American Horror Story recap: Suffer Not A Woman
Not a good night for the ladies, as Bloody Face shows his true face and Dr. Arden seizes control of The Asylum
Sister Jude lost her power. Lana Winters lost her freedom. Grace lost control of her body, and then her voice, while “Anne Frank,” married name Charlotte Brown, born Charlotte Cohen, lost her mind and all of her identities. The second part of “I Am Anne Frank” was one goosestep forward for the wolfish Mad Men of Briarcliff Manor Sanatorium, one giant leap backward for women and their fight for self-determination. As usual, the episode was a dark mirror to the dark stories that fill our culture, fictional and otherwise, including racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Especially misogyny. The Hitchcock-taut set piece that concluded the outing – which revealed that Bloody Face (circa ’64) was Dr. Oliver Thredson — was encoded with a cultural genealogy of Men Who Hate Women spectacle, implicitly quoting Ilse Koch, Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Amid the wreckage of female destruction, there was hope, albeit ironic, even hideous. She was a monstrous Fury, set loose by a lady Lucifer, a spirit of We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore! vengeance, unleashed by a certifiably Twisted Sister. How genius was the scene with Mary-liberated Shelley, boiled and dismembered, pulling herself up those schoolyard stairs, as if climbing out of the pit of Hades. To quote Charlotte Perkins Gillman, whose short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was cited in last year’s “Rubber Man” episode (Moira! Miss you!) and echoed loudly in Charlotte Brown’s tale: “Here she comes, running out of prison and off the pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”
The Dark Knight of Mirrors. We opened on Sister Jude, sitting in her car, out of “costume,” as Dr. Arden might say. She was examining her crimson kerchief bonnet in the vanity mirror, one of many such looking glasses in the episode. She was on a secret mission to consult with underground Nazi hunter Sam Goodman. Little Red Riding Hood, meeting with The Huntsman, about a certain Big Bad Wolf. Inside Sam’s place, the camera panned back between Judy and Goodman in the flesh, and Judy and Goodman reflected in different vanity mirrors. She told the Holocaust survivor and war crimes vigilante (“I don’t do this for money,” said Goodman, a veritable superhero) about her suspicion that Dr. Arden was actually a former S.S. doctor named Hans Gruber. Goodman told Judy about Operation: Paperclip, and how the United States secretly brought Nazi eggheads into the country, gave these Dr. Strangeloves freedom and “false biographies” in exchange for the science that helped build our space program and nuclear arsenal. (Sing it, Starship: We built this city!/We built this city on Nazi rock ‘n roll!)
The disorienting use of mirrors in a scene reminding us of our God blessed nation’s immoral opportunism and reprehensible hypocrisy reminded me of Kevin Costner’s famous line in Oliver Stone’s JFK: “We’re through the looking glass on this one, people. White is black, black is white.” Regardless, just as she did so often last week, Sister Jude saw her secret shame (SCREECH! SLAM! SPLAT!) and bogus redemption in someone else’s story, this one about a crusader chasing after at-large criminals who’ve found safe harbor in new identities within allegedly noble institutions, who need to be exposed and brought to justice.
Say it, Sister Jude: “I Am Hans Gruber.”
Persona Blues. Back at Briarcliff, the woman who wasn’t Anne Frank hauled the man who wasn’t Dr. Arden into Sister Jude’s office. Sister Jude was off campus, of course, but satanically enhanced Sister Mary Eunice was there, searching Sister Jude’s desk drawers for… something. Did she find it? “This man is a monster!” said Anne Frank. “You should see what he has in his office!” Sister Mary – not wanting to argue with the crazy lady with a gun – said she’d investigate and fetch Sister Jude, ASAP. Anne was content to wait. But her revolution ended as quickly as it began: Frank caught her with her back turned and put a gun to her skull. Game Over.
It was Game Over for Sister Jude, too, if Anne Frank couldn’t cough up proof that Dr. Arden was Hans Gruber. She surmised — correctly — that Arden would attribute Lady Die Hard’s yippee ki-yay nazif—er gunplay on her lack of institutional control and demand her resignation or termination. Anne continued to claim that Arden was keeping a legless she-thing in his closet. Sister Jude went looking for said freak, found nothing. (We would later learn that Sister Mary dragged Shelley out of Arden’s dungeon before she could be found.)
