‘American Horror Story’ is really cooking now. This past week’s episode brought back another first season cast member and piled on more delicious craziness.
In ‘Dark Cousin’, Frances Conroy, who played the creepy maid Moira in Season 1, stops by Briarcliff in the form of a (literal) Angel of Death who appears when inmates beg to die. And there’s plenty of that this episode. Things start when a schizophrenic named Miles is driven by the voices in his head to cut open his wrists on a meat slicer in the kitchen. He survives and is strapped down to a bed, but the Angel hears his pleas and loosens his straps just enough to let him pull his stitches out, so that he can bleed to death.
Grace is also a bloody mess barely clinging to life. All of the nuns at the facility naturally enough assume that Arden butchered her during the “sterilization” procedure, but he insists that he never operated on her. (Perhaps it was aliens after all?) Although he certainly doesn’t care for Grace, Arden treats her and brings her back to health to clear his reputation.
Mary Eunice has a great scene when Arden tries to talk back to her. After he foolishly slaps her, she warns him, “You touch me again, you die.” Arrogantly, Arden raises his hand to strike again, only to be tossed telekinetically across the room. She rebuts, “I hope this clarifies the chain of command, Arthur.”
Mary Eunice can also see the Angel, and is clearly worried. When they meet, the real Mary Eunice pokes through for a moment and begs for release, but the demon re-asserts itself. In their conversation, it’s implied that the demon is a fallen angel.
The Angel also visits Lana after Thredson rapes her, but Lana isn’t quite ready to die. She fights Thredson and actually escapes, only to get picked up on the road by a suicidal misogynist who kills himself while speeding. Lana is injured in the accident, and wakes up back at Briarcliff. D’oh!
Kit attacks his lawyer and escapes custody. He sneaks back into Briarcliff through the underground tunnels to rescue Grace, but they both get attacked by one of Arden’s “creatures.” Kit kills the creature, but in the fracas, the asylum’s security guard shoots and kills Grace. As she’s taken by the Angel, Grace whispers, “I’m free.”
With all that going on, we also get a detailed storyline involving Sister Jude, now on the run after the death of the Nazi hunter (which Mary Eunice has conveniently pinned on her). Drinking again, she fantasizes about slitting her wrists in a dirty restaurant bathroom and is visited by the Angel. Jude insists that it was “nothing but a passing thought.” She already knows the Angel, because she had also tried to kill herself after her hit-and-run. In flashbacks, we learn all about how she eventually cleaned herself up and found religion. To make amends, Jude visits the family of the girl she killed, only to discover that the girl actually survived. Jude had punished herself for years based on a false belief.
This is a very densely-plotted episode, but never feels overloaded or confusing. It packs in a lot of information, and still manages time for some quality character moments. The image of Conroy’s Angel, dressed in widow garb with giant wings that burst out when she claims a soul, is quite striking. Yet the character appears sensitive and compassionate.
I’m also consistently amazed at how good Jessica Lange is in this show, and how fearless she is about letting herself look just downright bad. Where another star (even one of her caliber) might deign to slum it in a show like this, Lange really goes for broke. Her performance helps to anchor the outrageousness of the series.