“Patients committed here suffer not only diseases of the mind, but also of the body.” – Dr. Arthur Arden.
Welcome to 1964, where Jessica Lange is no longer Constance Langdon, but Sister Jude, a badass nun with a Boston accent running the Briarcliff Manor insane asylum. Also returning is Evan Peters, no longer an angst-ridden teen ghost but an alien abductee named Kit Walker, who is detained for the murder of his wife and called “Bloody Face.”
(It’s a huge role reversal for Peters, who was probably tired of constantly lubing up to fit into the “Rubber Man” costume).
It’s not often writers change the course of an entire show, with more than half the cast turning over in one season. But the creativity displayed by "American Horror Story" co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk is not often showcased either.
Their biggest challenge for Season 2 is making Briarcliff Manor as scary as the Murder House. With its compelling history and mystic persona, the house was as much a character as any individual in the first season.
After learning that more than 46,000 people died in the facility, I’d say Briarcliff Manor has a good chance of living up to the hype.
“Legend has it, that once you were committed at Briarcliff, you never got out.” – Teresa
Leo (played by Adam Levine) is a new character introduced alongside his new bride, Teresa. The pair visits the asylum in modern times as part of a Honeymoon Tour.
Any honeymoon where you have your arm cut off "Saw"-style is probably a bad idea. This is exactly what happens to Leo after Teresa hears noises and the pair go exploring through the house.
But what exactly severs Leo’s arm? Could it be the ghost of “Bloody Face” or a Thaddeus-like science experiment gone wrong? This is an unanswered question for now.
One thing we do know is that James Cromwell is taking on the Charles Montgomery mad scientist role this season. Playing Dr. Arthur Arden, Cromwell has experience policing felons as the warden in "The Green Mile" and in "The Longest Yard" remake.
Cromwell should fit into the cast nicely. This is the same actor who delivered great lines such as, “That’s a week in the hotbox!” and “How many years you spend pissing on a toilet seat before someone told you to put it up?”
Dr. Arden runs Briarcliff’s medical unit. He also has a fetish for making Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) feed human remains to some sort of animal in the woods.
The doctor and Sister Jude don’t like one another and differ in opinions about how their patients should be treated. Dr. Arden refers to science to solve problems whereas Sister Jude sees behavioral matters as a spiritual issue.
“Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sin,” says Sister Jude.
“This is not a meat locker,” she later adds while lecturing Kit Walker. “Here you will repent for your crimes to the only judge that matters, the almighty God. All monsters are human. You’re a monster.”
Kit seems anything but human as Dr. Arden removes an alien-implanted chip from his neck. The chip promptly grows spider legs and runs away.
“There was a time when a fanatic like Sister Jude could have had me thrown in prison for my ideas,” Arden says. “Tortured, maybe even castrated. ... These are not the Middle Ages.
After listening to the bickering of Sister Jude and Dr. Arden, Kit could benefit from a shrink (paging Ben Harmon). Instead he has to settle for the graphic details of how he skinned his victims.
The episode ends with a flash forward to Leo clinging to his life while Teresa looks for an escape route from Briarcliff Manor. Her pace comes to an abrupt halt as she is confronted by “Bloody Face” and his mask made of human flesh.
• In almost every episode, there is a sexual moment aimed at shock and awe. This time, it’s Jessica Lange unleashing her golden hair and removing her habit to reveal a red underdress and an intense affection for Monsignor Timothy Howard.
• Sarah Paulson’s new role as pot-smoking lesbian journalist Lana Winters will place her as one of Sister Jude’s main adversaries. Winters enters Briarcliff to get the scoop on “Bloody Face” but gets held hostage by the nun because Sister Jude fears what Winters could print about the institution.
• Shelley (played by Chloë Sevigny) and Grace (played by Lizzie Brocheré) both made their "American Horror Story" debuts as female patients. Shelley nearly has her head shaved by Sister Jude as a punishment before Lana interrupts. Grace tells Kit that she’s being detained for chopping up her family, a crime she didn’t commit. She would rather be in the mental ward than prison or worse, death row.
“You think it’s bad not having a chair?” Grace asks Kit. “Think of the one they’ll strap you into.”
• Zachary Quinto is the first cast member listed in the opening credits, but he does not make an appearance in the premiere.
What we learned:
• It’s unclear whether Sister Jude is good or bad. She has evil moments (whipping her patients and blackmailing Lana Winters’ lover), but she seems to be against Dr. Arden’s twisted experiments. The two characters clash frequently in this episode.
Sister Jude: “I’ll always win against the patriarchal male.”
Dr. Arden: “Pulling for you.”
What to expect next week:
• Kit Walker exhibits an innocent persona now, but he may change after Dr. Arden experiments on him, turning the wrongly-accused serial killer into his own version of Frankenstein.