Sister Jude’s cooked goose really began to smoke once Anne Frank’s husband showed up and explained that yes, “Anne Frank” was not really the Anne Frank of history. The husband: Mr. Jim Brown, a clean cut joe with a square jaw and a kindly face, a mid-century American male who aspired to Don-and-Betty bliss. His tale of weird male woe was illustrated with stylized flashbacks –narrow screen; washed-out yellow-green hues; mono audio; creepy Theremin music — that evoked a soap opera broadcast circa sixties color TV. A late run installment of Dark Shadows, perhaps. The chilling significance of this choice wouldn’t be felt in full until the very end of the episode.
A few months ago, Mr. Brown explained, his wife, Charlotte, started acting “cuckoo.” It began when she read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl when she was eight months pregnant, followed by a stage adaptation in Boston. After she gave birth to their son, David, and as she struggled to assuage his fits of colic, Charlotte became overwhelmed with a feeling of “powerlessness.” It was then that the identification with Anne Frank ignited, and she started spending more and more of her time researching Holocaust horror. “It was like she wanted to relive it, that she could change the outcome,” said Mr. Brown. (I put that line in bold, because I am convinced it’s a clue to what’s really happening at Briarcliff. More, at the end of the recap.) In a flashback, Mr. Brown, stuck with trying to soothe David, watched Charlotte rush out the door to find material about children who died in Nazi gas chambers. What about the baby? “He’s not the one who needs me!” cried the would-be Wonder Woman, flying away in her invisible plane of crazy.
NEXT: Grok Theory.
And so Charlotte Brown gave herself over to the cultural construction of Anne Frank. You could view it as a metaphor for Feminist nightmare (a woman taken over by a role, losing her identity) or a metaphor for Feminist rebellion (a woman escaping the roles foisted on her by patriarchal culture by adopting a meaningful identity of her own creation). Charlotte’s condition sounded to me like pop idolatry gone too far, or empathy without healthy psychic borders. I was also reminded of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece of psychological and meta-filmmaking horror, Persona, about a nurse named Sister Alma who begins to mind-meld with a patient, a renowned actress. (Hey! “Alma The Nurse.” Like Kit’s wife, Alma! Who made an appearance in this episode, playing nurse to Grace!) The Charlotte/Frank fusion also reminded me of sci-fi author Robert Heinlein’s concept of Grok, introduced in his novel Stranger In A Strange Land. Heinlein’s definition: “Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.”
To Sister Jude’s ears, Charlotte’s yarn sounded like so much bulls–t. And she fell for it. She sadly dubbed Charlotte “a world class actress. It was very… convincing.” Dr. Thredson, eavesdropping from outside the door, had a different diagnosis. “A classic case of postpartum psychosis,” declared the psychotherapist. (It’s here that Charlotte Brown intersects with Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as “The Yellow Wallpaper” chronicles the mental erosion of a new mother suffering from similar severe depression.) Thredson said Charlotte should be hospitalized. Mr. Brown panicked at the prospect of being
forced to care for a howling infant by himself separated from his true love: “She’s not psychotic! She’s a very emotional person!” Sister Jude – tweaked by “Dr. Buttinsky’s” latest attempt at subverting her authority – rashly decided to side with Mr. Brown: “Did you hear what he said? The man wants his wife at home!”
And so Sister Jude reunited Mr. Brown with his missing property… er, wife. “Anne Frank” – no longer in Briarcliff
prison camp togs — was not happy to be wearing Charlotte’s clothes again, literally and metaphorically: “They made me wear this uncomfortable dress. I don’t care for it anymore.” Mr. Brown played Knight of Mirrors. He tried to get his wife to surrender her illusion/delusion of being a Donna Quixote, tilting at Nazi windmills by showing her a family photo: The Browns, on the couch, allegedly happy. She recognized the child. Anne Frank receded; Charlotte Brown seemed to seep back into her old headspace. Mr. Brown led his subdued wife away, and Sister Jude ascended the Stairway to Heaven convinced she had salvaged something good out of a horrible situation.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
At The Mending Wall. In the bowels of Briarcliff, Kit Walker and Grace awaited punishment for defiling Sister Jude’s bakery with kneading table hanky-panky: Sterilization. Snip-snip! Bye-bye, reproductive rights. Bye-bye, legacy. The scene between them was artfully shot, and a few times, it broke the fourth wall between show and viewer, as if trying to forge the same empathic rapport with us as Kit and Grace were forging on screen. They were in separate cells, a wall between them. We saw Kit approach the camera. “Are you afraid?” Grace approached, said she wasn’t. He didn’t believe her. We took Grace’s perspective as the barrier between them disappeared, and she reached out to touch him. They spoke of the fate that awaited them, of dreams about to die. Kit said that he and Alma had always wanted kids, maybe two or three, but always kept pushing it off. “And now there will be no tomorrow, for either of us,” said Grace, and as she walked away, the physical boundary between them reappeared. He took responsibility for their plight and apologized. She said had no regrets. They were in this together. They would go down, together. Empathic connection restored, the wall dissolved anew. They touched again.
This intimate sequence struck me as a secret marriage ceremony, complete with sexy psychic consummation. I found it moving… although when Kit mentioned Alma, I wondered: Is he being unfaithful? Maybe. Maybe not: Last week, he decided he was Bloody Face, even if he couldn’t remember committing the crimes; ergo, his wife was dead, slain by his hand. He wasn’t an adulterer — he was a widower. In addition to Heinlein’s concept of Grok, the scene reminded me of the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall” quoted in last week’s episode, challenging the maxim that “good fences make good neighbors,” mocking the folly of trying to rein and tame nature. In the same way: The Kit-Grace love shall not be denied! What divine and/or extraterrestrial conspiracy has joined together, let no man (or wicked nun) rip asunder!
Ah, but enter the Twisted Sister to shake s—t up. Sister Mary explained that Sister Jude – impressed by Kit’s well-meaning yet utterly wrong-headed Bloody Face confession in last week’s episode – had decided he had “showed signs of true redemption.” His reward: A stay of sterilization and release from solitary. “Yay.” But Grace’s sentence wasn’t commuted. She was left to languish. Alone. Severed from her soul mate, Grace went bonkers and began to literally bounce off the walls. She exhausted herself exhausting her rage… and then she saw a light, blinding and white, bleeding through the cracks around the door… which began to shake and glow and then melt away… and as we zoomed in on her eyeball, we saw the reflection of gray alien with spindly arms and legs.
Let’s pause to reflect on the alien-related monkey business we’ve seen so far inside The Asylum. There’s a buggy little extra-terrestrial microchip that wants to re-integrate with Kit — to commune with him – for reasons unknown. Sister Jude chugged the communion wine, then had a close encounter with a grey-face extra-terrestrial during that dark and stormy Nor’easter night. Now, this week: Kit and Grace communed and Grace got abducted. “Communion” links me to Whitley Strieber, esoteric thinker, UFO expert, and author of such books The Hunger (about an immortal bisexual vampire), The Wolfen (possibly god-like creatures who feed on outcasts and misfits), The Coming Global Superstorm (the inspiration for the eco-apocalypse disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow) and, more to the point, Communion, a memoir of his own abduction by a mysterious, inexplicable entity — maybe an alien, maybe the goddess Ishtar, maybe something else entirely. And did I mention the plot of Robert “Grokky” Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land? It’s about a messianic Martian who comes to Earth in hopes of saving humanity from extinction – and possible destruction by his fellow Martians — by making us more enlightened beings.
Where am I going with all of this? Here:
My new theory is that Kit Walker is an alien who thinks he’s a human being.
Also? He’s a female alien, too.
NEXT: Power plays by Thredson and Arden
Untrue Confessions. Dr. Thredson launched his Briarcliff endgame by setting a time and location with Lana Winters for the great escape they hatched last week: After dinner, under the Stairway to Heaven. Then he went to his temp office, where Kit Walker was waiting. Last week, Kit bent to Thredson’s pressure and accepted as truth the narrative foisted upon him: That he was Bloody Face; that clandestinely marrying a black woman had driven him insane. Thredson had convinced Kit that such a confession would save him a sit-down with old Sparky. But any confession Kit made had to be sincere. So Thredson wanted Kit to practice. He asked Kit to record a confession, then listen to himself. Kit wasn’t in the mood. He wanted Thredson to help save Grace from sterilization. Thredson made no promises – Grace wasn’t his patient – but he offered to try, just as soon as Kit was finished with this exercise. Thredson opened up a suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape deck, and Kit, suckered, got busy damning himself: “My name is Kit Walker. And I murdered my wife…”
While Kit was spilling guts, we saw Grace in the white space limbo of the aliens’ operating theater, getting her guts ripped open. Among a flurry of images, one caught my eye: A long finger scraping a bloody incision across Grace’s abdomen. Alma stood by her side, attending to her, nursing her through the ordeal: “Don’t fight it. You’ll make it worse.” Do we take this at face value? Are we seriously dealing with legit alien abductions? Or are there other explanations? In Grace’s case, perhaps we were witnessing sterilization, and the E.T. fantasy was her way of coping with/escaping from the trauma. Or this: What if Grace was pulling her own Charlotte-to-Anne Frank breakdown makeover? What if what we were watching was the beginning of Grace’s attempt at transforming herself into Alma Walker? (And suddenly I’m wondering if American Horror Story has Norman Mailer on its mind.)
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes Your Stronger. Is there any doubt that Dr. Arden, aka Hans Gruber, is one seriously resilient Die Hard rogue? Having survived exposure and assassination, the president of the local chapter of the He Man Woman Hater’s Club returned to Briarcliff with a vengeance and brandishing a new accessory: A cane with a wolf’s head handle. The symbol screamed “Nazi” but also Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows. In a scene set within Sister Jude’s office lined with Catholic World books and illuminated by the glow of a crackling fireplace, Dr. Arden informed the First Lady of Briarcliff that he intended to press charges against her… although I think he really just trying to bully and bluff her into quitting The Asylum of her own accord. “On your watch, that crazy bitch got hold of a gun and you sent her home without as much as a slap on the wrist,” said Arden, who in the process called out the episode’s biggest plot hole. (Good point, Doc! Why didn’t Sister Jude – or anyone — call the cops?) “Your ineptitude is staggering.” She asked what she could do to clean the slate with Arden. He suggested prostrating herself before him like a submissive supplicant and begging forgiveness and loyalty. I suspect he’s had that daydream more than a few times, and rehearsed it with his troop of role-playing prostitutes, too. But he knew she had too much pride to go down on bended knee for him. And again: He wanted Sister Jude out. “You’re through here, Sister,” said Arden. “And you know it.” She did.
His Briarcliff coup all but complete, Dr. Arden retired to his lair to change the dressing on his gunshot wound. Enter Sister Mary, who offered to play nurse. She made a show of taking the medical tray and going down on her knees, and while she worked on him, she begged forgiveness for her “untoward” behavior of the past few episodes and pledged obedient, submissive loyalty. She also knew that Arden had just knocked off Sister Jude, and her subsequent comments seemed to proceed from the unspoken assumption/awareness that Arden aspired to seize total control over Briarcliff. In other words: Watch out, Monsignor Timothy: You’re next on Arden’s list. And so it went that she made her pitch for Sister Jude’s job. “You’ll need a strong right hand,” she said. “Someone you can trust.” She would be Helpmate Eve to his Garden Lord Adam, the Anti-Christ to his God of Reason… and together they would burn The Catholic World to the ground with their army of transhuman supermen and build a Kingdom of Super-Science, where everyone would live free of the delusion of sin or fear of death, and I think I just gave Richard Dawkins a boner with this paragraph.
It was all so much seduction. And it seemed like Dr. Arden fell for it. He’s always been sweet on her. And he had proof of her sincerity: He knew she was the one who disposed of Shelley, and he thanked the naughty nun for protecting him. It might have been out of that gratitude that he accepted Sister Mary’s apology and cleaned the slate with her and declared: “I trust you completely.” But did he? Arden has seen the change in her. He must be suspicious. Surely he wonders: What game are you playing, woman? Perhaps the old maxim ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ was what drove him to seal the deal on their axis of evil alliance.
NEXT: Dead Ringers theory
Regardless, Dr. Arden made a deal with the devil, literally and figuratively. He had one more follow-up question. How exactly did Sister Mary get Shelley out of Briarcliff? “You’ll be surprised,” she said. “She weighed very little.” From there, we cut to…
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Shelley… And a scene that seemed to indicate that Sister Mary had already betrayed Arden. For if Doc Frankenstein assumed that the twisted sister had fed Shelley to the creatures in the woods outside Briarcliff, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, Sister Mary took her to a schoolyard and left her at the bottom of a stairwell. A little girl found her and screamed. Other kids and their teacher joined her. They screamed and ran away. Still: She had been seen. And that can’t be good for you, can it, Dr. Arden? (Well played, Sister Mary, who continues to act in ways that cause us to wonder just how devilish this alleged devil truly is.) We left Shelley looking boiled and furious, as we watched her climb and ascend, on her own hideous, die hard strength. No wolf’s head cane for her. Pure arm strength!
Be afraid, Hans Gruber. Be very afraid.
While we’re working the Die Hard references: THEORY! Does Dr. Arden have an evil twin? “Hans Gruber” + Die Hard With A Vengeance = Jeremy Irons, who played the villainous Simon, the brother of Alan Rickman’s Die Hard rogue, in the third installment of the Bruce Willis hero-cop franchise. What if Dr. Arden has a sibling? What if this doppelganger was the nefarious Dr. Hans Gruber of Auschwitz, the one who experimented on kids; the one that we saw take a keen interest in a pair of twin lads in “Anne Frank’s” death camp flashback? What if Arden’s dark half is alive or clinging to life somewhere, and Arden is trying to develop cures for evil or death to save his beloved bro from eternal damnation?
What To Do With Inconvenient Women. “You didn’t give her much of a chance!” declared Sister Jude when Mr. Brown returned to Briarcliff with Charlotte, desperately searching for help. His wife’s psychotic break had proceeded to genuine psychosis: In one of those soap opera/home movie cutaways, we heard baby David crying, we saw Mr. Brown order Charlotte to deal with the colicky kid (“You want to hold your baby?” he said as he was about to sit down with a cocktail and paper), and we witnessed Charlotte snap. She threw her own cocktail against the wall. “Yes, darling,” she said. “Why don’t ‘I’ do that?” Mr. Brown watched her disappear into the nursery – and then heard David go silent. He raced to investigate and found Charlotte trying to suffocate the baby with a pillow. He rescued the child just in time.
Now, at Briarcliff, he told Sister Jude that he needed Charlotte fixed, and fast. “I have to go to work! I’m afraid to leave her alone!” He wanted professional help. He wanted that trustworthy looking shrink with the Clark Kent glasses. Sister Jude decided she had no choice but to swallow that bitter pill and asked right hand man Frank to go fetch Dr. Thredson. But the two-faced psycho(therapist) was already on his way out the door…
And it didn’t matter anyway, not after Mr. Brown bumped into Dr. Arden in the hallway, just as the fiendish physician was leaving Charlotte’s cell. (We weren’t privy to his entire visit with the woman who failed to kill him. I dug the shot of Arden’s towering dark shadow cast upon the wall of the room as Charlotte shrunk away in fear. “And now, your highness, we shall discuss the location of… your evidence implicating me as Hans Gruber.”) Mr. Brown saw the cane and the limp and made the connection. He apologized for his wife. He fretted the consequences. He wished there was something that could be done to cure her of her madness. Dr. Arden stopped in his tracks. A plot quickly bloomed. “I see no reason for punitive action. Not when there is a far more humane remedy at hand,” said Arden. “As a matter of fact, we could do it tonight. Then she would be home by tomorrow. A new woman.” Cue implicit diabolical cackle.
An ominous makeover loomed for Sister Jude, too. She prayed for deliverance from Dr. Arden’s machinations, not to mention to mention the inevitable, long-deferred consequences of mistakes made long ago. She wanted to keep her job. She wanted to maintain her place in this safe haven from her past. She implored her namesake, the patron saint of lost causes, to pull her ass out of the fire one more time. But when Frank reported that Lana Winters had gone missing – one more fiasco in a series of them of late – Sister Jude knew she was done. This set the stage for a soliloquy that said a lot about Judy’s pathology, and her past (including her last name), and also spoke to the themes of the episode…
NEXT: Squirrel Baby!
“You know, when I was a child, I would come home after school to an empty house. My father had flown the coop. My mother worked as a maid at a hotel. It was lonely. So I brought in a baby squirrel that I had found and kept him in a shoebox came home. He looked sickly. He was dead already, but I didn’t know that. I had forgotten to feed him for a couple days. So I took him out of the box and laid him on the table, and I and prayed my heart out for several hours, and when my mother came home and found him she screamed bloody murder and threw him in the garbage. She worked hard, my mother, she was exhausted. She couldn’t have known how cruel that was. I cried and cried and saying God didn’t answer my prayers. I remember my mother was pouring herself a whisky — the Martin family cure for everything. She looked at me and laughed. ‘God always answers our prayers, Judy. It’s just rarely the answer we’re looking for.’” She wiped her tears, then added: “It’s over for me, Frank. My goose is cooked.”
“I certainly hope you’re not blaming yourself,” said Frank, trying to be consoling. “Men are never going to accept a woman being in charge. Especially not a woman as strong as you. In my opinion? You never had a chance.” So cynical. So… Biblical? (1 Timothy 2:12: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”) How much has changed since the sixties? Debate!
We never got a scene that showed Monsignor Timothy firing Sister Jude, so we have to wonder about the exact nature of Sister Jude’s employment status at Briarcliff. But the episode clearly wanted us to believe that she had lost her place within The Asylum. As she removed her Bride of Christ gold band and donned a tight gray dress, as she reverted from Sister Jude to mere Judy Martin, I found myself thinking of Charlotte’s line. Why do I have to wear this uncomfortable dress? I don’t care for it anymore…
Judy Martin, no longer in the habit she wanted, fell back on older, self-destructive habits. She hit a bar, flipped open a compact mirror, and applied a thick coat of ravage me red lipstick. A man at another table saw the red light flashing and took the seat next to her. She didn’t complain. “What’s your poison, sweetheart?” he asked.
As we waited on Judy’s answer, we cut Dr. Arden’s operating theater at Briarcliff. He couldn’t get Sister Jude to prostate herself before him, but Charlotte Brown would surely do. He strapped her to a table and gassed her into docility. (Just like old times, Herr Doktor?) He prepared her for a procedure that he boasted of performing well and often: A transorbital lobotomy. The tools: A small silver hammer, and Bloody Face’s weapon of choice, an orbitoclast. As a score lifted from some old Hollywood melodrama swelled, Arden gently tapped the spike through her eye, each blow given a crushing, clanking sound effect, like a hammer to a nail. It felt like a crucifixion. Another innocent woman sacrificed, so the evil empire of mad men could flourish. Good-bye, “Anne Frank.” Hush-hush, Sweet Charlotte. As the score reached a thunderous crescendo, we cut back to the bar, where Judy Martin was firing up a cigarette and shooting the man buying her drinks a come-hither look. It was her Don Draper-at-the-end-of-Mad-Men-Season-5 moment – The Return of The Tramp. And it didn’t feel like a triumph at all.
The Man Who Was Never There. Were you surprised that Dr. Oliver Thredson was Bloody Face (circa 64)? I was. I didn’t want this mostly-enlightened Camelot-era do-gooder to betray me. I also didn’t think Zachary Quinto would go to the super-genius serial killer place again after Sylar. But I’m glad he did, because he’s going to kill it, as he proved in his scenes in this episode. And as I’m obsessed with the show’s self-awareness and explicit and implicit pop references (and admittedly, I am projecting some/many of them), I am convinced that a show that aspires to be a crazy fantasia on national themes is playing to What We Know About Quinto – Heroes, Star Trek, Angels In America – either for winks and giggles, or to generate meaningful, provocative irony. They have the guy who plays Spock playing a psychotherapist. In other words: DR. SPOCK. Come on!
The show certainly played games in the ways it both obscured Dr. Thredson’s sinister secret and teased it. I’m thinking of his very first scene, when we saw him processing the facts of Kit Walker’s case and making a preliminary diagnosis – a scene that ended with Thredson looking directly to camera, looking frustrated and conflicted. Then, that moment felt like this: How can I possibly help this guy? Now, this: How am I going to frame this sap? The most coy-fun clue: Thredson name-dropping B.F. Skinner (“Bloody Face”) in the third episode. The revelation puts a new twist on the moment in “Tricks and Treats” when poor possessed Jed Potter seemed to channel Dr. Thredson’s mother: “I see what you have become and I’m glad I gave you up.” Looking forward to that backstory.
More pressing: His plan for Lana Winters. He succeeded in sneaking her out of Briarcliff with the well-timed distraction of lighting a guard’s cigarette. Frank nearly busted him, but Thredson brushed him off, and more, fire a parting shot at Sister Jude full of knowing gloat. “I don’t work here anymore, Frank. In fact I never did,” he said. “You can tell her I said that.”
Oliver Thredson. Is that even his real name?
NEXT: Into Death Chute, Fly Girl!
Women Of The Fall. Dr. Thredson took Lana Winters to his home, a spacious mid-century modern bachelor pad. Lana would have preferred her place. Thredson, so logical, said that her home would be the first place the authorities would look once she was discovered missing from The Asylum. She wanted to call Lois and ask if she knew of Wendy’s whereabouts. “No calls!” said Thredson reproachfully. ”You have to realize I am at risk, too.” They sat down with glasses of wine, and Thredson said something most interesting: “You’re going to write about this. You’re going to win a Pulitzer Prize. I just know it. You’re the person who’s going to tell my story.” How to interpret this line? Two possibilities. 1. Thredson was revealing his motivation for abducting, neutralizing, killing Lana. He can’t be exposed. Therefore, he couldn’t risk Lana getting out or escaping and writing about him. 2. Thredson is sincere: He wants Lana to write about him. He isn’t just a serial killer who gets his jollies turning women into furniture. He’s clearly brilliant, and I suspect he might have an ideological agenda, a purpose that he feels is noble, benefits the culture and justifies his violence. Like this: Aversion therapy/cultural conditioning, writ large. He’s trying to create a myth, one that Lana will evangelize to the world. Perhaps he aspires to purge misogyny from the collective consciousness. Maybe he’s trying to inspire misogyny. We shall see.
Lana didn’t entertain either of these options. All she heard was a male narcissist who thought everything was about him. She was noticeably stunned. Even a touch angry. “’Your’ story?” No: This was her story — the story of a woman, on behalf all who’ve been abused and oppressed by institutions like Briarcliff, the men who run them, and everyone who collaborates with them. Thredson’s smirk weakened. Nervous, Lana tried to push out of the awkward moment. “Here’s to taking down Briarcliff,” she said, raising her glass.
“Hear, hear,” said Thredson.
But the dread mounted. Lana looked at the lampshade next to her chair. The material was coarse and tan and thin as skin. It also sported a pair of blemishes that resembled nipples. Because they were. Gulp. Dr. Thredson pushed a bowl of mints across the table. She looked. The bowl resembled a skullcap. Flight instinct kicked in. She asked to use the restroom. He directed her to a doorway down the hall. She left. Thredson removed his glasses. The game was afoot.
All the doors were locked, save one: A room full of cutting tools, bones, and pony tails hanging from the wall. “I see you have found my little hobby,” said Thredson. Lana must have known the score – but she didn’t want it to be true. “You make furniture?” Thredson: “Lamps, mainly. I make the shades myself.” Lana asked, “What kind of material do you use?” Thredson, a touch gleefully, relishing her fear, stoking it by confirming exactly what she didn’t want to be true: “Skin.” He pressed a button. A trap door opened. Down the death chute, Lana plummeted…
And at that moment, back at Briarcliff… Kit Walker found Grace snoozing – and bleeding between the legs – in a chair in the Common Room. What happened? Before he could get an answer, detectives Bias and Connors arrived to arrest him. They had received and heard his taped confession – and he sounded perfectly sane. As the cops dragged Kit away, Grace sprung to life and tried to stop them, but her voice – hoarse from trauma — was weak, so weak. This is a mistake! He didn’t do it. She’s alive! Everything you said is true! I saw her! Alma is alive…
And at that moment, in some hotel room somewhere… Judy Martin was waking up next to the man in the bar. Sobriety hit her like a vertiginous blow to the head. She grabbed her cigarettes, got dressed. We left Judy as she was doing what Judy does best: Running away. Again. Further to fall? Or has she finally hit the rock bottom she’s been avoiding for years…
Back at Thredson’s house of horrors… Lana Winters regained consciousness down in Bloody Face’s murder dungeon, which seemed to intentionally evoked Martin Vanger’s family room-slaughterhouse in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She was chained. Wendy was by her side – literally frozen, slowly thawing. Dead? TBD. Their captor –now sporting a black teddy over a denim shirt (?) — pushed through the plastic curtain that surrounded the shower stall/butchery pen. “Normally, by now, I would have removed the skin and head,” he said of Wendy. “But we need to keep her around a little longer for our purposes.” Alluding to the aversion therapy they attempted last week, in which Thredson tried to “cure” Lana of her homosexuality, he said: “We’re going to continue our therapy now, Lana. You can begin by kissing her cold lips.” He donned his Bloody Face mask. He ran a finger across the stitched-on pearly whites. “Don’t worry. She won’t bite. I took her teeth.”
Lana Winters went Scream Queen. To be continued…
A Wonderful World. A chilling coda to a bleak episode took us back to the home of Jim and Charlotte Brown. He found his wife holding their sleeping son down in her Holocaust research room, all honey wood and flower-print autumnal hued wallpaper. Her back was to camera, and when she turned, we expected to see the terrifying, disfiguring result of her lobotomy. And we did. Her face was bloody… perfect. Everything about her: Well-assembled, sweatless, unblemished. She was the picture perfect, as-seen-on-TV housewife-mother-helpmate. The kind who has pot roast with carrots and potatoes and onions waiting for her husband when he comes home from work. Jim said he was making himself a martini. “Don’t be silly,” she said. She’d make one for him. And while holding their child, too! For such was her duty. And Jim Brown loved her for that. He spied the garbage can. He saw that she had filled it with the stuff of her Holocaust obsession. He loved her for that, too. “You seem happy,” he said. “Are you as happy as you look?” She paused…
… and the film went old school narrow-mono for the brief moment in which she said “I have never been happier” with such vacant sincerity that it couldn’t possibly be trusted…
… and we were back to film. She turned away from him, and us, and the smile on her face weakened as walked into shadow, into darkness, to the kitchen.
Was any of this sequence real? Did Charlotte really survive the lobotomy and become this woman? Was this pure fantasy, and if so, whose? Or was it a metaphor for the lies we tell oursleves, the illusions we chase, the dark shadows we ignore? On the record player, we heard a folk song about equality, fairness, and social justice; a song challenging the notion that “good fences make good neighbors;” a song for change, full of empathy, Communion and Grok: “It Could Be A Wonderful World” by Leon Bibb and Ronnie Gilbert. If we could consider each other/a neighbor, a friend or a brother/It could be a wonderful, wonderful world. We zoomed in on one of the few remaining newspaper clips on Charlotte’s Holocaust wall. There, in a photo, stading behind Adolph Hitler, was Hans Gruber, a man Charlotte once beieved was Dr. Arden. But that was bad when she was crazy. She’s better now. And Life Is Beautiful. For everyone.
HIT AND RUN (SCREECH! SLAM! SPLAT!)
+As stated earlier, the name “Charlotte Brown” could have been a nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” But how about Charlotte Braun of Charlie Brown/Peanuts fame? She was a strong young woman with a driving personality and definite opinions. SHE WAS ALSO A LOUD TALKER WHO SPOKE IN ALL CAPS. Charlotte Braun only appeared in 10 Peanuts strips, because Charles Schultz didn’t know what more to do with her. In 1955, a reader wrote Schultz to complain about the character. He sent back a letter explaining he was going to “discard” the girl, and drew a rather funny-disturbing image for punctuation: Charlotte Braun with a hatchet embedded in her skull. Dr. Arden would certainly approve.
+Sister Jude’s real name, Judy Martin, evokes Judy Barton, the femme fatale con artist in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. She fell to her death after getting spooked by a nun. Lots of resonance here, including the idea of spirit possession. Which brings me back to…
+What Jim Brown said: “It was like she wanted to relive it, that she could change the outcome.” This got me wondering about Sister Mary. What if she isn’t possessed by the devil? What if she’s been possessed by the spirit or consciousness of a character we know –Shelley; Lana; Sister Jude — who, in a supernatural time travel twist, is trying to change history?
To you. What did you think of “I Am Anne Frank” (Part Two)?