Episode Title: “Dark Cousin”
Written by: Tim Minear
Directed by: Michael Rymer
Previously on “American Horror Story: Asylum”:
I don’t know about you, but I spent half of this week’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” thinking the whole episode was going to turn out to be a dream. That it turned out to be very real indeed is not a compliment. “Dark Cousin” follows last week’s flashback-apalooza with more back story and very little story progression, and what progress the episode does make is so hyper-accelerated that it’s hard to believe any series, even one as manic as this one gets at its worst, would try to get away with it.
That would be problematic enough, but “Dark Cousin” also introduces a new supernatural figure, supposedly called forth by someone at Briarcliff, who seems to be the very literal angel of death. This entity, played by Frances Conroy of the series’ first season, seems to be on a mission to relieve our protagonists of their pains. The oppressive horror of the world they inhabit, however, leaves only one true escape. But most of the characters visited by this Dark Angel have unresolved issues here on the mortal plane, and refuse to accept her gift until those dangling plot threads are resolved.
The episode opens with a new character, a thoroughly random Briarcliff inmate, attempting to kill himself and then, while trapped in isolation, visited by the Dark Angel, who helps him die. Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), now thoroughly in control of the asylum, has a serious conversation about how she’s been possessed by a fallen angel. The matter of factness of their exchange makes it very hard to take seriously. It’s like a superhero and a supervillain have stopped in the middle of a fight to explain their powers. I expected Mary Eunice to go Super Saiyan at some point, but aside from telekinetically shoving Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) across a room, nothing comes of her ongoing possession subplot.
You’d think Arden would have some kind of reaction to this supernatural occurrence, but he’s too busy trying to cure Grace (Lizzy Brocheré) of an infection caused, supposedly, by a botched hysterectomy. But since Arden never actually performed the operation, he’s eager to save her life and prevent undue scrutiny on his actual, and actually malevolent, scientific research.
Meanwhile, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is still playing mother to Bloodyface, aka Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto). As we see in “Dark Cousin,” part of those motherly duties is letting her “son” have sex with her. After the Dark Angel visits Lana, Thredson returns to the room having decided that what they’ve done is wrong (gee, you think?) and that Lana needs to be killed. At this point Lana overpowers Thredson, runs outside, flags down a car, gets threatened by the misogynist driver, who then kills himself, crashing the car and knocking Lana unconscious before she wakes up back in Briarcliff, trapped again. The whole sequence takes about as long as it would to read the description, and as such, I couldn’t accept that any of it really happened. I kept expecting Lana to wake up back in Thredson’s basement, not unlike “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” By the end of the episode, when Sister Mary Eunice is assuring Lana that she’ll tell the police about Thredson’s crimes (yeah, right), it still seems rather hard to swallow.
Meanwhile – dear lord, there’s a lot of meanwhiles in this episode – Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) is still dealing with the near-dead body of her private investigator, and gets drunk to deal with the pressure. Sister Mary Eunice calls to tell her that the only evidence in the private investigator’s room implicates Sister Jude in the hit-and-run accident years prior. Sister Jude kills herself in a restaurant bathroom, which actually does turn out to be a dream, before talking to the Dark Angel about her many half-hearted suicide attempts. Sister Jude says she’s ready to die, but decides to confront her victim’s family before she goes. Just before she’s about to make her fateful confession, the little girl she ran over enters the room, alive and well, absolving Sister Jude of all her sins, besides the actual “hit and run” thing.
Meanwhile – Jesus Christ, really? – Kit Walker (Evan Peters) escapes from police custody and actually returns to Briarcliff – Jesus Christ, really? – to save Grace from captivity and clear his name. Just seconds after their joyful reunion, a security guard shoots at Kit, but Grace dives in front of him and she dies instead. Jesus Christ… really?
“Dark Cousin” is an extremely unfocused episode of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” doing little to push the story forward, illuminating little about the characters and rushing the only plot point that really seems to matter. Lana’s escape from Thredson is so rapid that it strains credulity, and throws a pall over anything else “Dark Cousin” tries to accomplish. The introduction of a new mythology element, the angel of death herself, contributes little to our knowledge of the series’ storylines and never quite coalesces as a meaningful thematic element either. This is “American Horror Story: Asylum” at its absolute worst. A jumble of ideas, most of them ineffectual, and a terrible pace that undermines everything actually happening on screen. For all our sakes, let’s hope this never happens again, or “American Horror Story: Asylum” is officially ruined from here on out.
Photo Credit: Michael Becker/FX