AMERICAN HORROR STORY 2.09 “The Coat Hanger”
Writer: Jennifer Salt
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Previously on “American Horror Story: Asylum”:
Wow, what an anticlimactic episode.
“The Coat Hanger” opens with a new character, played by Dylan McDermott from the series’ first season, in the office of a hypnotherapist, played by Series 7: The Contenders' Brooke Smith. He’s there because he wants to curtail his “urges,” about which he is cryptically vague. She assumes, because this is “American Horror Story” we are talking about here, that he’s a chronic masturbator. In reality, he’s having difficulty not killing women and skinning them. He flat out says he is “The Son of Bloody Face,” which sounds like the title of a 1980’s slasher movie I really want to see. And that’s it.
Yup, that’s it. We never see him again throughout the episode. That’s the first scene of the episode, and the revelation of one of the series’ bigger mysteries, namely who has taken the mantle of Bloody Face in the decades following the series’ main events in the early 1960s. The finale of the episode reveals that McDermott killed the psychologist, but did not, curiously enough, bother to skin her.
What, pray tell, was the point of this, “American Horror Story: Asylum?” Why not bother with a little suspense? McDermott is playing a new character, so the revelation doesn’t even come as a surprise. One gets the impression that they were keeping the time period vague, so the audience would assume that McDermott is bound for Briarcliff like so many other guest stars, but they don’t even bother milking it. The worst part is that revealing that Bloody Face has a son ruins the whole suspense of the episode, in which we learn that Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is pregnant – after we meet her son, mind you – and in which she attempts to abort the fetus because, well, he’s the son of Bloody Face. All her efforts are for nothing, because we know he lives. Isn’t this the sort of plot point you save for the cliffhanger before the series goes on hiatus for the holidays? Why not keep intercut the episode with his therapy sessions, only revealing his true identity – and the fact that Bloody Face’s child survives – at the end of the episode? It might not be a great big shock, but it would at least have been built up dramatically, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, the rest of the episode follows three storylines. In the first, Lana deals with the news of her pregnancy – that’s where the episode’s title, “The Coathanger,” comes into play – and uses the information to extract a confession from Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) that could exonerate Kit Walker (Evan Peters), whom Thredson has framed for the Bloody Face murders. (“The Bloody Face Murders,” incidentally would also be a 1980’s slasher movie I’d really want to see.) Sadly, for Lana at any rate, Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) reveals at the end that her attempts to abort Thredson’s child were unsuccessful, which she knows because she’s all magic and stuff. We’re left to assume that Lana will never bother trying again for some reason.
Meanwhile, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) has been officially institutionalized at Briarcliff, with her former staff either intentionally conspiring against her or honestly reporting on her crazy behavior. Surprisingly, Lee Emerson (Ian McShane), the Santa Claus killer from last week’s episode, survived their encounter, and now testifies that he saw Sister Jude kill Frank the security guard, whom Sister Mary Eunice murdered in front of him last week. Sister Jude forms an uneasy alliance with Lana and, mercifully, destroys that awful record of “Dominique” that she herself insisted play on a constant loop in the recreation room. Lee, meanwhile, plays the penitent man, convincing Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) to baptize him. Lee uses that opportunity to attack the Monsignor, and crucify him on the giant cross in his own chapel. When last we see the Monsignor, the angel of death Shachath, played by Frances Conroy, has appeared, presumably to take him to the afterlife.
Meanwhile, again, Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) has concluded that his close encounter with the alien species in the previous episode was real, and that they stole the dead body of Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) because she had sex with Kit Walker, just like his wife did before she was taken too. Arden presents Kit with his theory, and suggests that if the aliens are so interested in Kit, they can be summoned by threatening his life. So Kit agrees to let Arden murder him to bring the aliens forward, under the stipulation that Arden brings him back to life two minutes later. This harebrained scheme actually works, and is shown that Grace is still alive and somehow in the third trimester of her pregnancy. It seems to take Arden more than two minutes to find all this out, but it looks like that’s a dramatic oversight and not an intentional plot point to build suspense as to whether Kit dies or not.
You know, if you really stop to think about it, “American Horror Story: Asylum” is actually kind of a weird show.
“The Coat Hanger” sabotages its own central plot point, whether the child of Bloody Face will live or not, but otherwise is a solidly entertaining episode of the series, moving most of the characters into new and interesting positions that could bode well for future storylines. Alas, it’s not much of a cliffhanger for the next episode, for which we will have to wait until January 2, 2013. It’s not the longest break in the world, but it doesn’t leave us wanting terribly much more in the meantime. If anything, we could use the break from this somewhat poorly calculated madness. Perhaps last week’s episode, being holiday themed and studded with decent cliffhangers, would have been more appropriate as a mid-season finale. Perhaps that was the original intention. Perhaps we will never know.
Photo Credit: Michael Becker/FX