Tuesday, December 4, 2012

American Horror Story: Dark Cousin (2.7)

This season ought to be called How to Make an American Horror Quilt. I've already spoken of Asylum's patchwork sensibility, but every additional week only adds more and more details that are sewn onto this elaborate piece of fabric. And, again, nothing feels disorienting. I don't know if its just the ghost of Glee lurking over everything, but surely we're at a point where things should be suffocating? There's so much happening here, but not at the expense of great character work or engaging plot turns. This is a season with such a firm handle on these protagonists, their collected histories and feelings. And despite all this 'stuff' happening, the writers aren't falling prey to merely burning through events. The pacing this year is spectacular, just as teasing and ambiguous as it is steady and rewarding.

I guess the largest theme here was misery, practically every character falling prey to suicidal thoughts. But that's pretty natural, right? When you're stuck in such an awful existence, whether you're being forcibly held prisoner by others, be they wild psychopaths or so-called 'legit' psychopaths, or just a prisoner of your past, I imagine it's a de facto reaction to consider death a form of release. That's where Frances Conroy's Angel of Death comes in, a gorgeous creature of the shadows who soothes and seduces, skin the color of marble and her outfit straight out of a '40s noir. She visits most of the cast this week, bargaining with them, arguing if it's the right time, or finally taking them all-together.

Somebody who probably wishes she would just die already is Lana, whose misery reaches almost ridiculous heights this week. While I'm still engaged with this story, there does come a point when it feels masochistic to lump one character with so much awfulness. I can buy that she's held captive and subjected to all kinds of torture, but escaping and running into a crazed misogynist nightmare is a little hard to take. Then the fact that she's instantly locked up again in Briarcliff. Girl's having the worst run of luck in the history of time. I'm unsure of where this is all going, and worried that it's been an arc traveling a downward trajectory ever since the 'nipple lamp' episode, but Sarah Paulson remains one of this season's stand-outs, so I'm hopeful.

Jude's downfall lent the episode its heart, again contemplating suicide over the run of misery she's experienced of late. More than anybody else, Jude is on an incredible journey this year, fighting her demons while simultaneously fighting actual monsters and possessed nuns. Here she confronts a major ghost from her past, visiting the family of the girl she once ran over and killed, only to discover that her decades-long guilt was somewhat misplaced: the girl is very much alive. Sure, she still ran her over and fled the scene, but it's an interesting approach to explore the idea of running away from something that didn't actually happen.

In the end, it's Grace who gives in to death, jumping in front of a bullet meant for Kit. It's a sweet demise, something that proves her loyalty and affection for him, and also saves her from the after-effects of her botched alien sterilization. I guess in some ways Grace represented the easiest character to kill -- of all the cast this year, she's probably the one person we don't really know all that much. Unlike the Monsignor, somebody unknown but still arguably intriguing, Grace's back-story has already been told, and she hasn't made a ton of impression elsewhere. She very much existed as a part of Kit's story, with little identity of her own. I'm sure she'll be back at some point soon, though, considering Lizzie Brocheré is a regular.

Dark Cousin, like certain aspects of last week's episode, sometimes traveled to places that we didn't need to travel to. But this season is a tapestry, every additional detail, even the seemingly superfluous ones, adding to such a rich universe of horror and misery. If someone told me at the end of last year that American Horror Story would wind up being one of the deepest, most emotionally gut-wrenching dramas on the air during its second season... I probably wouldn't have believed them. A


- Real-life hooey prevented me from writing about this episode for a while, but the image that really stuck with me this week was Jessica Lange's wailing over Sam's body. I mean, yeah -- you get it, she's spectacular, but Lange just screams authenticity at every turn. Every emotion is so real and stinging, and she's made Sister Jude such a fantastic character so far. I guess that scene impressed me so much because it's such a generic moment in these kinds of things, a helpless woman finding a dead body, yet I've never seen it performed with so much honest conviction. Chills.

- I continue to adore Lily Rabe on this show. She can turn on a dime like no other, from the sexually-charged confidence she exhibits while running the asylum, to the terror and rage after she discovers the presence of the Angel of Death. And girl is having fun, you just know it.

- Anybody else notice the Psycho parallels with Sister Jude packing up her things and fleeing her former life? I love the throwbacks this year.

- This could probably be noted every week, but James S. Levine's music score deserves special mention. Those violent strings of the violin during the confrontation between Death and Sister Mary Eunice were made of special. God, this show is crazy atmospheric.

Guest stars
Frances Conroy (Shachath); Fredric Lehne (Frank McCann); Mark Margolis (Sam Goodman); William Mapother (Toby); Sean Patrick Thomas (Terry); Tongayi Chirisa (Miles); Debra Christofferson (Patricia Stone); Lily Knight (Sister Felicity); Don Stark (Joe Engle); Jennifer Holland (Nurse Blackwell); Erin Allin O'Reilly (Nurse Fuller)
Writer Tim Minear Director Michael Rhymer


  1. Great review yet again, thanks!
    My thoughts. Threadson - not dead (obviously). Lana - pregnant. Right?
    And the agony. Oh the massive agony on everyones faces. Fabulous acting.

  2. Thanks again, Henrik. It's fun reading your theories and knowing if they're correct or not. Glad you're liking the show!

  3. Btw, wouldn't it be great if we get a Demon/Alien showdown! Don't think I've ever seen one of those!