TVTV Recaps

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM “The Origins of Monstrosity” Episode Recap

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Nothing says “spending time with family and loved ones” like an episode where we learn about a serial killer’s mommy issues and how a mad scientist reasons why it’s OK to turn everyday humans into horrific mutants with boils all over their faces.  I love this show!

Backstory is the name of the game this week, and it feels about the right time, as we are halfway through the show by now (already?!).  Last week we learned that Bloody Face is in fact Dr. Thredson, and this week we’re going to learn why.  In addition the mysteries behind Dr. Arden’s work and the “creatures” in the woods are finally going to be explained.

After a few weeks of absence, we open with the modern-day story yet again.  An emergency call to 911 has been made requesting for a car to be sent to Briarcliff, and three policemen discover the bodies of the three Bloody Face “impostors” hanging from the rafters.

After the opener, we’re back in 1964.  A worried mother has brought a young girl “Jenny” to the asylum, but Sister Jude tries to turn her away, since Briarcliff has no children’s ward.  The mother explains how the child has grown up unemotional and disturbed despite her best efforts, and remained distant from other kids.  The mother tells a story shown in flashback where the only child who would play with Jenny (named “Josie”) once was out in the woods with Jenny and was later found killed.  Jenny claims to the police that a tall man with a beard and brown jacket committed the murder, but Jenny’s mother later finds a lock of hair in Jenny’s pocket.  Did Jenny kill Josie?  And what’s with all the “J” names on the show?  Either way Sister Jude refuses the mother, offering her a bible instead.

Your best story is “tall man, beard, brown coat?” Why not just say she was running with scissors?

We then come back to Lana, whom we last saw in the lair of Dr. Thredson while he put on the Bloody Face mask.  At first it appears as if everything may be OK, as she awakens in a comfortable bed surrounded by photos of Wendy.  Unfortunately she quickly discovers she is chained to the bed, and Dr. Thredson is in the room, making her breakfast.  Lana screams (she’s been doing a lot of screaming in the last few episodes!), but it does no use.  As Thredson offers her breakfast he explains that Wendy’s body has been hidden, and also how Kit Walker “confessed” to his crimes.  Lana has no way out.

With no other choice, Lana takes a bite of her breakfast and remarks how tasty it is while Thredson starts to muse about his past.  He grew up in an orphanage that attended to his basic needs, but had rules against affection and bodily contact.  Lana tries to calm Thredson, saying “I know what it’s liked to be abandoned.  That’s how I felt at Briarcliff.”  Thredson grins and replies, “I was right about you.  You’re the one,” and then bursts into sinister laughter.

Thredson continues to talk about his past, and we get some of it in flashback.  He grew up knowing he was different than other people, and decided to study psychiatry to understand his disorder.  We see Thredson in medical school, on a day that they were shown a cadaver on the table.  Thredson felt immediately attracted to the body, for the woman on the table was 33, the same age his mother was when she abandoned him and, unsurprisingly, the same age as Lana.

In private, Thredson (in medical school) tries to make love to the cadaver.  He tells Lana, “She wasn’t my mother, but in the cosmic joke of my life I felt like she would be.”  Unfortunately the corpse smelled strongly of formaldehyde, and still felt cold and stiff.  It wasn’t enough for Thredson.

Thredson then tells Lana about the Harlow studies of dependency on rhesus monkeys (pretty interesting, actually).  Two groups of infant monkeys were taken from their mothers; one group was given “mothers” made of wire mesh with milk, the other mothers made of terrycloth.  Ultimately the baby monkeys chose the terrycloth mothers for their warmth and feel of the skin, regardless of whether or not they dispensed milk.  “Even monkeys know the difference,” says Thredson.  Unable to satisfy his craving for human contact, we see in flashback Thredson knock out the first woman Kit was accused of killing, and later skin her alive.  Yikes!  However, Thredson has other plans now.  “Now that you’re here, all of that work is behind me Mommy” he says to poor Lana.

Yes. CLEARLY this is how to treat your mother.

