Despite the tiresome and disjointed nature of last week’s episode, American Horror Story: Asylum manages to mostly get things back on track with a slightly fractured, but darkly focused story about death and suicide, and the release that comes to these characters once they’ve decided they can no longer endure any more pain.

‘Dark Cousin’ brings back Frances Conroy from season 1 – and although she’s still wearing black, it’s no longer a humble maid’s outfit, but rather the somber attire befitting a person in mourning, adorned with the wings of the angel of death. Conroy bounces around Briarcliff, introducing herself to some of the folks who’ve either succumbed to their own mental afflictions – as is the case with the young inmate who uses a deli slicer to help punch his ticket – or, like Grace (Lizzie Brocheré), are on the verge of checking out for reasons beyond their control. It’s a unique device and clever common thread to bring the characters back together after recent events pushed them apart. One of the highlights being when Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) walks in on Conroy doing her job, and the two recognize one another from their original plane of existence.

While the angel of death is running around smacking lips with the nearly departed, her most poignant scene is, of course, with Jessica Lange. Here, Sister Jude, drunk, homeless and subsisting mainly off of free coffee and crackers from a diner, regards the angel as an old acquaintance. The two take a painful trip down memory lane after Jude contemplates ending her life in a restroom with the straight razor Mary Eunice left behind in Sam Goodman’s (Mark Margolis) hotel room. Jude recounts more of her backstory, which includes her inability to have children, agonizing past relationships and, most notably, the child she had hit with her car while drunk. Apparently, after each event (and possibly many, many more) Jude and the angel had a little chat and became familiar enough that seeing the entity again was no big surprise.

But Jude’s not ready to check out just yet; she needs to make things right and that means confessing to the parents of the little girl she murdered. The only thing is, Missy Stone (Kristin Slaysman) didn’t die that night – but instead just went “Missing,” as was reported in the newspapers. Missy’s now a young woman who’s gone on to become a nurse and to have a child of her own. Though Jude experiences the relief of learning she’s not a murderer – a belief that clearly led her down the path she’s currently on – there is no confession to the family that she’d been the one to almost kill their daughter, so Jude’s apparently going to take a rain check on that kiss with Frances Conroy for the moment. Also, Missy’s father seems a bit skeptical of Jude’s tale. Maybe there’s something there, maybe not – this is American Horror Story, after all.

Possibly the most disappointing element of ‘Dark Cousin’ is the way it scuttles the Lana (Sarah Paulson) storyline by having her escape Bloody Face’s basement, only to end up back in Briarcliff in the most ridiculous set of circumstances possible. Besides wasting a talented and charismatic actor like William Mapother (Justified, Lost) on a scene apparently intended to illustrate the misogyny of the era (or of men in general), it also frustratingly re-establishes the status quo – which is kind of a bummer, as we’ll have to endure several more episodes of Lana trying to escape.

In the end, the death angel gets another Briarcliff inmate, as Grace falls victim to a gunshot intended for Kit Walker (Evan Peters), who’d escaped police custody and returned to rescue his friend. Unfortunately, Kit was followed into the asylum by one of Dr. Arden’s (James Cromwell) backyard mutants and the ensuing scuffle alerted Frank the guard (Fredric Lehne), who took his sweet time pulling the trigger and managed to hit Grace instead of Kit.

It’s doubtful that will be the last we see of Grace. Perhaps in death (if she does die) she will find some role in the clash between angels and demons (and aliens, of course) that appears to be brewing as the season progresses.

Various other items:

  • After offering her the choice of having her throat slashed, or being strangled, homicidal maniac and downright crazy fellow Oliver Thredson tells Lana, “I don’t believe in guns.”
  • Deli slicer: Briarcliff inmates: 2/backyard mutants: 0.
  • If Jude didn’t get out of the car the night she hit Missy, did the girl just lie there for several days, or did someone else move her? Either that stretch of road is rarely used, or something fishy is going on.

American Horror Story: Asylum continues next Wednesday with ‘Unholy Night’ @10pm on FX. Check out all of the Ian McShane goodness in the preview below: