American Horror Story: Asylum: S2:E3, “Nor’Easter”

“You’re coming apart at the seams, Sister. Perhaps it would be best if you took a leave of absence.”

 

The least obvious game in this episode

In the midst of a massive storm causing chaos in the world outside Briarcliff, there is a likewise disintigration of order and reason within the Asylum. Paranoia abounds, the characters reeling from the revelation of their secrets in the previous episode. It doesn’t help that a demon-possessed Sister Mary Eunice is wandering around instigating trouble at every turn.

Sister Mary Eunice stirs up malcontent among the patients, shown walking into the common room where, for the first time, something other than the chorus of The Song is playing when the room is entered. As she removes the needle from the record the silence is heavy, lending significance to her words. She is setting events in motion, pitting the patients against the Asylum, Sister Jude against her sobriety, Dr. Arden against his sexual dysfunctions. She kills The Mexican and feeds her corpse whole to the creatures on Briarcliff’s grounds; and if she hasn’t already been feeding these gory former patients human remains they have a taste for human flesh now.

Sister Jude has fallen back into the bottle, her descent encouraged by souvenirs of her fifteen year old hit and run. It’s difficult to say if she is hallucinating the newspaper, destroyed glasses, and phone call in her grief and guilt or if they are perfectly real or if she is, as Dr. Thredson suggests, “Bordering on delusional… Or maybe it’s just a form of projection, a defense to protect your own guilty conscience.” Either way it is evident that in spite of her efforts at change she is not able to outrun her past mistakes; she is shown in the bakery, unsuccessfully attempting to apply the “Welcome to Briarcliff” tonic for a diseased mind (Productivity, Prayer, and Purification) to her own instability. When that doesn’t work she returns to the only other comfort she knows–the bottle (literally, the whole bottle)–and unravels completely in front  of the assembled patients when she is supposed to be introducing the movie night film selection.

Dr. Arden, already fragile from his failed encounter with a prostitute during “Tricks and Treats,” is paranoid and edgy. He interrogates Kit Walker and accuses him of being a spy, insisting it wouldn’t be the first time governments foreign and domestic have tried to infiltrate his laboratory. It hints at the possibility that Dr. Arden isn’t merely self-important, but might also have some darker history buried in the past of his medical career. He unravels entirely, though, when Sister Mary Eunice propositions him, taunting that his “Bride of Christ has had an awakening.” After desecrating the statue of the Virgin Mary with ‘Ravish Me Red’ lipstick and destroying it, he comes upon Shelley in the hall and attempts to force himself on her. When this encounter ends in failure as well, he straps her to a table and ‘clips her wings,’ removing her legs at the knees.

Dr. Thredson continues to be a voice of reason, the only person in the hospital’s administration with a grasp of reality. Lana notes that he is not ‘one of them,’ and Thredson agrees to help her contact Wendy, thereby discovering Wendy’s disappearance and noting its similarities to the other cases linked to Bloody Face. He outwardly acknowledges that he is no longer certain what to believe in regard to Kit’s sanity and innocence.

Grace and Kit stage another escape during the movie; all the minor guards are distracted with the film, while the major players are descending deeper into their own personal issues. Shelley worms her way into the escape attempt, and when Lana hears Thredson’s news her motivation to escape is renewed. She makes peace with Kit, and Shelley distracts Carl so they can get out of the building. On the grounds the three encounter the creatures, and flee back into the comparative safety of the Asylum.

Shelley, meanwhile, drives home an important distinction. To supplement her statement to Grace that her sexual proclivities would be ‘celebrated’ in Paris, she protests Dr. Arden’s advances and very reasonably starts screaming that his actions are rape. This, above anything, lends credence to her earlier insistence that liking sex does not mean she is mentally unstable; the decision to engage in sexual acts and choose her partners is her own, and she does not just blindly crave sex without regard for the circumstances. Even in the Asylum, the sex she has is still at her discretion, and when Arden takes that power from her she is reasonably terrified and upset.

This episode, like “Tricks and Treats” before it, follows the interplay of whoring up virgins and virgining up whores. Dr. Arden’s interactions with Sister Mary Eunice and the Virgin Mary form a stark contrast to Shelley the ‘whore,’ who on two separate occasions in the episode deliberately avoids or prematurely ends sex acts.

It also shows that, as the ‘sane’ officials of Briarcliff are descending into their own madness, the ‘insane’ patients continue to act with lucid good sense. The escapees are shown demonstrating compassion, forgiveness, and functional judgment. They plan an escape, implement the plan, handle unanticipated contingencies, and know when it’s prudent to give up. Shelley is even able to keep enough control over her emotions to goad Dr. Arden out of raping her, though time will tell if the loss of her legs turns out to be genuine a lesser violation than rape would have been.

Oh, and Bloody Face. Bloody Faces. Whatever. I refuse to believe Leo is dead now. The arm didn’t kill him. Bloody Face didn’t kill him. Why should some perverted masked freaks with guns? Also, how did they know what Bloody Face looked like, such that they could get those masks? And why should there only be one Bloody Face in general? Maybe everyone is Bloody Face. As Dr. Thredson so aptly puts it,  “They’re so invested in the idea that they’ve already caught their maniac that they won’t even entertain the idea that maybe they haven’t.”

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