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The Asylum season of American Horror Story has been lacking as a whole, with its bizarre alien storyline and its lackluster attempts to recreate the same eerie feeling as Season 1. The Name Game proved to be no exception to this pattern—at least, the first half did. Despite some terrible choices, however, the episode turned itself around and actually promises a great improvement for the rest of the season.
The episode opened with Dr. Arden’s revival of Kit Walker, who had volunteered to be “killed” in order to make the mysterious aliens appear. Once again we see the result of the aliens’ work—a pregnant and very-much-alive Grace, and a newly intelligent Pepper. If Pepper’s character was forced before, she’s nearly insufferable now. She lectures Dr. Arden on the mistreatment of outsiders and her role as protector of Grace and her baby, as directed by the aliens. The entire scene is as disjointed as the alien storyline itself.
Where it improves a bit, though, is where the Monsignor comes in. He was left hanging (literally) at the end of “The Coat Hanger,” and it’s revealed that when he was visited by Shachath (the angel of death), she revealed Sister Mary Eunice’s possession to him. The Monsignor’s conflict throughout the episode as a result becomes the saving grace of the entire episode, and perhaps the whole season, since it starts a chain of so many events.
The far overdone conflict between Dr. Thredson and Lana Winters comes to a head yet again when he returns to Briarcliff as a full-time psychologist. Another tedious discussion of their baby ensues, which should have ended with the abortion in “The Coat Hanger” but inevitably went on. Clearly it’ll go on for much longer, since their son was shown in his adulthood in “The Coat Hanger.” This whole storyline seems to be occurring independently of the others. Perhaps that’s the problem with this season—the storylines don’t have that wild, dizzy intersection that made Season 1 so deliciously terrifying.
Sister Jude, or Judy now, is off having her own problems as well, trying desperately to hold onto the control she enjoyed while she ran Briarcliff. Where things get interesting, though, is when Sister Mary Eunice uses electroshock therapy to “cure” her and ends up wiping her memory almost completely. The result is a brilliant performance by Jessica Lange as a woman on the verge of unraveling altogether. Her frightening portrayal, nearly ruined by a horrid song-and-dance number to the song “The Name Game” (no, really), culminates in an unsettling conversation with Mother Superior in which Judy seems beyond hope altogether. The entire episode is worth watching just for this moment.
Meanwhile, the Monsignor attempts to exorcize Sister Mary Eunice, which leads to an uncomfortably out-of-place sex scene that seemed to have been tossed in simply because there weren’t any sex scenes in the episode yet. Seriously, it was terrible. However, Dr. Arden sees it, which triggers enough despair in him to remind us he’s actually human. In a truly well-written scene, he kills his experiments in the woods in front of Sister Mary Eunice and then turns the gun on himself, only to lack the guts to pull the trigger. He laments how much it hurt to lose her, which was a hit in the gut when we realize he lost her not to the Monsignor, but to the Devil himself. If we had to get through a horrid sex scene to hear that delicate, perfectly-stated piece of information, then so be it.
The short-lived battle between the Monsignor and Sister Mary Eunice comes to an abrupt end when, in a shocking moment, he throws her from the third story staircase. Shachath visits yet again and takes her to the afterlife, pure once again. But what happens to the Devil? Are we left without our ultimate villain, and one of the only characters that made the season watchable? I have to say I’ll miss the delightful paradox of the Devil inhabiting the purest of nuns. And we’ll be devoid of Lily Rabe’s wickedly good portrayal for the rest of the season. We can only hope she’ll come back inexplicably, since so many of the characters have already.
After her death, Dr. Arden volunteers to cremate her in the asylum’s old crematorium, but we get the sense from the moment he says the words that he’s got something up his sleeve. I had guessed he would experiment on the body to give it life again (thereby fulfilling my wish, too). But in a total reversal, he ends up climbing on top of her and riding straight into the flames with her. It’s an incredibly disturbing moment, yet it seems so right for his character to leave that way. In a sense, he doesn’t belong in his world, and the death of Sister Mary Eunice, who he considered the only pure woman left, seals the deal for him.
By the end of the episode, we’ve lost two characters to death and one to insanity, and I have a feeling the losses will just keep coming. And I say, let them come. It’s what they’ve been afraid to do all season, but it’s what made Season 1 so compelling. Finally, American Horror Story: Asylum is taking a few risks.