Though it probably wasn't everyone's cup of tea, last week's 'Unholy Night' was a frequently hysterical, sometimes disturbing and morbidly single-minded example of all the things American Horror Story: Asylum does well.
By contrast, this week's 'The Coat Hanger' is far less exuberant in its narrative, choosing instead to jump around from dangling plot thread, to dangling plot thread in an attempt to set up all the pieces for the push into the final episodes. In an odd way it feels like a hum-drum episode of American Horror Story – which says a lot about how nuts this show can be – but at least it gives the impression that there has been some planning put into the last bit of the season.
Although it makes sense that this rearranging-of-the-pieces episode would be the last glimpse before the holidays, it's a shame things didn't pause on the delirious high of Ian McShane's murderous Santa Claus. Still, there's quite a bit going on; it's just that none of it is as engaging as the guilty pleasure of 'Unholy Night,' or as structured as 'I Am Anne Frank.'
'The Coat Hanger,' for all the shuffling about, is loaded with implications for the conclusion of Asylum (supposing there will be such a thing). Most notable, is the introduction of Dylan McDermott, as a man seeking therapy (from The Silence of the Lambs' Brooke Smith, no less) to control his impulses, because he claims to be the son of Bloody Face. It seems Son of Bloody Face has a temperament just like his supposed father – he likes taking the skin off of people before they're done using it – but, ultimately, he's just living in his father's shadow. With no medical training to speak of (apparently, no one taught him advanced medical procedures, or even rudimentary taxidermy while he was in the clink), young, ratty-haired Son of Bloody Face has picked up the tattered epidermis that was his father's legacy, and fallen short in even his own eyes.
It's good to see Murphy hasn't completely dropped the modern day Bloody Face storyline, and it's especially good that we're not hanging out in the dilapidated Briarcliff waiting for the cops to piece the clues together. In fact, considering the details that Son of Bloody Face provides all seem to come via his time spent on the prison's Internet connection, and the way '60s Briarcliff is suddenly baby-crazy, it wouldn't come as a complete shock to find McDermott's identity is something of a red herring. It probably isn't, but the ease of it all seemed to have Ryan Murphy trickery written all over it.
At any rate, back in '60s Briarcliff, the shoe is on the other foot it seems, as Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) finds herself now an inmate within the world she once ruled over. The collusion of Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) and Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) has not only drastically altered Sister Jude's outlook on things (she's now a devoted solider in God's army), but it has also resulted in Lee/Santa (Ian McShane) being allowed a chance to wander the sanitarium with limited security. Additionally, it briefly seemed as though the near-fatal neck wound Santa suffered had resulted in the jolly Christmastime murderer becoming a tad penitent, but that notion was quickly thrown out once he crucified the Monsignor after Tim was nice enough to baptize the previously unrepentant killer.
Elsewhere, Dr. Arden's suddenly a believer in the little green (or not so green) men Kit Walker (Evan Peters) has been incessantly ranting about, and he's come up with a rather convenient plan to lure the extraterrestrials out of hiding. As Arden sees it, all he has to do is bring Kit to the verge of death and E.T. will show up to save him. For whatever reason, Kit aggress to let Arden "almost" kill him, and the plan goes swimmingly until the lights start going on and off and Arden stumbles upon Pepper attending to a living and very pregnant Grace (Lizzie Brocheré).
Still, long-suffering Lana (Sarah Paulson) once more gets it the worst. After believing herself free of Thredson's child, she refrains from killing Original Bloody Face long enough to get a taped confession that will hopefully exonerate Kit. By the time she returns to finish the job, Thredson's vanished with the help of the demon Mary Eunice, and Lana's left to enjoy a smoke with the woman who got her into this mess in the first place.
So, 'The Coat Hanger' leaves the audience with two monsters on the loose in 1964, and Son of Bloody Face killing therapists and, possibly, an impulse-eater with a hankering for buckets of chicken, in the present. At least Frances Conroy shows up to keep things on an even keel, and to remind us that crucified priests and baby-making aliens are what you would call "just another day in the office" for the American Horror Story team.
Various other items:
- Having Lange casually pull the filter off her cigarette before lighting it was a nice touch that made Jude seem more hardened than before.
- If he weren't reprehensible Nazi scum, Arden might make a semi-decent pitchman for adult beverages.
- How the heck did Santa McShane manage to get the Monsignor up there, anyway?
American Horror Story: Asylum returns Wednesday, January 2, with 'The Name Game' @10pm on FX. Check out a preview for the episode below: