An angelic femme fatale brings the promise of eternal peace to the suffering souls of The Asylum in 'Dark Cousin'
Divine intervention broke into the bedeviled world of American Horror Story: Asylum, but she did not come bringing truth for the deceived, or justice for the wronged, or liberation for the oppressed. The only balm she had for the suffering, the only release she had for the stricken, was a kiss of death. She called herself “Shachath.” In ancient Aramaic, the word means “destroy” or “spoil” or “go to ruin.” She insinuated that she was a member in good standing of the creator’s heavenly host (as opposed to her cousin, the fallen star that dwells within Sister Mary), but she certainly didn’t look the part. Instead of white robes and golden halo and forever-young visage, this otherworldly attendant with piercing blue eyes and alabaster skin wore bereavement black and ravage me red lipstick – the grim reaper as film noir femme fatale — and when she delivered her breathtaking vampire’s smooch, black wings unfurled with a snappy-campy dramatic flourish. The more she shadowed the desperate and the despairing – including Grace, Lana, and Judy –the more she seemed like a mean buzzard circling carrion than an benevolent agent of deliverance. Francis Conroy’s sweetly sinister psychopomp symbolized a couple ideas that I think AHS supports (the right to die; a Flannery O’Connoresque belief in brutal grace) and a couple concepts that I think AHS has always held in contempt: A romantic view of death as reward or escape; and “The Woman” as mythic succubus, a ruinous seductress. In a bleak episode filled with cruel twists, none was crueler than the passing of Grace, poor gutted Grace, who was on the verge of being rescued from the Briarcliff hellhole by wannabe savior Kit Walker when she flipped the script and took a bullet for him. She yielded to the ironic seraphim’s annihilating affections, then announced: “I’m free.”
Seriously, God? This is as good as it gets?
“Dark Cousin” began with two nuns geeking out on Lilies of the Field, the 1963 drama (adapted from a 1962 book inspired by allegedly true folk lore) starring Sidney Poitier in a role that won him a Best Actor Oscar, a widely celebrated, too-long-in-coming achievement that should have changed much in Hollywood for black actors, but didn’t. (For more on the relevancy and legacy — or lack thereof — of Lilies, I heartily recommend Pictures At The Revolution by my colleague, EW columnist Mark Harris.) One nun just saw the film. Loved it. The other nun said she was working her way through the book. “I’m right at the part where he starts to build the chapel,” said The Reader. Replied The Moviegoer: “I won’t ruin it for you then.” Okay: I will, because “Dark Cousin” and Lilies share several themes. Pride and prejudice; power and fairness; what it means to be a good neighbor; society’s responsibility to the individual (and vise versa); our want/need for role models, heroes, and saviors. Haven’t seen/read Liles of the Field? Well… SHACHATH ALERT! (Also? Lengthy Tangent Alert. The recap proper begins at the start of the next page.)
Lilies of the Field tells the story a proud drifter named Homer Smith (Poiter) who lives out of his station wagon and makes money doing odd jobs where he can find them. In need of a Good Samaritan to lend him some water for his overheated vehicle, Homer meets the acquaintance of some nuns – Eastern European immigrants who endured much hardship to reach America – who’ve been praying for a Good Samaritan themselves, a “big strong man” to accomplish something they can’t do themselves: Build a chapel, one that will benefit the entire community. Homer reluctantly accepts the assignment, but he expects to be treated fairly for his time – which is to say, he expects to be paid. The nuns have no money, but they resort to various strategies to keep him around, like trying to manipulate him with scripture, including a theologically suspect application of the verse that gives the movie its title.
Homer decides to build the chapel, anyway, for his own reasons. The work will allow him to fulfill his unrealized dream of being architect. The work will also give him a sense of importance. These ambitions make sense, and more, we support them: Homer, after all, is a black man in mid-century America. His opportunities for dignity and esteem in a racist society are, at best, limited and challenged. Homer’s personal relationship to the chapel project puts him at odds with the woman who is his boss/patron/client, Mother Maria, an equally headstrong spirit, whose brand of idealism – moralistic; humble; pragmatic – isn’t well suited for nurturing individual flourishing. And so ensues a highly metaphorical battle of wills between two flawed but well-meaning people. At stake: Control, mutual respect, and the future of a potentially great society. Or so it feels.
The climax of the story hinges on an aspect of Homer’s chapel-building plan that is essential to his personal project: He wants to do it all by himself. His hunger for significance is that great. But what happens next – and this is the part, I think, that Moviegoer Nun didn’t want to spoil for Reader Nun — is that Homer can’t do it alone. The work is too arduous; he’ll surely destroy himself from the effort. And there are people who want to help him. People who’ve been inspired by his example… as well as a few spurred by a certain kind of self-interest that borders on superstition: At least two characters who lack faith in God believe that by helping Homer, they will gain some credit – “insurance” – just in case this religion stuff turns out to be true and they find themselves needing some compelling arguments to get into Heaven. Homer isn’t wild about accepting their assistance – he spends a few scenes striking and pouting – but when he sees that they are screwing up and making a mess of his masterpiece, he takes charge, and under his direction, they make a sturdy, pleasing structure. Still, Homer demands the final stroke. He signs his name in the cement at the base of the cross atop the chapel, like an artist applying a signature. He crosses the T in “Smith” with a proud flourish, evoking the cross itself. The implication, to me, is that when Homer looks at the chapel, he sees a monument to his great work, a work of man, not God.
This gesture lends provocative subtext to the final scene of the movie. Homer – who’s been teaching the nuns English with call-and-response interaction and gospel songs of his Baptist tradition — tricks Mother Maria into finally thanking him (as opposed to God) for his labor. He then segues out of the awkward moment by launching the nuns into a rousing chorus of “Amen!” As the nuns continue praising God for his provision and salvation, Homer sneaks to his station wagon: The dude is getting out of dodge like a proverbial thief in the night. But Sister Maria is hip to his exit plan, and she’s disappointed. She wants Homer to stay. He’s become essential to the community – the great society — she’s been trying to organize. In fact, this secular superman is more of a compelling inspiration/rallying point than the priest (and God) she serves. Yet she won’t ask him to stay. Perhaps she’s too proud. Perhaps because she respects his freedom/self-determination. Perhaps because doing so would mean affirming his heroic human agency in such a way that feels like a violation of her theology. Homer’s motives are equally open to interpretation. Is he skipping town because he’s just humble enough to reject the role Mother Maria wants him to play? Is he skipping town so he can have victory on his own terms? Or is he skipping town because he feels like he just doesn’t belong? He takes one last look at the chapel, then drives off into the mountains, “Amen!” playing him up and out as the movie fades to black.
One more note: My understanding is that the movie is pretty faithful to the book… except for the very end, which according to Wikipedia omits a curious postscript. In the novel’s epilogue, we learn that after Homer’s departure, the townspeople transformed Homer’s brief, accidental stay and very human example of flawed heroism into a religious myth. Homer, they came to believe, was no mere Good Samaritan, but a mini-messiah who came to fulfill the will of God. Even the nuns embraced this fabrication by placing a painting in the chapel depicting the man they called “Schmidt” as a saint. They could never get his name right. Why not his life, as well?
And in this way… religions are made? (Or maybe just the bad ones.) I wonder if Reading Nun will come to the same conclusion when she reaches the end of the book?
NEXT: We shall overcome. Someday.
Miles Before We Sleep. “Dark Cousin” never once made explicit reference to the sociopolitical strife of mid-sixties America, specifically the Civil Rights Movement and the debate between civil disobedience and “by any means necessary” revolution. Still, the history was there in the subtext, and its concerns were dramatized. Is violence ever an option? Or must the oppressed and marginalized remain faithful, patient lilies and wait for society or a savior to give them the same rights, justice and opportunities enjoyed by everyone else? One could probably go crazy from being forced to internally negotiate these tensions, let alone live and suffer them…
And so we were introduced to Miles, a young African American man, an alleged schizoid and alcoholic stuck in The Asylum. We met this afflicted outsider as he was making sandwiches for his fellow inmates, and as he was suffering the fury of the invisible men in his head. You know what you need to do. You know it in your heart. Time to be brave and DO THE RIGHT THING and don’t BLOW your ONE chance! Somebody has to be the HERO! So why not YOU for ONCE in your MISERABLE LIFE?You KNOW you’re NOTHING but a FILTHY drunk. You NEVER did NOTHING for NOBODY. Here’s your chance to DO something!
Miles snapped. “Shut up! Shut the hell up!” the servile sandwich maker said aloud. A nun working the electric slicer scolded him for his expressing his complaint with life and world with disobedient incivility. “I warned you about your dirty mouth! Cursing won’t silence anything!”
The impertinent chorus inside Miles’ head did not take kindly to being pushed around and shoved down yet again by The (Wo)Man. So what’s it going to be? A life of pure s—t? Or the legacy of a brave soldier?
Miles listened. He decided he had had enough. He approached the nun and asked if he could examine the slicer. He believed the bread wasn’t properly cut, and he suggested the machine might be at fault. The nun allowed Miles to play handyman helper… and then she watched the beleaguered, conflicted soul expose his wrist to the spinning blade. He couldn’t be the rebel/martyr/hero the voices wanted him to be. But he couldn’t continue suffering, either. And so he made like the trumpeter and improvised a third option: Revolutionary suicide.
But even the right to die was a right denied him. The nuns stitched him up and strapped him to a bed (a recurring motif in the episode). He told Frank, “I don’t want to be here no more.” Briarcliff? No: “I mean this world,” he said. Left alone, Miles despaired anew. Enter Shachath. “I am here to help you, if that’s what you want,” she said. It was. He used all of his strength to strain against his bonds and scrape at the stitch and tease the thread. The blood flowed. Shachath finished him off with a kiss, and Miles faded to black.
Who’s The Boss? Sister Mary, that’s who. And she made that abundantly clear to Dr. Arden during a summit in his dungeon of despair. She found the Butcher of Briarcliff trying to re-pot one of his plants, a salvium divinormum, also known as or “diviner’s sage,” prized by Shamans for its psychoactive properties… and considered by some Catholic converts as the leafy manifestation of the Virgin Mary. “It’s not thriving as it should, and I am determined to revive it!” said the faithless man of science. Was Clever Hans hip to the implicit “opiate of the masses” irony? And what’s Gruber doing growing drugs, anyway?
These questions did not interest Sister Mary. She wanted to talk about Grace. Hemorrhaging from what would eventually be diagnosed as a reckless hysterectomy (“All of her girl parts had been scooped out!”), Grace needed immediate medical attention, and Sister Mary wanted Arden on the case. After all: He had performed this botched sterilization, yes?
No! Dr. Arden had no clue who or what had gutted Grace, and he resented Sister Mary’s accusation that his “handywork” was to blame. “As the head of this institution,” thundered Arden, “I demand to be spoken to with a modicum of respect!” When Sister Mary sarcastically suggested otherwise, the mad doctor slapped her across the face. “You touch me again, you will die.” Arden raised his hand – and Sister Mary telekinetically whooshed him across the room. Arden looked at her with unbelieving eyes. Have I been smoking too much Virgin Mary again? “I hope this clarifies the chain of command,” said Sister Mary, and left the doctor to go be a doctor for a change. (More on Grace later.)
NEXT: If God would send his angels, then everything would be alright. Right?
“We’re one/But we’re not the same.” Sister Mary had no sooner declared herself The Asylum’s chief priestess when she found her authority subverted by the arrival of her dark cousin. When she saw Shachath’s name written on the wall – an invitation, allegedly scrawled by Miles with his own blood (“allegedly,” because he denied doing it) — the dragon coiled inside Sister Mary nearly crapped a fiery brick. (The three Aramaic characters resembled the word “ONE” and had me humming the U2 song for the rest of the episode.) She found Shachath just as the dark bird kissed Miles goodbye. “You did what you had to do. Now leave,” hissed the Sister. Shachath said she wasn’t going anywhere. She had been invited to Briarcliff, whereas her itinerant, squatting relative had not. Shachath, perhaps teasing, asserted that she could hear Sister Mary singing to her — not the demon, but “the pure human girl you’ve taken hostage.” For a brief moment, that hijacked innocent reclaimed control of her body and begged Shachath for deliverance. Satan quickly shut that little rebellion down. “Oh, shut up you stupid sow!” she barked ay herself, a schizoid moment that linked Sister Mary to Miles and demonstrated a difference: She was the heroic adversary –the violent counter culture revolutionary – the Black Panther – that Miles refused to become.
“She likes it here. We like it here,” insisted the double-minded devil.” We have work left to do.” Shachath replied that she did, as well, and she promised that they would meet again. We were left to wonder: Can Sister Mary be saved? Can she separate from the devil holding her captive? And just what the hell is their endgame, anyway? Are they pursuing an ideological agenda? (Up with womanhood! Down with hideous men! Piss on religion, science, and all the bogus utopian hero-projects of modernism!) Is Satan picking a fight with God on our behalf? Perhaps trying to bully him into giving up the absentee landlord thing and reclaim This (Neglected) Island Earth? Or is she just being bitchy-mean?
The Sleep of Reason Produces Abandonment Issues. Last week, Lana Winters had no choice but to subvert her identity and live the hideous lie of playing Oliver Thredson’s substitute mommy in order to survive. This week, Bloody Face’s outrageous Oedipal madness and the rape of Lana’s intrinsic meaning went next level, and literal. The spectacle of sexual violence was hard-to-stomach awful, as it should have been, but I resented having to watch it, anyway. I had to stop and walk away for a bit, and I was still in a funk long after I resumed. At least we (and Lana) got some avenging catharsis in this episode. Hopefully there’s more to come.
As Thredson indulged his second most vile mommy fantasy (the first, coming up), Lana detached and despaired… and after it was all over, and Lana was left alone, Shachath approached. “You heard me calling,” Lana said to the spirit. “I don’t think I can do this anymore. Death might be better. I used to be scared of it. I’m not afraid anymore.” The saintly succubus gave good bedside manner and tried not to drool. “Just let go,” she said. “I’m right here with you.” But as Shachath leaned in for a kiss, Lana suddenly pushed her away. She wasn’t ready to surrender. “Not yet,” she said. And POOF! The Dark Lady vanished.
Then: “LANA? Are you DECENT?”
It was Thredson, returning to the basement for an after-rape post-mortem. He bounded down the stairs with an agitated gait, nattily attired and scrubbed clean yet feeling dirty from the transgressive guilt of icky surrogate incest. He didn’t blame Lana. It was his bad. Still, she’d be the one paying the price. “If there’s one thing you need to know about me, Lana, is that I’m tenacious. I don’t like to give up, and that kind of stick-to-itness has served me and my patients very well,” explained Thredson. “But sometimes it also prevents me from acknowledging when we’ve reached an impasse, like the one I think we’ve reached here.”
Lana didn’t like the sound of “impasse.” Thredson, a delusional narcissist, perceived her anxiety as a judgment against him and got huffy-pissy, precipitating one of Thredson’s more darkly hilarious moments. “Don’t look so frightened! I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, utterly sincere (at least in his mind). “I want this to be as painless for you as possible. So I will give you a choice: I can either cut your throat or I can strangle you. I don’t believe in guns.” It was a break-up, Bloody Face style. But at least he offered her the courtesy of knocking her out with a shot of sleepy stuff first. It was frightening how Thredson thought he was being so merciful and even reasonable with his indecent proposal.
And so he initiated his most vile mommy fantasy: Matricide. You quit me, Mommy? No: I quit YOU! Thredson climbed atop Lana with his drippy-pricky needle. He encouraged her to gaze upon the photo of her true love Wendy, told her to take solace in the afterlife reunion that seemed imminent. Lana did look to the picture – and it gave her strength. She grabbed the frame and smashed it across his face. She snatched the syringe and plunged it into this thigh. She choked him into near-unconsciousness with her chains, then grabbed the keys and freed herself from the bonds. Lana bolted for the stairs. Oliver pushed through the druggy fog to lunge and grab her ankle. Lana shook him loose and kicked him onto a surgical table. Thredson: Out. Lana: Up.
NEXT: In which we learn anew why it’s never smart to get in a car with a stranger.
Lana scampered out the door and scrambled down an embankment and sprinted down the highway when SKKKKRRRREEECH! a car skidded to a stop right in front of her. Lana didn’t even ask. She jumped into the passenger’s seat, hoping, maybe even assuming, that the driver would be all too willing to play the role of Good Samaritan.
A Good Man In Hard To Find. His name was Toby, and as it happened, Lana caught him during a proverbial dark night of the soul. He was no friend to womankind. Not tonight. He had caught his wife in bed with another man, and as he saw it, her infidelity somehow, someway indicted her entire gender. So the blooming misogynist rolled his eyes at Lana’s tale of male abuse. “Of course it wasn’t your fault! Women are always the victims.” When Lana asked to be taken to the police station, Toby got indignant. “Oh, is that how it works? You get into my car and you tell me what to do?” When Lana asked him stop and let her out, Toby got ridiculous. “That’s right, that’s what you b—-es do, you get out, you leave, you abandon ship at the smallest sign of a storm.” No, Toby wasn’t going to stop. He sped up, and then he pulled out a gun. At that moment, Shachath materialized. Lana: Seriously? We thought she was a goner as Tony told her that she had “brought this on herself.” But the bullet he wanted to fire was not for her. He put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger…
And when Lana awoke, she found herself strapped yet again to yet another bed. This time, her jailer was Sister Mary. “You’re back in Briarcliff. Where you belong.” Nooooooooo! Lana told Briarcliff’s new first lady about her ordeal, about how Kit Walker was innocent, about how Oliver Thredson was Bloody Face. It was hard to read Sister Mary’s poker face. The demon knew that Lana was telling the truth; in a brief flash to the exorcism of Jed Potter, we saw the entity tell Thredson, sarcastically, “I love your work, Bloody Face.” I was intrigued – and confused – by what Satanically-enhanced Sister Mary knows and doesn’t know. What exactly is the nature of the relationship between the nun and the dark passenger in her head? Does the show know? Sister Mary seemed sincere when she told Lana that she believed her claims about Thredson. But then she put her to bed with a cup of drugs. We were left to wonder if Sister Mary considers Thredson enough of a threat to take action against him, or if The Devil really is a big Bloody Face fangirl, and is perfectly content to keep him out there, slicing and suckling. TBD.
The Life You Save Could Be Your Own. Judy Martin finally hit rock bottom, and what she found there wasn’t what she was expecting. Her road to revelation began in Sam Goodman’s motel room. If the Nazi hunter’s gouged and expiring body wasn’t shock enough, there was that Framingham Herald newspaper article about missing Missy Stone cut and taped to the TV – shaped to resemble a cross, no less — as well as a message written in blood. “MURDERER.” Judy caught sight of it as she was calling the police – and as she spotted Shachath bending over Sam’s body. It was all catching up to her. The lie. The guilt. The despair. A big bottle of whisky on Sam’s desk beckoned as Judy began to freak and crumple, and she remembered…
1949. Just days after the hit and run. Trampy Judy was holed up in her apartment, sad and soused and scared. She received a visitor: A member of the jazz-blues band for whom she sang. He was dropping by to tell Judy that as much as he and the guys cared about her, they had to cut her loose. She had missed a gig the night before at The White Rose. That was unacceptable. Besides, Judy had been slipping for a long time. When she heard that the band had replaced her with another member’s cousin, someone who wasn’t all that great but could at least sing on key, Judy blew up and began raging about a conspiracy. He absorbed her outburst with an empathetic smile, but held firm. “I’m sorry,” he said, and moved to leave. Judy changed tactics by trying to come onto him. “I always wondered what it would be like to be with a colored man,” she desperately vamped, her breath puke-reeky. He pushed her away. He gave her some money, as well as a policeman’s card. A detective wanted to talk to her about certain missing girl…
Judy packed her suitcase and hit the road. As she barreled down that lost highway, Judy’s conscience badgered her. It flashed her with the bad faith character she’d become to survive in the world, The Scarlet Woman. It pounded her with SCREECH! SLAM! SPLAT! These reflections, these memories, as maddening as schizoid voices. As she drove, she reached for her version of Miles’ slicer, for her version Toby’s gun: A big ol’ bottle of booze. She drank deep. She faded to black… and the next thing she knew, she was waking up in the parking lot of a Catholic church, a statue of Jesus towering before her, beckoning. She saw the nuns in their habits, and in their black, billowing cloaks, she saw a place for her to hide. She would escape her bloody past, she would bury her guilt, by becoming someone else. And with that, Sister Jude was born.
NEXT: Judy sings, “Losing My Religion.” You know, subtextually.
But that was then. Back in the present, Judy, now sloshed, snapped out of her wallow to answer the phone in Sam’s room. “It’s your conscience calling,” quipped the voice on the other line. It was Sister Mary, calling to be all cocky, gloaty, victory-dancy Proud Mary. She told Judy she knew everything – about the little girl in the blue coat, about what happened 15 years earlier, about Sam. To be clear, she also declared herself to be the demon that was exorcised from Jed Potter – hence, how she knew what she knew. (“I was in your head. Remember?”) Before she hung up, Sister Mary drew Judy’s attention to the parting gift that she left on Sam’s desk: A switchblade razor.
Judy could hide no more. She had been exposed. Her new identity – a cover story that never quite stuck – was blown. In a diner bathroom, she scrubbed her hands and tried to dab out, OUT! some damnable spot on her black dress. She took a good hard look at herself in the mirror. Then she grabbed the razor and slashed her wrists and bled out and died – all in her mind. (But hey: If you want to make an argument that Judy really killed herself, and she’s walking around as an oblivious ghost, a la Violet Harmon from last year’s American Horror Story, I’m all ears.)
Judy returned to her booth in the diner and found herself joined by company: Shachath. The conversation that followed revealed that Judy was quite familiar with this spirit of despair. But Shachath said there was something different about Judy’s latest bluesy cry , something “plaintive” and “piercing.” I would argue that the change in tenor was due to Judy’s increasing enlightenment, her growing courage to look herself in the mirror. I would argue further that this process continued through this scene, as Judy processed more of her painful past and Shachath listened with the patience and grace of a well-trained therapist. Judy wanted to know why had she not succumbed to despair years earlier, when her finance, Casey, abandoned her the night before their wedding after she told him that he had given her syphilis, and that as a result, she couldn’t bare their shared dream of having children? Because that woman still had hope, Shachath replied. Why didn’t death claim her back in ’49, after she ran over the little girl in the blue coat? Because God had a plan for her and gave her a calling, Shachath explained. Judy rolled her eyes. Project: Sister Jude had been a failure. All she was doing was “trying to hide my darkness under that miserable black cloth,” she said, full of contempt. Shachath said nothing in response, either because she didn’t know what to say… or couldn’t say what she knew or suspected, which could be this: God’s “plan” for Judy never involved becoming a nun, or at least required her to become a nun to bring her to a final destination still to come. (Remember what your momma used to tell you, Judy: God always answers your prayers. It’s just not always the answers you want or expect.)
Shachath then made a pitch for Judy’s suicide. Calling her by her church-slave name, Shachath said, “You deserve peace, Jude. You deserve peace for your extraordinary, tireless efforts to find meaning in this life.” She told her that the life of an itinerant drunk, trying to survive the winter on crackers and coffee and whisky was no way to live at all. She told her to come out of the cold, surrender to the warm peace of death. “Peace is so close, Sister.” This scene turned me against Shachath the first time I saw it. It felt like she wanted Judy to choose death, like she was baiting Judy into offing herself, not for Judy’s sake, but for her own. Come and gimme some of that yum-yum despair, you sad haggy floozy! But I’m less convinced after a second viewing. Other possibilities emerged. Maybe she was trying to goose Judy toward the date with revelation and brutal grace that was to come. Or maybe it was the opposite: Maybe Shachath wanted to take Judy now because she wanted spare her future developments.
Regardless, Judy was prepared to accept Shachath’s kiss. “I’m ready,” she declared. “But I need to do one last thing.”
Like a recovering alcoholic assaying the stage that requires that she ask forgiveness from those she wronged, Judy paid a visit to the parents of Missy Stone. Judy was about to spill everything when a twentysomething woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform entered the house and took charge of the infant Mrs. Stone was babysitting. The nurse: Missy Stone. The little girl in the blue coat had survived! And judging from appearances, she had turned out okay. What a relief for Judy! Also? “I’m so confused…” In her befuddlement, the ironies hit home. All those years of running away, all those years of hiding, all those years of guilt-wracked certainty that she was a murderer, a despoiler of innocence, a veritable Shachath, all of those years of trying in vain to connect with the promise salvation and execute the program of redemption offered by The Church – in short, all of those years of self-loathing and misery – could have been avoided, because the myth of her own fall – the origin story of her monstrosity – was almost completely bogus. The great O’Connoresque twist of Judy Martin’s life: If only she had not driven away that night in ‘49, if only she had stayed and played the role of Good Samaritan, she would have certainly saved one life: Her own. Still, the question remains: Have the past 15 years been a total waste? Or is God working something out through the legacy of Judy’s mess? And if so: Is that something Good News or bad for Judy?
NEXT: The Death of Grace
Before we part ways with Judy for the week, we must discuss this: The growing number of parallels between Judy’s story and the other Briarcliff stories. Like Shelley, Judy had a troubled relationship with her mother, cavorted with jazz musicians, and had a husband who abandoned her. Like Grace, Judy wrecked her lady parts and lost the ability to have children. Like Sister Mary, Judy found her role in the community that gave her identity (the jazz-blues band) subverted by a cousin. Lana? The motif of mechanized death and miraculous survival. This is all to say: If the big twist of the season is that all of this is happening in Judy’s head – if many if not all of these characters are different aspects of a fragmented, schizoid self – and what we’re watching is a fantastical representation of her psychic reconstruction and reintegration… well, I’m ready for it.
The Passion of The Grace-Christ. From the get-go, Grace was ready to die. As she lay bleeding out in the Briarcliff infirmary, she saw Shachath and reached out to her. “I’m ready,” she said. But then one of those Lilie field nuns — The Moviegoer — pounded on her chest, and she was forced back to life. “We almost lost you, Grace,” said the nun. Grace replied, “You should have let me go.” Soon, the story would give her one compelling reason to be grateful that they didn’t.
