AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM “Nor’easter” Episode Recap
It was eerily coincidental that the most recent episode, “Nor’easter,” centered around a large storm hitting Briarcliff when our own modern day east coast is also facing the storm of the century. “A storm is coming” also tends to be the most overused trope in the history of fiction, but it lends itself well to an episode where the character’s secrets are finally being dug out and brought to light. We’re three episodes in now, and Asylum is in full swing!
We open again with Teresa and Leo getting menaced by Bloody Face in the modern day. It seems they manage to kill their attacker, only to have a second Bloody Face appear around the corner and shoot them (maybe they are finally dead at this point?). We then see that there are three “bloody faces” wearing masks; supposed hooligans or gang members hanging out in the asylum to stir up trouble. Before we can learn too much about them, however, a far more menacing Bloody Face steps out of the darkness to attack them. The impersonators are about to get attacked by the real thing!
Abandoning the modern day after the opening scene yet again and heading back to Briarcliff in its heyday, we open with the (now clearly possessed) Sister Mary talking about the storm and bringing in the mail. Hidden in the pile, however, is a newspaper from 1949 with a headline about the missing girl whom we know Sister Jude ran over with her car. As Sister Jude grows paranoid, Sister Mary offers her some wine, believing it may have been tampered with by one of the patients. Jude refuses, but clearly the demon within Mary is toying with Jude, as it seems fairly likely Mary is also the one to grab the newspaper to prey on Sister Jude’s fears.
We then come to some establishing business with Dr. Arden. He experiments a bit with the chip found in Kit’s neck in the first episode, which suddenly reassembles on its own. Hmm…seems pretty fishy…
Next Dr. Thredson comes to discuss with an already rattled Jude about her treatment with patients in the asylum, noting the work of B.F. Skinner and positive reinforcement. Sister Jude mentions that, in order to distract patients from the storm, she will be showing a screening of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (ironically a highly controversial film with the Catholic church, and a nice hint that Sister Jude is pretty oblivious about such matters) to distract them from the storm. Thredson then asks to see the autopsy report of Jed Potter (the possessed boy from the last episode), curious if it will state “natural causes” for the reason for his death, since he was against the performing of the exorcism in the first place. Sister Mary, already suspecting Thredson of possibly planting the newspaper (of which he knows nothing) tells him to stick to his business of diagnosing Kit, giving him a two week deadline to be finished with his work.
Meanwhile possessed Sister Mary take it upon herself to terrify all the patients by telling them about the storm, and also how The Sign of the Cross is actually a horrifying movie depicting fire, sex, and the death of Christians (pretty accurate, actually!). One woman patient (referred to only as “The Mexican”) seems to recognize the demon within Sister Mary, screaming hysterically. Knowing the storm is on its way, Grace and Kit see the movie screening as an opportunity to escape again, having learned about the tunnel in last week’s episode. Lana overhears them and wants to escape too, but they are furious with her for calling them out last time.
After terrorizing the patients, Sister Mary comes back to Sister Jude, who is talking with a guard (named “Frank”) asking about investigating Dr. Thredson, but Frank has found nothing suspicious. Sister Mary tries to offer a taste of wine to Sister Jude, as she suspects one of the patients may have been stealing or tampering with it. Of course this is really a ploy to prey on Sister Jude’s repressed alcoholism, but Sister Jude manages to refuse. Jude also notices Sister Mary wearing bright red lipstick and confiscates it, demanding she wipe it off as well. Mary claims Dr. Arden gave it to her, saying Dr. Arden told her, “Red is Sister Jude’s favorite color and she’ll understand just why I want her to have it.” I was a bit unsure whether this was a reference to blood or the color of Sister Jude’s dress during her philandering days (or both), but either way it is enough to make Jude suspect that Dr. Arden may in fact know of her troubled past.
At the same time Arden is busy showing the “alien microchip” to Kit. The microchip seems strangely attracted to Kit, almost wanting to leap back into his body. Assuming the chip must be magnetized, Arden scans Kit’s body trying to find any other chips or magnets, but with no luck. Arden assumes Kit must be some sort of spy, and we get the first hint that Dr. Arden may be an ex-Nazi officer, something I’m sure will come into play in later episodes.
In her cell, the Mexican woman who recognized Mary as a demon sits alone and prays. Sister Mary comes to her and the woman recoils in terror, but Mary forces the woman to pray with her. Halfway through the prayer, Sister Mary goes berserk and stabs the woman with a crucifix in what may be the show’s goriest moment so far (so much blood!). Mary then dumps the body in the woods, and we get another quick glimpse of Dr. Arden’s “Dr. Moreau”-type monsters. With the demon inhabiting her, Sister Mary is also embodying the “purity-on-the-outside, darkness-on-the-inside” motif within the show we’ve already seen with Sister Jude, and even Briarcliff itself.
As the metaphorical and literal storm gains momentum, Sister Mary (once again wearing the lipstick) comes to Dr. Arden next to tell him about the creatures growing hungrier in the woods, and also her concern that they may not make it through the storm. Dr. Arden reassures her, stating, “We only have to get them through the winter.” This is the first hint that Arden has some sort of plan for the creatures, and the use of “we” implies that even Arden sees this as a joint effort between him and Mary, which is interesting. Wearing her bright red lipstick, Sister Mary then tries to seduce Dr. Arden, but Arden rejects her advances. Still, given Dr. Arden’s sexual perversions we were witness to last week (he forced prostitutes to wear nun outfits and kill them) having an actual “innocent” nun come on to him must have been very sexually confusing and frustrating. It seems Dr. Arden is attracted by innocence being spoiled, but he would prefer to be the one doing the spoiling, and having one so formerly innocent as Sister Mary attack him sexually is frightening.
As Dr. Thredson helps set up the movie screening, he is confronted by Lana. Lana sees the kindness in Thredson, and asks that he get a message to Wendy (who it seems may have been killed in the previous episode). Lana feels she could get released from the asylum if only she was able to contact Wendy without Sister Jude getting in the way. Dr. Thredson reminds Lana that Wendy is the reason she has been admitted into the asylum in the first place (not entirely true as it was partially Sister Jude’s blackmail, but Thredson doesn’t know that), but ultimately the good doctor relents and agrees to help, partially because he is a man of good conscience, but also because he probably doesn’t mind doing anything to work against Sister Jude’s wishes.
Shelley, meanwhile, has figured out Grace and Kit’s escape plan, and wants to help. Grace doesn’t approve of Shelley’s nymphomaniac tendencies, but Shelley manages to convince her that she can be of use. We finally learn a bit more about Shelley in this episode when she speaks of her dreams of going to Europe, where her sexuality would be celebrated rather than abhorred. We also get a hint that Grace has a French background, since Grace’s history has been kept in the dark for most of the season thus far.
As the storm rages outside, Dr. Arden is setting the bed since he won’t make it home due to bridges being out. He is approached by Sister Jude, who hurls the red lipstick at him, upset. Dr. Arden, of course, had nothing to do with the lipstick, and admits that he admired Sister Mary’s purity and innocence because he never had any himself when he was younger; he feels that Briarcliff itself is what has corrupted Sister Mary. Sister Jude still feels Arden is responsible, and when Arden tries to explain about Sister Mary’s sexual advances Jude doesn’t believe it. Arden finally suggests that perhaps Sister Jude ought to take a leave of absence noticing, “You’re coming apart at the seams.” The demon within Mary is trying to turn those who run the asylum against each other (and themselves), and it seems to be working.
As Sister Jude sits alone, the phone rings and she answers it. She hears the crying of the little girl she killed, and she breaks down into tears. She tries to apologize, but all she gets in a response is a dial tone. In her moment of weakness, Sister Jude reaches for a bottle of wine and her alcoholism relapses.
Just as Jude is having her moment alone, so is Dr. Arden. He inspects the lipstick Jude had confiscated from Mary while lightning thunders outside. On the radio we hear word of possible downed aircraft, and Kit’s microchip shudders in the glass. Are the downed aircraft, and perhaps the storm itself, connected to the aliens that abducted Kit?
Later in the gathering room Sister Jude, clearly now drunk, blows the whistle and tries to get everyone organized for the film screening. Slurring her speech, she recites off a slip of paper about the film but most of the patients are barely paying attention, terrified by the raging storm outside. Sister Jude tries to comfort them in prayer, but on the line “you’ll never walk alone,” she breaks down crying, again haunted by the little girl who was also alone on the night of her death. Needless to say this does little to put the minds of the patients at ease. As the movie begins Sister Jude exits, on the hunt for the missing Mexican that guard Frank has told her about. Sister Mary must have really used a lot of bleach to clean that bloodstain for the guards to only notice the body missing and nothing else!
Thredson takes the distraction of the film as an opportunity to tell Lana what he discovered about Wendy. Thredson was able to visit Wendy’s home, finding the door unlocked. He found evidence of a break-in, and some drops of blood on the carpet, all sharing remarkable similarity to the Bloody Face murders. However the police already believe the killer (Kit) has been caught, so they aren’t investigating as they should. Thredson is starting to believe that Kit is indeed innocent, and Lana is coming to understand that perhaps she made a mistake too in ratting him out.
As Sister Jude searches for the Mexican woman, Grace and Lana each make an excuse to leave the screening. Grace tells Frank she’s on her period, and Lana pretends to be affected by the scantily-clad women on screen, since she is locked up for being a lesbian. “Sister Jude would understand,” she tells Frank.
