And what experiments are these?
Doc Arden: Oh just a little bacterial cocktail I use to make people immortal and also make you Pope.
Monsignor: This all sounds totally reasonable.
Back in 1964, though, the Monsignor has developed some qualms about Arden’s experiments. Arden tries to assuage his fears and takes him to see the results of his most recent tests, with the same pride as Bloodyface with a particularly gruesome window display.
Monsignor: Wait, this is you trying to reassure me?
Arden: It makes perfect sense because when the Russians nuke us we will all be mutated and this way we are beating them to the punch and so now we can rise from the ashes as a race of super-mutants with these awesome pustules on our heads. AMERICA, AMIRITE??!!
The Monsignor is powerless to do anything about this because Arden has some Big Secret he’s holding over his head. It must be a really awful secret too, because it forces him to fire Sistah Jude from Briarcliff, which he makes a great show of not wanting to do.
And then we have what is easily my favorite scene of the series thus far, in which Sister Mary Eunice gives young Jenny villain advice. This episode was penned by Murphy himself, and if I were teaching a class on Murphyology, it would be required viewing. The scene—and Mary Eunice’s character—is so delightfully twisted that it is a genuine pleasure to watch. Yet it stands alongside some truly dreadful, hackneyed exposition from Thredyface that is by turns disgusting and merely lame. It’s just another episode from one of America’s most brilliant, maddeningly inconsistent auteurs. But we keep coming back to Murphy, like a relationship with a difficult woman, because for every Finn, he gives us a Santana, and for every moment of torture porn, he gives us Mary Eunice dancing to “You Don’t Own Me” in Sistah Jude’s lingerie.
All is forgiven, Mr. Murphy.
After making me love her as I have never loved a villain, she whisks off to murder the Nazi-hunter before he can expose Doctor Arden. All this before bedtime, when she presumably caps things off by congratulating herself on a day that was both productive and enjoyable.
Back in the Evil Basement of Evil, Thredyface catches Lana trying to escape—in his words “abandon”—him and sadly concludes that she leaves him no choice but to remove all the skin from her body. Lana is still a very smart heroine, though, and finally gives him what he wants: a mother. She calls him “baby” and he rips off the Bloodyface mask faster than you can say “Oedipus” and responds “baby needs some colostrum.”
The best thing about dating a nursing student is that she can pipe right up and tell you that colostrum is the “super milk” excreted by new mothers. I’m sorry I meant that is the worst thing about dating a nursing student.
We are spared from witnessing too much of this suckling by a return to the present day, where the police are finding bits of Adam Levine all over the Briarcliff floor. But someone is still missing…and that would be his wife (who, in more unwanted knowledge, my girlfriend informs me is actually Channing Tatum’s wife.) She is still alive, laid out on a marble slab, about to be tortured by one of the apparently infinite varieties of Bloodyface that roam rural Massachusetts
Does anyone else think this looks like Lady-Bloodyface?
I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving. Whether you’re spending it with a makeshift family (like the ones you act out “mommy” role-playing games with in your serial-killer chamber), or the real deal, (the ones you stab through the heart with a kitchen knife and blame it on a drifter), I’m sure it will be your very own version of American Horror Story.
See you next week.