Dr. Arden was the next Briarcliff administrator to spoil Grace with unwanted salvation. He promised to restore her to health with a strict regimen of medicine and around the clock care. But his motives were purely selfish. “I have been accused of this savagery, but I will not be the one who takes the fall for this,” said Arden of Grace’s mysterious and mangled hysterectomy. “You will live, Grace. If only to set the record straight.”
As Grace endured Dr. Arden’s two-faced do-gooding, her madhouse lover and accused Bloody Face rogue Kit Walker was getting some equally suspect assistance from the public defender charged with representing him. His strategy? Insincerity. “I am not asking you to lie,” said the lawyer. “But maybe we could build a defense that would get 12 people to be confused that you can’t tell the difference between right and wrong…” Kit Walker went Hall + Oats, said I can’t go for that, no can-do, then bashed the lawyer over the head with a phone, jumped out the window and dashed away like O.J. Simpson through an airport. (I know: Groan.)
“Dark Cousin” reached is provocative, tragic climax in The Asylum’s kitchen, the place where at the beginning of the episode a troubled young man was egged to play the role of world-redeeming revolutionary martyr and chose death instead. We found Grace on the mend and playing with dough. “I’m Dr. Arden’s little miracle,” she told a nun, “except when I open my eyes, I’m still at Briarcliff. Can’t say it’s much of an improvement.” The nun replied with a line which, however trite, seemed to sum up the moral of a story about those who opt for easy exits and yearn for saviors that may never come: “You make the best of what life gives you.” It helps, though, to have a little grace – given or self-generated – and this was expressed via the moment when the nun tried to shoo Grace back to bed (where she surely would have been tied down for the night), and Grace begged to stay in the kitchen for just a little while longer (she hated being restrained), and the nun granted there wish. Meager love, for sure. But you take what you get in The Asylum…
Just when Grace thought life couldn’t get any better, it did. Enter Kit Walker. The man-child whose name means Christ-bearer, come to play Personal Jesus and rescue her from the Briarcliff hellhole. “I couldn’t let you die here,” said Kit. They turned to run, then ran into the nun. She screamed. Killer in the house! Monster Alert! Walker tried to shush her, but he didn’t have to work too hard: Little did he know that when he entered Briarcliff through the death chute – the show’s symbol for the promise of escape, and more, the happily ever after of heavenly afterlife – Kit Walker allowed something else to infiltrate The Asylum, too: One of Dr. Arden’s cannibal cretins – one of his hideous test subjects for his invulnerability/immortality serum. The creature chomped on the nun’s neck, then threw her across the room. The inhuman thing then set its sights on Grace, but heroic Kit lured the beast away, then gutted it like a fish with a kitchen tool. (Not so imperishable after all, these creatures. Not quite thriving as they should. Memo to Dr. Arden: You might need to go back to the drawing board.)
Kit and Grace needed to clear one more obstacle: Frank. The problem? Briarcliff’s one-man security force had received a bulletin from state patrol reporting Kit’s escape – and instructing any officer with a gun to shoot on sight. And so he did. Frank pulled the trigger – and Grace jumped in front of the bullet. As Frank led a despondent Kit away, we were left to assess Grace’s motivation. A selfless sacrifice, an extraordinary act of lifesaving grace? Or was she being selfish? Did she take that bullet as the means to fulfillment, i.e., a way out of Briarcliff, by any means necessary? How about both? While Grace’s heroic action seemed sincere, she clearly chose death when Shachath descended upon her. Surely Dr. Arden could have worked another miracle cure. But she didn’t want to live to fight another day. She wanted peace.
“Are you ready for me?” asked Shachath. Grace accepted her kiss, then made a declaration. ”I’m free.” We were left with the haunting image of two corpses, two symbols: Grace (liberation through death); and The Creature (heroic immortality project). The people will be grieved. But the ideas they represent? Well… that’s why God invented message boards. Debate! Your thoughts, opinions, complaints are wanted, my dark cousins. What did you think of this week’s superfuntime American Horror Story?
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