Attempting to discern truth from fiction in a sanitarium is likely the kind of daunting, foolhardy prospect that can earn a person residence in said facility. So, it should come as no surprise that the characters of American Horror Story: Asylum spend the better part of 'I am Anne Frank: Part 1' in an endeavor to do just that.
The result is a product more in line with this season's first two episodes, which had some semblance of foundation for Murphy and Falchuk to assure the audience they have seen nearly all of the popular horror and incarceration films of the last century by throwing not-so-subtle references to them whenever possible.
This is, of course, in opposition to last week's 'Nor'easter' – an episode that managed to go so far off the rails it seemed Asylum would be forgoing thoughts of a coherent (or, at least as coherent as things can get on this series) through-line for the season and it's expansive cast of characters. There's some recovery of that notion in this episode, through a series of flashbacks, false memories and/or flat-out lies, but it does help create a sense of character around these people that may otherwise have been forgotten in lieu of moments favoring manic terror and vague attempts at cheap humor.
Some of that is still going on here, but the focus has shifted to Briarcliff welcoming Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Bourne Identity) as a young woman claiming to be none other than Anne Frank. It seems Anne has intimate knowledge of Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) – who she insists is really a Nazi war criminal named Dr. Grouper. Considering the atrocious things he's done this season, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched at this point to assume he is, in fact, who she says he is. Given her distaste for the man, it seems Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) is inclined to agree.
More secrets are peeled away as Kit (Evan Peters) discovers the truth that Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) actually did murder her family with an axe. The question of how this will change their increasingly intimate relationship should make for an interesting distraction from future escape attempts. Similarly, Lana (Sarah Paulson) has abstained from the same escape attempts and has fallen under the care of Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto). In doing so, the character becomes something much more interesting and sympathetic than the one-note reporter trapped in an asylum against her will.
On the plus side, this episode is propelled less by seemingly random events and more by an attempt to define the characters and make them relevant to the overall storyline. On the negative side, however, American Horror Story has always had a tendency to treat really dreadful things with a slightly sarcastic, mocking tone (example: The Black Dahlia). While there have been instances where that approach has worked, attempting to slip a historical figure like Anne Frank, and an atrocity such as the Holocaust into a series about an insane asylum in the 1960s that's full of mutants, demons and aliens might seem like a step too far in the direction of poor taste. Given the outright ridiculousness of it, however, for this series, it may simply prove to be par for the course.
Highlights from the episode:
- No update on newlyweds Leo (Adam Levine) and Theresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatam), who were, last time we checked, riddled with bullets.
- Joseph Fiennes' Monsignor Timothy (the most underwhelming Monsignor name ever) is apparently in cahoots with Dr. Arden/Grouper.
- No matter how attractive you are, in Briarcliff, no one gets to "purposely make a murder-baby."
- Shelly (Chloë Sevigny) is now a boil-covered, nympho-maniacal double-amputee who's been shoved in a closet. How's that for a character arc?
- The peek into Lana's dream to be a celebrated and respected reporter surprisingly reveals a lot depth about how much of her life has been hidden away or remained out of reach, simply due to the person she truly is.
American Horror Story: Asylum continues next Wednesday with 'I am Anne Frank: Part 2' @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: