Every week in Slate’s American Horror Story TV club, J. Bryan Lowder will have an IM conversation with a different AHS fan. This week, he rehashes episode 2.11 with Abby Ohlheiser, a Slate contributor.
J. Bryan Lowder: Good evening, Abby! Welcome back to the chat. We’ve embarked on the final three episodes tonight, and the action we just witnessed definitely hinted that a no doubt riveting conclusion is at hand, but perhaps not the sort we expected earlier in the season. Our main villains in 1964 have all been slain in one way or another, and everything is falling apart—the hounds are set to descend on Briarcliff, Thredson’s manipulations are over, and Lana and Grace—and Alma!—are back at home. But as we know, the denouement is sometimes the most dangerous period in a story like this; it’s when people get desperate and stupid. As we saw, Thredson almost shot Lana, and Lana shouldn’t have even been in that house in the first place. And methinks the Monsignor may turn out to be the worst baddie of them all. But I go on! Abby, what’s your take on where we’re at?
Abby Ohlheiser: I’m assuming the writers knew we wouldn’t trust the at first neat resolutions our main characters seemed to get in this episode—of course, each of those were undone by their own twist before the fade to black. Even though I’m still left with a sense of “what now?” I’m actually more excited to see what comes next than I have been since the beginning of the season. The conversions—particularly that of Sister Jude, the hint of Lana staring at the cross while the very picture of Mary, and, I would argue, that of the Monsignor, open new doors now that a bunch of plot points have been resolved.
Lowder: I completely agree! I published an essay earlier today analyzing the low import plot seems to have in AHS, and while I still stand by that reading, the episode did entice me story-wise in a way I hadn’t felt for some time. I’m especially curious about Sister Jude’s endgame. May I share my theory with you?
Ohlheiser: Yes, do!
Lowder: In her appearances tonight, Jude took on an almost prophetic quality, like, in the sense of a legit biblical prophet—stalking around in rags, seeming half deranged, half-knowing, standing up to authority and calling on god and St. Jude—the patron saint of hopeless causes—to intercede on her behalf. She had this great line hurled at the utterly corrupt Monsignor: “You will not prevail, Timothy. My god would never allow it!” I had serious chills there! I totally expect Jude to be granted some dark angel powers or something similar in the next weeks to wreak havoc, and I also expect her to die—St. Jude was, after all, a martyr.
Ohlheiser: I like that. Her speech in the common room, which was for me definitely the most intriguing scene in this episode, if not the last few episodes, had an almost microcosmic jeremiad quality to it, which fits with your prophecy theory. Her line, “I’m blessed with the gift of total clarity” reminded me of something else too —of the Kafka story “In the Penal Colony”—in that she’s achieved a mystical clarity through being subjected to her own machine. Though in this case I’m assuming we’ll see a more elegant resolution for Lange to play out.
Lowder: Oh I love that Kafka reference—being subjected to the Foucaldian matrix of medicine, church and bureaucratic discipline is exactly what’s happened to her, and she seems both simultaneously empowered and doomed by her new-found clarity. Of all the characters, I really can’t wait to see how Jude ends up, even if it’s in a coffin. Now, turning to other characters, what did you make of Lana’s escape and dramatic last-minute refusal of the back-room abortion? I got what the producers were trying to do with that—the child has to live on so McDermott can get a check in 2012—but I’m not sure her pat recitation of “No more death. No more.” rang true. But after all she’s been through, maybe it makes sense. What say you?
Ohlheiser: The line itself was a bit much, but I respect the narrative choice there, as predictable as it was. In any case, how can you say “No more death” on American Horror Story and expect the viewer to keep a straight face? As far as the choice itself, I was satisfied with the notion that a medical procedure like that would evoke a trauma response in Lana (frankly, it’s about time), which is how I decided to read that kind of gratuitous “best of AHS Asylum” rapid flashback montage she experiences.
Lowder: Ah, that is totally the right reading, I think. I kind of skipped over the montage, but you’re absolutely right—this is the first time she’s been allowed to choose what happens to her body, and, in a certain, perverse way, to choose to go through with the abortion would keep Thredson in control. Keeping the baby against everything else was the most free choice she could make. Speaking of babies, Kit now has two! Both Alma and Grace have returned from the mothership with little ones, and we still have no idea why the aliens care about human reproduction or why daddy-Kit is so special as a stud. We did, however, get one clue tonight—Grace said that her child “will change the way people think.” Tell me, Abby, are these kids going to grow up to be activists or something?
Ohlheiser: There are SO MANY babies. Why? I’m thinking the AHS writers should swear off the “But guys, this baby is REALLY special/evil” plot point for next season. It’s almost as bad as last season’s ghosts, ghosts everywhere free-for-all. It’s too obvious to suggest that the babies are little Jesuses, but I’m just going to go ahead and do that, because I’m a little overwhelmed by them all. I’m kind of wondering, however, why Grace told Kit that Alma was dead, or why she saw her dead. Did the aliens make a mistake? Did she? Did they intend to have two Kit spawn, just in case something happens to one of them?
Lowder: Ha, well, as Grace said, the aliens aren’t perfect—but they DO seem to have giant swimming pools in their ship, so that’s cool. I agree that the babies thing is a bit played out—unless all of the babies from the various seasons are going to come together for a American Horror Story: X-Men season or something a few years from now. But I digress. Before we go, one final question: What happened to Pepper!? I was loving her assertiveness on the past few episodes, and suddenly she’s “missing.” Wha? I hope she returns and that the aliens leave her intelligence intact and don’t pull some Flowers for Algernon silliness.
Ohlheiser: Flowers for Algernon made me cry when I read it as a kid. I’ll be furious if someone tries to pull that on me again. Last we saw Pepper, she was headed to the baths, yes? Here’s hoping that she has ascended or escaped with the aliens’s help, rather than met her untimely end in the Monsignor’s asylum.
Lowder: Let’s hope indeed! Well, I think it’s time to sign-off, but I’m sure we’ll both be eagerly awaiting the finale in two weeks. Let’s just also hope that there won’t be any more babies between now and then! Ciao!
Ohlheiser: Agreed. I think they’re just about out of living female characters to impregnate this season, so we’re probably done with babies.
Later This Week: Further analysis of Episode 11.