Every week in Slate’s American Horror Story TV club, J. Bryan Lowder will have an IM conversation with a different AHS fan. This week, he rehashes episode 2.5 with Chris Wade, SlateV’s video producer.
J. Bryan Lowder: Good evening, Chris. I'm going to be real with you right up-front: that episode was MESSED. UP. The cognitive dissonance I'm experiencing between what just went down on screen and that "wonderful world" music almost has me wishing it was I getting a lobotomy and not Ann-Charlotte-Frank. How are you doing after all that?
Chris Wade: Well, considering I shot-gunned four straight episodes of AHS to catch up to this, I'd say it fits kind of right in line with the regular sexy-nun cognitive dissonance created by this season. That being said, this wild left turn into alternate history Nazi drama has left me pretty wide eyed.
Lowder: I do not envy your shot-gunning. That is a long period of time to spend in Briarcliff; I can really only handle an hour a week. And now—dare I say it—that the inconsistently moral hand of Sister Jude seems to have left the premises, I suspect things are about to go downhill really fast. But let's quickly unpack the Nazi stuff, because a lot happened. Anne Frank seems pretty clearly not to, in fact, be Anne Frank—maybe "Charlotte" is possessed by her ghost or something? But I wonder, do you think the lobotomy took? I think I read fleeting a moment of lucidity in Charlotte's supposedly mentally hobbled face. Do you think she's really going to fade into house-wifely quietude?
Wade: Well, I guess I'm even curious as to whether or not we'll even see Charlotte again. And the ambiguity of her true identity (since she seemed to know things only real Anne Frank could, yet her husband's story seems to imply she could not be) speaks to the highs and lows of this show. It's so heavy-handed and full throttle with its plotting and delivery that you kind of need to take everything at face value to enjoy it.
Lowder: Totally. I was thinking about that a little bit with the weird, like, television sit-com looking memory flashes Charlotte was having. I wasn't sure if we were meant to take that editing as showing the memories to be false (planted?) or just sort of hazy for her.
Wade: Oh yeah! I generally really like the kind of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink filming style this show has (if you've read my Speed Racer hagiography, you know I love big risky stylish messes), but the thing about those TV sitcom things that miffed me was they seemed to be aping a 70s-80s TV look (with the trails and VHS like tracking) which is chronologically out of sync with both timelines of this season. AND TEMPORAL INCONSISTENCY HAS NO PLACE IN GENRE STORYTELLING, AMERICAN HORROR STORY!
Lowder: Ha! Yeah I'm glad you pointed that out. I love the wild aesthetic blend, too, but those little segments seemed like a new technique and had something of Lost about them.
Now, let's talk about Sister Mary and the Demon. What in the world do you think her game is? She hid Dr. Arden's monster, cleaned up the lab and then maybe set Shelly free on some school-children? Do you have any theory about what's motivating her? She did say something about not "understanding the purpose" of his work, but being interested in it nonetheless...
Wade: Well, the first thing I thought when the demon jumped into her was "this demon is not very good at executing its demonic mission, since it’s TOTALLY OBVIOUS SHE GOT POSSESSED. Like seriously, you stage a violent exorcism, Sister Mary passes out and wakes up with a completely different, sadistically assertive and aggressively slutty personality and everyone's like "huh, wonder what got in to her?"
Wade: I assume that possession demons don't really play the long-game; they want to get in, cause as much havoc as possible until someone gets wise to them and get out. I do like possessed Lily Rabe way more the demure Lily Rabe so maybe they'll just make it permanent.
Lowder: Yes, she is clearly enjoying this unsettlingly coy and calculating role, but I fully expect the demon to lose it soon, probably in a fantastic betrayal of Dr. Arden. Their budding trust is just too perfect a set-up not to go there. Speaking of great acting, can we just acknowledge Jessica Lange in this episode? She is obviously great throughout, but I found her performance here particularly inspired...that end-of-my-rope monologue actually moved me.
Wade: Yes, Jessica Lange does a great job throughout selling some pretty ridiculous material. That monologue was great, but it's just tonally hard to take stuff like a minute-plus emotional Jessica Lange monologue seriously cut between all the stylized montages and bare-butt-canings. Also, I do HAVE to mention I am consistently entertained by the wildly moving target that is her (and most of the other actors) New England accent. I swear she sounds like she's from Tennessee about 15% of the time.
Lowder: HA, well it is AMERICAN Horror Story after all—maybe she's just drawing from the entire country. I wouldn't have thought this at first, but I'm actually finding Sister Jude's own internal story—of alcoholism, work failures, search for redemption, etc.—a really important part of the show. As you say, there is such a hurricane of other stuff going on, that those little bits of struggle and introspection bring moments of necessary calm. Initially, I thought I'd most identify with Lana, but the utter abjection of her situation is actually becoming too much; I'll say it: I'm really rooting in a weird way for Sister Jude right now.
Now, before we go, we have to mention Bloody Face. It's the buttoned up Dr. Threadson! Which, of course it is. But I really wasn't expecting that. Did your marathon watch yield different expectations?
Wade: No, that was a genuine surprise to me. Well, surprise the moment he got her into his car, at which point it became pretty obvious, but I was kind of expecting Zachary Quinto to stay the hero for the whole thing. Dipping back into the Syler well with him isn't really a bad thing though. I also want to add I think Dr. Arden is an awesome villain, I love that messed up sexually repressed/obsessed current to him, and though the whole Anne Frank thing was a little hard to swallow, making him a Nazi is kind of awesome. Nazis are the best villains since they're like the one group of people you can just broadly say "are evil" about and everyone will instantly be on board with.
Lowder: Truer words have never been spoken. I love your point about Quinto channeling Syler! I had forgotten about Heroes, but he really is bringing that body-part stealing ethos back full-force. I wonder if he's not worried about getting type-cast for the rest of his career. Well, on that note, I need to turn out the light, but not before I check the stairwell for lurching mutant paraplegics. Have a good night!
Wade: Remember to feed the Forrest Monsters!
Thursday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 5.