Mr. Goodman (the man Jude asked to investigate Arden’s Nazi past) finally gets a hold of Jude on the phone, having uncovered some evidence about the doctor.  Jude tries to explain it was a mistake, but Goodman confirms Anne’s story from the last episode.  The Nazi Doctor Hans Gruper became Arthur Arden, and Goodman has a document from the Red Cross proving it.  He only needs Arden/Gruper’s fingerprints to establish a match, and asks that Sister Jude obtain a print.

Sister Jude, trying to make sense of what she has heard, moves down the hallway and is startled by the little girl Jenny.  Despite Jude’s refusal, Jenny’s mother abandoned her at the asylum.  With too much on her mind, Sister Jude calls for Sister Mary to deal with the child.

At a hospital, Father Howard has arrived to perform last rites on a woman who has been admitted there and appears incredibly sickly.  When Howard enters the door, he recognizes the woman as Shelley (abandoned in the schoolyard in the previous episode), looking worse than ever, with her face hardly even recognizable!

We then finally learn a bit about Father Howard and Dr. Arden’s history, as we jump back in time two years to 1962.  Howard, the new owner of Briarcliff, meets with Dr. Arden, who is dealing with numerous patients who have suffered a tuberculosis outbreak.  Howard blesses one of the patients and asks Arden where the bodies have been buried. Arden explains that the bodies have been incinerated (the “death chute” mentioned in the first episode), and tells Howard how he has been trying to research an immunity booster that could inhibit the disease.  Unfortunately he has hit a wall, and is unable to progress without any human trials. Arden then plants the seed in Howard’s head that the research would be for the good of humanity and, once successful, would get noticed all over the world, including Rome.  Father Howard shows interest, and a light bulb seems to go off in his head.

Shelley used to be a nympho, but I doubt this counts as autoerotic asphyxiation.

Back in the hospital in 1964, Father Howard strangles Shelley with his rosary (yikes!).  Though she appears dead, I doubt this is the last of her character (though I thought that about Wendy too, and the last we saw of her she was a cold slab of dead meat in Thredson’s lair, so I’ve been wrong before).  We then cut to Dr. Arden pretending to conduct classical music in his office, until Father Howard shuts off the record player, using his rosary like a whip (I fully support badass rosary usage).  Howard tells Arden he has found Shelley, and cries, “You’re a monster.”

“Briarcliff is a receptacle for human waste,” explains Arden.  “I gave these lives purpose.  Now they’re more than human.”  He shows Howard another captured patient named Spivey, also covered in sores.  “Witness the next stage of human evolution,” proclaims Arden, explaining how these people will be able to survive even the atomic blast that is sure to come from Russia (a nice nod to the paranoid attitude of the times).  Having finally seen what has come out of Arden’s experiments Father Howard is horrified, but he is in too deep himself and does not also want his involvement to be revealed. Arden then remarks, “We both know where the real danger lies,” seeming to imply that Sister Jude is the real threat.

“I’m making Devil’s Food Cake. Get it? GET IT?!”

Meanwhile in the kitchen, Sister Mary watches over Jenny while preparing food.  Jenny explains that her mother thinks she killed Josie, but Mary replies that she knows she didn’t.  When Jenny asks why, Mary says, “I know everything.  I’m a devil!” and then replies that either way, Josie got what she deserved, since the only reason Josie ever played with Jenny was because her mother forced her to.  Mary tells Josie she has the gift of “authentic impulse,” and how she knows what it means to not be liked.

We are then treated to a flashback of Sister Mary’s (yeesh, even Sister Mary gets a backstory this episode!), showing her at a pool party, tricked into disrobing nude by a bunch of the other girls.  Sister Mary always felt the brunt of the joke, and tried to find refuge with God.  “But you know there’s no God, right?  It’s crap made up to keep you from being who you are, from doing what you want to do,” she tells Jenny.  “Look where it got me, working for a mean old bitch who drinks and wears trashy red lingerie…under her habit!”  This causes Jenny to smile, the first emotion we’ve seen from her so far.  Jenny says that it doesn’t matter, since she’ll only be locked away and unable to do anything.  Sister Mary tells Jenny she just needs to learn how to defend yourself, and then drops a not-so-subtle hint by touching a large kitchen knife.

At the same time Sister Jude is on the phone, demanding Jenny’s mother come to pick her up (honestly the whole “Is Jenny at the asylum or not?” storyline felt a bit sloppy this week).  As soon as Jude gets off the phone, Father Howard arrives to fire her, having found a new position for Jude at a home for runaway girls in Pittsburgh.  The plane flight has already been booked.  Jude tries to explain to Father Howard that this is Arden’s doing, and about the mounting Nazi evidence against him, but it is of no use.

Jude packs, and Sister Mary appears, trying to comfort her (though as she’s possessed, it is clearly just an act).  Mary notices the red lingerie sitting out (which Jude wore in the last episode when she slept with a man in town), and can’t help but briefly lay a hand on it, though Jude doesn’t notice.  Jude asks Mary to fetch her a bottle of cognac, to which Mary obliges.

We finally see Kit locked in jail, using his free phone call to call Dr. Thredson.  He’s figured out the trick Thredson played on him, and ends the call by shouting, “You’re a phony lying bastard!”  Lana, meanwhile, has found a file and is using it to saw off her chains.

Thredson does not like being called names by Kit (“he’s the one talking about little green men!” he shouts), and goes into a rage.  He storms into Lana’s “room” and she has just enough time to hide back under the covers, having been unable to saw off her chain in time.  As Thredson rants, Lana figures out he’s been talking to Kit, which sets him off and makes him nervous.  He looks under the covers and sees the partially removed chain, growing even more distraught.  “You were going to abandon me, just like me mother!” he laments.  “It’s such a disappointment when people don’t live up to expectations,” he says as he ties her back down to the bed, “Sometimes all you can do is end it.”  Thredson puts on the Bloody Face mask, and approaches Lana with a surgical knife.  Uh-oh!

It’s not like you lived up to Lana’s expectations either, Dr. Thredson.

We cut to the sultry sounds of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” (yay, the classic 1960s music is back!) as Sister Mary dances and sings along while wearing Sister Jude’s red lingerie, mocking the cross on the wall.  It’s a fun and oddly appropriate song choice (and I didn’t mind seeing Lily Rabe in lingerie either), but it’s cut off when the phone rings and Sister Mary shuts off the radio.  Mary answers the phone to find Mr. Goodman on the line, and pretend to be Sister Jude answering the call.

Sister Jude, meanwhile, has come into Dr. Arden’s office, offering him a toast with the cognac.  She pours a drink for him, declaring, “To your impressive single-mindedness.” Arden, wanting just one more thing to lord of Sister Jude, asks for her to drink too even though she’s supposedly sworn off alcohol.  Jude agrees, knowing she’s been beaten.  Or has she?  As Arden takes a drink, a fingerprint is left on the glass.  Jude may be able to denounce Dr. Arden at last!

In his motel room, there is a knock on Goodman’s door.  As Goodman answers, it is revealed to be Sister Mary instead, and the screen cuts to black.

Moments later, Sister Jude arrives at the motel, triumphant with the fingerprinted glass.  However as she searches around the motel room Goodman, and all of his photos and files from World War II, are gone.  The phone is ringing off the hook, and when Jude picks it up, it clicks off (we have yet to figure out who may have been on the other end, though it seems likely to be Sister Mary).  It is only then that Sister Jude notices, reflected in the mirror, Goodman lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom (hearkening back to the first scene where Goodman and Jude met, where a lot of the sequence was shot through reflections in a mirror).  Jude rushes to Goodman’s side only to hear his last words: “A nun.  One of yours.”

