One element that can always be counted on with American Horror Story: Asylum (and AHS in general) is that death rarely gets in the way of the plans Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have for their characters.
In fact, more often than not, death's lack of permanence or transitional properties serves as something of a catalyst for the major players, but in doing so, sometimes lessens the dramatic impact such an event normally has on a narrative.
In any case, watching Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) cremate himself along with the recently deceased Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) at the episode's end may have left many wondering whether or not this was really the last time we'd see these two characters. With only three more episodes left in the season, it feels like it could go either way. Now, I'll admit that it might be a brash move at this juncture for Murphy and Falchuk to eliminate two characters that had become such significant antagonists, but considering the sheer amount of other villains still skulking around the hallways of Briarcliff, the story may indeed be over for Arden and Sister Mary Eunice.
'The Name Game' was a typically busy episode of Asylum, what with Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) suddenly back and Jude (Jessica Lange) being given electroshock treatment by the possessed woman she once tormented. But mostly, it was concerned with the surprisingly abrupt end to Dr. Arden's journey.
There were certain aspects of Arden's characterization in this episode that seemed to work really well, while others rang somewhat hollow, or just felt like a sudden leap forward into oblivion for a character who'd been so steadfast in his self-preservation. On the one hand, it was fitting that, after being belittled by Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and instructed not to mess around with the newly resurrected Grace, Arden would take things personally and then seek to ratchet up his specific brand of nastiness. So, in that sense, the tantrum – as Mary Eunice calls it – was expected. Arden totally seems like the guy who would break all of his other toys because he's not allowed to play with the new, prettier one sitting in his office. But his decision to put the gun to his head and suggest suicide because of a longing for the true Sister Mary Eunice that had been lost, felt somewhat inconsistent in terms of how the character has been portrayed thus far.
Yet, somehow, such inconsistencies aren't necessarily out of place, since American Horror Story frequently plays fast and loose with such things, e.g. having Jude engage in an impromptu, and surprisingly lively, musical number, or Kit's (Evan Peters) interlude with Grace that has apparently resulted in them having a child, despite his belief that Alma is alive and well on an alien spacecraft.
Still, for all its conflicts, 'The Name Game' isn't nearly as crazy as some episodes that have come before it, but mainly that's because it's still picking up the pieces after the Lee Emerson (Ian McShane) holiday disaster at Briarcliff, which saw Monsignor Tim (Joseph Fiennes) crucified. Meanwhile, Lana (Sarah Paulson), Kit and Grace basically resume their status in the sanitarium, but with a few major changes like Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) becoming a full time member of the Briarcliff staff.
Despite the holidays and the Lee Emerson craziness, the last few episodes carried with them the feeling that everything was cruising toward some sort of endgame with the angel of death, the devil and the residents of Briarcliff playing a role. Now with Arden and Mary Eunice possibly out of the mix, the season's actual endgame seems a bit more elusive. With any other show that would probably be cause for worry, but with American Horror Story: Asylum, it's pretty much par for the course. If a program can put this many unrelated elements together and still keep an audience's interest, then figuring out a point to all the insanity in just three episodes or less should be a walk in the park.
Various other items:
- Arden's tantrum also raises the question of whether or not the whole mutant subplot is really over. It sure seems like it is; and, as this was one of the more underdeveloped portions of AHS craziness this season, maybe that's not such a bad thing. So far, the mutants have only really served as a means for keeping Lana, Kit and Grace inside the confines of Briarcliff for 'Nor'easter,' and so that Murphy and Falchuk could easily dispatch Chloë Sevigny and Mark Consuelos (two minor characters who seem unlikely to be resurrected).
- It's kind of great that, through all of this, Monsignor Tim was still holding on to the tiniest bit of hope that he could someday be pope.
- With Arden, Sister Mary Eunice and Sister Jude all ostensibly removed from the equation, will the job of overseeing Briarcliff fall into the hands of Dr. Thredson?
American Horror Story: Asylum continues next Wednesday with 'Spilt Milk' @10pm on FX. Check out a preview for the episode below: