Episode Title: “The Origins of Monstrosity”
Written by: Ryan Murphy
Directed by: David Semel
Previously on “American Horror Story: Asylum”:
The best part of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” the thing we can always fall back on when episodes get too ridiculous or lose focus, is the series’ dedication to genuine horror. Most horror stories, American or otherwise, follow characters whose normal lives are invaded by something evil, unnatural or violent. “American Horror Story: Asylum” presents the opposite: a world possessed of utter cruelty in which only a handful of innocents can even be found. The world of “American Horror Story: Asylum” is terrifying at its foundations, and at the series’ best, that pervasive madness has the impact of a genuine horror classic.
Then we have episodes like “The Origins of Monstrosity,” which are just okay.
Once again our framing device returns: Bloody Face, now clearly voiced by Zachary Quinto, has strung up his impersonators as Briarcliff in the present day, and given the police the heads up that they were murderers when he got to them. We get back to that later, but in the meantime, the episode proper takes the occasion – the revelation of that Dr. Thredson (Quinto) has been the serial flayer Bloody Face this whole time – to flash back to his origins, and reveal more detail about the unsettling past of Nazi mad scientist Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and his alliance with Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes).
Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), still Thredson’s captive, wakes up to a hot breakfast courtesy of her abductor, and surprisingly we never discover that her meal the cooked remains of her lover, found dead in Thredson’s basement at the end of the previous episode. In an attempt to placate Thredson, Lana listens sympathetically to his story of woe, about a mother who abandoned him and his constant search for both vengeance and love, projected through his mutilations of local women. Thredson claims he’s been looking for his mother over and over again, and that in Lana, he suspects he may finally have found her.
Meanwhile, Monsignor Howard is called to a hospital to perform last rites on a mutilated girl with tuberculosis, only to make the horrifying discovery that the dying woman is Shelley (Chloë Sevigny), one of his patients at Briarcliff. Enraged, he confronts Dr. Arden, whom we learn came part and parcel with Briarcliff when the Monsignor bought the place, and who claimed that he was on the verge of a medical breakthrough. The Monsignor agreed that Arden could use the patients at Briarcliff as his guinea pigs, never realizing the extent of Arden’s experiments. But now, as Arden convinces him, the damage is already done, and the only way out is through. Arden must continue his experiments away from prying eyes, and in order to do that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) has got to go.
So the Monsignor fires Sister Jude, who had just been left with a little girl, Jenny (Nikki Hahn), who has Bad Seed syndrome written all over her, and may have killed her best friend. Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), still possessed by a demon, gives the little girl advice on how to live her life without worrying about the hypocrites surrounding her, revealing in a flashback how her school friends humiliated her on camera, leading her to join the church in the first place (pre-possession, obviously).
Sister Jude gets a phone call from her investigator, who reveals that Dr. Arden is indeed a war criminal, but that he needs Arden’s fingerprints to prove it. Sister Mary Eunice intercepts one of his calls and murders the investigator, taking the evidence proving Dr. Arden’s guilt, saving some for leverage, and tells Dr. Arden that his secret is safe, forming an alliance between them. Sister Jude arrives at the investigator’s hotel room and finds him dying, not dead, and telling her that he was killed by a nun.
Finally, Dr. Thredson discovers that Lana has been trying to escape and is just about to murder her when she finally accepts her role as his mother. The episode culminates with Bloody Face suckling at her breast in the 1960s, and Bloody Face having captured his latest victim in the present day just as the cops discover that one of the newlyweds is missing.
So basically, it’s an exposition episode. “American Horror Story: Asylum” is explaining the evil away, and while there’s a air of cliché in Thredson’s tale, in particular, it doesn’t entirely diminish the threats lingering in the air of the series. The plot moves forward just enough to keep the episode from feeling like a waste of time, although the pacing has definitely pulled back dramatically. The inclusion of Jenny seems to be to provide a parallel to Thredson’s origin story, but unless they’re going somewhere with her in the future, her inclusion feels an awful lot like padding the episode so the flashbacks don’t bring the momentum to a grinding halt.
There’s just not much to say about “The Origins of Monstrosity.” Yup, those are the monsters’ origins alright, can we move along now? We’re only halfway into this series and it seems to be wrapping up already. Are we going to find out that modern day Bloody Face is Thredson and Lana’s son, or Thredson himself, perhaps made immortal by Thredson’s miracle formula? Time will tell. Too much time, methinks. Either “American Horror Story: Asylum” desperately needs to introduce some new storylines or it’s going to be an awfully long slog to the end of the season.
Follow William Bibbiani on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.
Photo Credit: Byron Cohen/FX