In Arden’s lab, Sister Mary shows Arden the file Goodman had on him.  Arden is surprised, but Mary grins and replies not to worry.  “I’ve taken care of everything…Hans.”  Arden snaps, “Don’t ever call me that!  Ever!” and asks if the file is all the information Goodman had on him.  Mary replies it isn’t…she has hidden some of the evidence away in case Arden tries to double-cross her.  Arden tries to justify things to Mary, but his anger and anti-Semitism gets the better of him as he shouts, “These Nazi hunters are nothing more than self-loathing self-seeking money-grubbing Jews!” and, referencing back to Father Howard’s denouncement earlier, “I am not a monster, I am a visionary!”  Mary tries to comfort him.  “You’re preaching to the converted,” she coos.  “This is the beginning of a whole new era.  All you need to do is trust me with your entire soul and I promise you that everything will work out.” Arden tries to repel her advances yet again, but finally seems to relent, as she kisses him on the cheek.

I’d have trouble saying “no” too.

We then see the little girl Jenny out in the woods yet again, with the police surrounding her.  She tells them that a man with a brown jacket stabbed her brother, sister, and mother.  It’s hard to spot, but it’s clear that sticking out of one of the bodies is the Briarcliff knife Mary was handling in the kitchen.  Even if Jenny didn’t kill Josie (and she may well have), it seems pretty clear she’s willing to kill her family.   The origins of monstrosity indeed.

In Thredson’s lair, he continues to menace Lana.  “You’ll try not to scream, but you will,” he says, cutting off her dress.  “They always do when I make the first incision.”  Lana tries to talk him out of it, but it does no use.  We learn that he had been following her even before Briarcliff, when she was a reporter pursuing the story on Kit.  In flashback we see her tell another reporter that she was interested in the story because even Kit (the presumed killer at the time) was once “some precious baby crying for his mommy.”  Thredson was watching her at the time, and it piqued his interest.  However he still feels like Lana cannot understand him, and continues to rip off her clothes and press in with the knife.

Lana finally gives in and tells Thredson what he wants, saying, “A mother’s love is unconditional.  You never had that.  Everyone deserves that, even you.  Baby.”  It’s too much for Thredson.  He takes off the Bloody Face mask, and instead of killing Lana, begins to make love to her.  But we can see that Lana does not enjoy it one bit.

In the final scene we jump back to the modern day as the policemen bring down the “ impostor” Bloody Face bodies.  They also find Leo’s body, and find a ringing cell phone in his decapitated hand.  One of the cops picks up the phone.  “Who is this?” he asks.  “Did you kill these people?”

“Only the impostors ” the voice replies.  And then we see the source of the voice.  Somewhere in the asylum stands the “real” Bloody Face on the phone, with Teresa the newlywed alive and bound to a table.

A lot of character history was doled out in this episode, but there are still questions to be answered.  Is this really the end of Shelley, halfway through the season?  Dr. Arden appears to have the upper hand; how will he get his comeuppance (I’m betting he’ll get torn apart by his monsters or even have the experiment performed on himself).  How will Kit escape from jail, or Lana for that matter?  Where was Grace this episode?  Will the demon possessing Sister Mary ever leave?  And I’m still scratching my head at how modern-day Bloody Face connects to 1964.  Does Arden’s serum make people practically immortal, and is it actually a character we’ve already met at this point, or someone new?  Perhaps it’s even the offspring of Dr. Thredson and Lana?  Time will tell!

Most interestingly, I’m impressed with the arc developing around Sister Jude.  Early on she seemed just to be the evil overlord character running Briarcliff, and though she’s far from being free from sin the show is going to great lengths to test her and press her into doing the right thing.  We’re halfway through the season now, and I’m betting that even if Sister Jude may not survive the final episode, her soul will be redeemed.  Though it’s clearly an ensemble show, Sister Jude is developing as the main character, and Jessica Lange is playing her wonderfully.

Can’t wait for next week!  And read last week’s recap here.

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The Author

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. Son of an archaeologist, he spent his childhood years developing a fondness of nature and the outdoors, which was rivaled only for his love of filmmaking and storytelling.
In 2008 he graduated from the University of Southern California's film program, and currently makes a living as an editor in addition to working on his own creative projects.
He has a weakness for redheads, seafood pasta, and dinosaurs.