One of the things American Horror Story: Asylum has managed to do throughout its run is to always present the feeling that the other shoe was just about to drop. No matter how much the story had seemingly gone off the rails at times, or how finished the storyline of Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), Kit Walker (Evan Peters), or Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) appeared to be, it always felt as if there’d be one final hurrah. Grace did come back to life, after all.

So, in a way, maybe it’s a good thing that it feels like there’s always going to be one tiny last drop left at the bottom of the glass. And with ‘Continuum,’ the penultimate episode of Asylum, Ryan Murphy pens what definitely feels like the end of several character threads, even those that had, more or less, already wrapped up in a significant way. But their continuation is just build up because, really, at this point in the series, the most important question left hanging is that of Briarcliff’s future, and what will become of its most secret charge, Sister Jude.

Before we get to that, though, there are the other questions that ‘Continuum’ seeks to answer right away. Naturally, we were all left hanging in terms of what the heck was going on with Alma (Britne Oldford) popping back up in Kit’s bedroom at the end of last week’s episode. In pretty typical AHS fashion, the episode begins by filling the audience’s head with more questions; namely, why was Kit yanking an axe out of a dead body in his living room, and then sitting down to process the scene while a small voice called his name from another section of the house?

Perhaps because of the series’ setting and the topic of madness and the overwhelming question of whether all or part of what the characters have seen or experienced is truly real, the aliens of Asylum have always felt like the most questionable part. There was that moment where Jude actually ran into one roaming the halls of Briarcliff, and, although she was firmly in a drunken stupor at the time, Jude never really mentioned having a close encounter again. So when the episode jumps forward several years to show Kit, Grace and Alma living together, their acknowledgement of the abductions offers the most concrete proof that the aliens weren’t actually a manifestation of some kind, or some other presence like the angel of death or the devil residing inside the body of Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe).

But then it all comes to a gloriously fast, and unexpected end when Alma buries an axe in Grace’s spine after coming to the conclusion that Kit’s French import was going to bring the nasty green men back for her and the children. Grace’s death is of course a nod to the crime that found her in Briarcliff in the first place, but the abruptness and brutality of it speaks to the indelible mark the institution left on everyone – even those who hadn’t yet called it home. So then, Grace’s murder sets off a rapid-fire string of events that works to bring characters back to Briarcliff, despite it no longer holding any real sway over them.

Most didn’t make it out alive, and Kit and Lana (Sarah Paulson) certainly have had divergent experiences on the outside. Whereas Kit was supposedly chosen by the aliens for his great empathy, Lana has seemed to head in the opposite direction, choosing not to publish a story that would put an end to Briarcliff, but instead seek to modify her own tale in such a way that would bring her fortune and fame. It’s easy to see what Murphy’s suggesting with his approach to Lana, and the way the media and public glommed on to her flashy story of survival, while the inmates of Briarcliff – especially Sister Jude – went forgotten for years. In fact, as Lana tells Kit, the only other inmate who’d gotten any attention was Lee Emerson (Ian McShane), following a kill-spree that claimed the lives of seven nuns after his crucifixion of Monsignor Tim (Joseph Fiennes). It’s something of a bold move for a show so often perceived as favoring flash over substance to make such a statement, especially through the use of a storyline that’d really come to its conclusion in the previous episode, but the reminder of Sister Jude helped to temper what appeared to be a lack of self-awareness.

That being said, the Jude portions of ‘Continuum’ venture the closest to the feeling that the other shoe is about to drop with M. Night Shayamalan-level twistiness, but surprisingly, they seem intent on staying the course. Jude’s been given a new name, Betty Drake, and the time she’s spent in Briarcliff goes by with nightmarish revelations that whole years have passed in the blink of an eye. It’s a really effective set of scenes played with confused panic by Lange that’s some of her most subtle on the series so far. The realization that she’s missed her window of escape, that Tim’s once more lied to her, given her false hope, and, worst of all, that she’d not had the presence of mind to react to it are the closest this show gets to horror, lately – but, on some small level, they do work. Jude’s moments are not unlike the feeling of falling asleep on the couch in the afternoon to awake in complete darkness, knowing you’ve missed an important appointment – or at least feeling as if you have.

The episode ends with fun visual trick to illustrate the shift in time to Son of Bloody Face (Dylan McDermott) that briefly (and most likely, inadvertently) calls into question what we the viewers have been told to accept, as far as the story is concerned. At any rate, it looks like Asylum is heading to a showdown between Lana and the son she gave up for adoption – provided there’s no major twists lying in wait for the last hour.

Various other items:

  • Alma really got the short end of the stick in terms of her storyline this season, didn’t she? She endures months of experiments at the hands of alien beings, only to return home, child in tow, to see Kit’s replaced her with an axe murderer.
  • Murphy recently spoke about how Asylum was really about the decline of the mental healthcare system in this country, and suggested that’s where the real horror in this season emanates from. It will be interesting to see how that aspect ties into the finale next week.

American Horror Story: Asylum concludes the season next Wednesday with ‘Madness Ends’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview below: