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American Horror Story recap: Downfall Abbey

Death and regime change come to The Asylum, as the powerful take a tumble and the misfits take charge. And dance!

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American Horror Story
Prashant Gupta/FX

American Horror Story

TV Show
run date:
Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters
Current Status:
In Season

When we last saw Monsignor Timothy before the holiday break (Happy New Year, by the way), the man who would be pope had been nailed to a chapel cross like Christ himself by a Bad Santa and appeared doomed for a smooch from soul-sucking Shachath. But last night’s episode of American Horror Story revealed that the black winged femme fatale had not dropped by for a dark night of the soul booty call. The angelic buzzard had a message from the Good Lord himself. Thou shalt purge The Asylum of the She-Devil in your midst! It was a chance for the Monsignor to do some bona fide pro bono after tainting himself with so much greedy, self-serving evil. By the end of the hour, the man of faith accomplished his God-given task, although we were left to wonder how much God or faith had anything to do with it. The clash that produced The Devil’s downfall (one of many that defined “The Name Game”) resembled a familiar cultural conflict – powerful man forcibly imposing his will upon powerless woman – although it was preceded by a wickedly impish twist on that violence: The rape of Father Timothy by Satanically enhanced Sister Mary Eunice. (A corrupt church official abusing power to rob a veritable altar boy of his innocence? Now where have we heard that one before?) The whole episode was one of the season’s strongest hours, due in large part because it contained one of the most inspired scenes this series has ever given us… but we’ll get to Satan’s Great! Big! Music! Box! in a few hundred words or so.

Round One between Monsignor Timothy and The Devil saw the wounded priest — a recuperating Christ figure, who spent most of the ep encumbered by bandages wrapped around his crucifixion owies and swaddled in royal purple jammies — leaning into his faith and fighting a by-the-Good Book fight. Shachath coached him to clutch his rosary for strength and use it as a weapon. “Each bead is his name,” she told him. But “The Name Game” was all about what happens when names lose their meaning, and in The Asylum circa 1965, during the boom years of irreverent, revisionist Postmodernity, the sacred name of God no longer possessed it former potency. When Father Howard pressed the rosary to Sister Mary’s head and used the name of Christ to command the demon inside her to exit, The Devil whooshed him away with a telekinetic shrugs. Timothy and his tools of office were no match for Sister Mary and her dark passenger, perhaps because she (and we) knew how flawed and corrupt his faith had become. (I would say Monsignor’s Timothy’s beady accessory officially lost all of its holy punch back when he abused it to choke Shelley to death.)

Lady Lucifer further exposed the fallen father for the weak servant he was by working his lust for the world. In past episodes, Timothy’s fatal flaw was exemplified by his ambition for power. Last night, it was Sister Mary’s flesh. Father Howard believed he could resist the temptation, but Sister Mary disabused him of that notion PDQ. She stripped down to her power red teddy swiped from Sister Jude’s drawer, then mounted Timothy and rode him like the whore of Babylon atop The Beast of Revelation. “It’s okay,” she said, putting the thirtysomething-year-old virgin’s hand on her breast. “We’re like Adam and Eve, two innocent children discovering each other’s bodies for the first time.” In his small defense, The Monsignor did say “No.” Repeatedly. He invoked his vow of celibacy. He appealed to his marriage to The Church. But The Devil convinced him that his “No” really meant “Yes,” that he wanted her illicit “warm wet hug.” By the time she was cruelly telling him to slow down – another poke at his innate selfishness/weakness – The Monsignor was begging for it. He groaned, and gave it up. The priest had been deflowered. Shame bloomed.

It was a double win for the diabolical double-minded nun. Her humiliation of Monsignor Timothy also humiliated the man who crushed on her, Dr. Arthur Arden, who peeped most if not all of the rape show from the doorway. It was another kick in the manhood for the once mighty misogynist: Earlier, the mad scientist suffered the indignity of being shown up in his own place of power, his laboratory. By Pepper the Pinhead, no less! You’ll recall that the mentally challenged, physically deformed microcephalic returned to Briarcliff (and the American Horror Story narrative) after many weeks away in the company of the show’s enigmatic extraterrestrial meddler-observers, accompanied by a Christmas miracle: Resurrected Grace, very pregnant with child. Pepper was also changed. The aliens had dialed up her brainpower and loosened her tongue. Cranial and dental reconstructions were not included in this self-improvement package, but she didn’t need it to feel full of herself: Her internal makeover – made possible by a close encounter with an authentic higher power  – had made her bright and ballsy. “No one takes a pinhead seriously,” she said. “When my sister’s husband drowned her baby and sliced his ears off, he told everyone I did it. … That’s how it works with us freaks. We get blamed for everything.”

But not anymore. In “The Name Game,” the misfits of Planet Asylum took charge, if not control, for better (see: Lana, blackmailing Dr. Oliver Thredson into obedience with his baby) and worse (see: Thredson, now a full-time Briarcliff employee, and most likely to become its next chief administrator in light of this episode’s executive turnover.)

NEXT: Pepper Goes Groucho