As Grace, Shelley and Kit make their escape, Lana tries to join up with them. Still angry over Lana’s ratting them out, Grace tries to leave her behind, but it is Kit who steps forward and decides it’s OK for Lana to come along. Lana has yet again another reason to believe that Kit may be innocent. As they make their way to the tunnel they run into a large guard “Carl,” an ex-marine. Shelley chooses to stay behind and distract the guard knowing she might not make it out, and reminds Lana to write one hell of a story about the place if she escapes.
Meanwhile in a twisted private moment, Dr. Arden paints a white Virgin Mary statue with the lipstick, even marking up its breasts. He then condemns the statue as a whore, throwing it to the ground and shattering it. There’s not a lot this has to do with the main plot, but it certainly shows Arden struggling with his repressed desires in the strangest ways possible.
Shelley continues to pleasure the guard orally as Kit, Lana, and Grace make their escape (those familiar with Chloe Sevigny’s work will also know this isn’t the first time on screen she’s been shown doing this), but finally knocks him unconscious in order to get away herself. As she runs through the asylum’s hallways, she comes face to face with Dr. Arden. Uh-oh!
Throughout all of this Sister Jude has been searching for the Mexican woman, but has been distracted by a mysterious dark shape darting around the cells. She finally comes face-to-face with it, only to see the snarling face of some unworldly creature. We don’t get a good look at it, but I’m willing to bet it’s one of Kit’s alien abductors! Yikes!!!
Kit, Lana, and Grace finally make it through the tunnel outside and throw their arms in the air, enjoying the rain pouring down on them in a visual very reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption. Unfortunately their joy of freedom is short-lived, as they stumble across the dead body of the Mexican woman, and moments later run into one of Dr. Arden’s creatures. Terrified they flee, only to run into a second one. This is the first time we are given a good glimpse of Dr. Arden’s creations, and for the most part they look like deformed mutant humans, and I’m suspecting the “Bloody Face” that abducted Wendy and even the Bloody Face in the modern-day scenes are related or descended from these creatures. Kit, Lana, and Grace ultimately take refuge in the tunnel under the asylum from whence they came.
Meanwhile, possessed Sister Mary continues to watch the movie screening, which currently is showing a scantily-clad girl being scarified to alligators (fairly appropriate, I’d say). Sister Mary is thrilled, but it is Dr. Thredson who suddenly notices several of the patients have gone absent. Frank the guard notices also, and Thredson voices to Sister Mary, “We might have a problem.” “How?” replies Sister Mary, “The Christians are about to be eaten!” (my favorite line of the episode).
Dr. Arden, overcome with sexual desire, locks up Shelley and tries to force himself upon her. For once Shelley doesn’t want to have sex and calls desperately for help, but nobody comes. Arden tries to rape her but is unable to get an erection. Shelley goes from terrified to incredulous in a matter of seconds, laughing at Dr. Arden which makes him even angrier. “You’re seven feet tall, I thought you’d be hung like…” she giggles, before Dr. Arden smacks her heavily, knocking her out.
Sister Jude is next shown asleep, presumably passed out from the excessive drinking. Sister Mary awakens her to tell her about the missing patients, though Sister Jude at first thinks it’s about the monster she saw in the corridors. Sister Mary knows nothing of any creature, and I presume Sister Jude is beginning to wonder if she dreamt the whole alien thing up.
In the main gathering room, Sister Jude scolds Frank and shuts off the film, saying there will be no special privileges for anyone because of the three patients who escaped. We assume she’s talking about Grace, Shelley, and Lana, but she instead says, “A sex-crazed deviant, a Mexican, and a pinhead won’t get fair in this storm” referring to the Mexican woman Sister Mary killed, Shelley, and a pinhead character frequently seen a the asylum (named “Pepper”) who must have also gone missing. The camera pans over to a terrified Grace, Kit, and Lana sitting in their seats. Their clothing is soaked, but they are alive, figuring their chances were better inside the asylum than in the woods with Arden’s monsters.
In the final (and most chilling) scene, Shelley comes to and finds herself on Arden’s operating table. Arden tells her how the others at the asylum think she is lost in the woods, and that Shelley is suspected to be the ringleader of the escape. Unfortunately for Shelley she won’t do any escaping anytime soon, as she suddenly discovers that Dr. Arden, ever the mad scientist, has decided to leave her completely helpless, removing her legs!!! Poor, poor Shelley. Up until this episode I had found her character distracting from the main shorelines (and some of her writing a little too on-the-nose), but we finally got to see another side of her this time as she dreamt of going to Europe and put her own safety on the line to help the other patients. Now she has paid for it dearly.
As a whole I didn’t find this episode as engrossing as last week, which was able to anchor its themes strongly around the event of an exorcism (which also looked really cool), but the show is definitely under way and I’m very excited to see where we keep going from here. The next couple of weeks promise to offer some backstory on Dr. Arden’s shadowy Nazi past, and we’re finally starting to learn more about the monsters in the woods, Bloody Face, and even perhaps Kit’s alien abduction. The ride is a lot of fun and I don’t want to get off!
Read last week’s spooky exorcism-filled recap here.