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 2.7 with Abby Ohlheiser, a Slate contributor.
J. Bryan Lowder: Ok, Abby. I’m just going to say it. This evening may be remembered as the night American Horror Story jumped the shark. I don’t want to believe it—you know I’m a big fan of the overblown melodrama and camp sensibility of AHS—but there were a few moments in this episode where I paused the DVR and just shook my head. I mean, I was still kind of turned on by the hubris of having Frances Conroy as the Angel of Death, that fakeout where it looked like Sister Jude was going to be a freaking ghost for a minute, and poor, poor Lana being thrown from the frying pan into the fire and then basically into the core of the sun, but the more rational part of me just couldn’t deal with all of it at once.
Save me from myself—tell me that it worked for you, please!
Abby Ohlheiser: I'm sorry, Bryan, but I can't save you. I, too, am a fan of this show, but am finding myself mourning the death of the show's last feminist vestiges right now. Sister Jude's revelation that all she really wanted all along was a family elicited an audible sigh from me.
Lowder: Ew, yes, I had blocked that bit out. The most disappointing development in her storyline for me was that when she told the ANGEL OF DEATH to hold up for a minute, her "one last thing" that she needed to do was not burn down Briarcliff and fix all the injustices there, heroine style, but instead confess her hit-and-run to a family that probably didn't want to hear all that (and of course, we find out that their daughter hadn’t actually died). I realize we're on a soul-searching journey with Jude right now, but I'm about ready for her to get back in the real game.
Ohlheiser: Yes! …unless that girl's dad gets to Jude first. Which, given the way this show is going, wouldn't surprise me.
Lowder: Not at all. But let's back up for a moment. I'm intrigued by your mention of the death of the show's feminist impulses. Was that comment pegged to a specific turn of events? I have to say, if I have to see Lana tortured or raped or just crying in another unimaginable situation one more time, I'm going to call sadism on the part of some writer. And thus far, such actions have been directed at...women.
Ohlheiser: Well, I should say that since our last (much more hopeful) conversation about the show's feminist streak, things have only gone downhill in that regard. So it's been a slow descent. But now that Frances Conroy's Angel of Death (as happy as I am to see her back in this show) has appeared to Jude, Grace [RIP], and Lana, I have a sinking feeling that the women in Briarcliff will only find liberation in death.
Lowder: That's a fascinating way of looking at it—that death is the only way out, especially for the women. I wonder if we're not heading to a Hamlet finish here, with basically everyone in the room dead except for our Horatio, who is, I guess, maybe Bloody Face? That would be a ballsy way to end a show, and somehow very Ryan Murphy. In any case, I'm totally at a loss for where we're going next, but it does seem like everyone who has escaped is getting pulled back to Briarcliff, which is now controlled by our possessed nun friend, Sister Mary Eunice. What did you think of that bitch-slap of a scene between her and Dr. Arden?
Ohlheiser: I mean, I kind of saw it coming. It made me wonder if the evil thing possessing her chose Sister Mary on purpose—she's pretty much Arden's biggest weakness. Or was. Whatever it is she's doing, he clearly is a big central part of it. Now against his will, perhaps, but I'm finding it hard to have much sympathy for him. Especially now that he's grown from the simple sadist doctor we used to know into a Nazi sadist doctor.
Lowder: I know, that Nazi appellation is never really a good look. For me, Sister Mary's power trip has a certain perverse appeal, especially because I've always been attracted to narratives with a villain who knows all your secrets. However, I'm starting to wonder if the number of characters on this show possessing omnipotent or puppeteer-like knowledge—which now includes a demon, presumably an alien, Dr. Threadson and an angel—have reached a critical mass. There are so many people who KNOW ALL, and too much of that feels too oppressive to the normal characters to me. Do you feel any of this, or is it just my weird hang-up?
Ohlheiser: I feel you, though my reaction to the scene itself was a bit "ho, hum." I so very much wanted to love Sister Mary's takedown of Arden, but the thrill is kind of gone since she became omnipotent. I was much more interested in whether the Angel of Death represents more of a threat or of a rival to her. If she's a threat, then it opens up the universe even more, in yet another direction. If she's a rival, then I'll have to beg the writers not to introduce another extended catfight subplot to this show.
Lowder: That's a great point—I’m definitely hoping for threat, but I think it's smart that's the angel is more green than Glinda. An overly strong "good" force would be out of place here; plus, we did hear the angel confess that she does not judge, but only responds to "songs" or "cries." What that bodes for Mary's plans I can't yet discern.
OK, before we go, I just want to take a moment to highlight our favorite lines from this episode. Despite its violent context, I have to say I did enjoy Thredson's delightfully twisted "I can either cut you or strangle you; I don't believe in guns." Did you have a favorite?
Ohlheiser: My favorite was the campy Sister Mary/Devil talking to each other in the same body exchange, where (presumably) Mary's sobbing plea for freedom is shot down by her own "Shut up you stupid sow!" Followed by a delightfully calm, "She likes it here."
Lowder: HA, yes, that was divine! Well, it’s been nice chatting with “one like me, but fallen;” however, I have other souls to bring mercy to before the night is out. Just sing, Abby, if you need me!
Ohlheiser: Night, Bryan. Here's hoping AHS doesn't need a merciful being of its own next week to rescue it from itself.
Thursday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 7.