American Horror Story season premiere recap: Horror Freaks In Bedlam

'Welcome to Briarcliff,' where nutbags and nunsense, monsters and mad men abound. Also: Aliens. Seriously!  
Ep. 01 | Aired Oct 17, 2012

This love has taken its toll on me... AND THIS MADHOUSE HAS TAKEN MY ARM! Leo (Adam Levine) gets marooned inside The Asylum less than five minutes into the season premiere of American Horror Story. It was a Rocky Horror Clockwork Orange Leatheryfacey Freaksfest, with a dash of X-Files thrown in.

Michael Yarish/FX

A curious exchange occurs during the formal introductions between interviewer and subject. Sister Jude takes note of the writer’s name. Lana. Like Lana Turner. “There’s a train wreck of a soul,” snarks Sister Jude. “Jennifer Jones, now that’s a true lady. You’ve seen Song of Bernadette?” “A classic,” Lana replies, although it's hard to know if she’s sincere...

Just as it was hard to know if these lines were fun non-sequiters or encrypted with meaning. Lana Turner: We may assume that the nun’s low opinion of the Hollywood icon has something to do with her proverbial Shelleyishness. Turner -- born Julia Jean Turner; "The Sweater Girl," famous for the myth of her discovery; a two time Oscar nominee (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Peyton Place), seven-time divorcee -- was as infamous for her scandalous sex life as she was for her hot tomale femme fatale screen persona. In 1959, Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, murdered her Lana’s lover, the mobster Johnny Stampanato, by stabbing him to death. Turner leveraged the infamy to score one of her biggest hits, Imitation of Life, yet her career petered out quickly afterward. Jennifer Jones/The Song of Bernadette: So many ironies worth noting here, beginning with calling Jennifer Jones a “true lady.” She was born Phyllis Lee Isley. Movie mogul and future husband David O. Selznick remade her into Jennifer Jones after she failed to become a star using her real name. Born again, Hollywood style, Jones won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1944 for The Song of Bernadette. Adapted from a novel that was inspired by historical events, the movie (according to Wikipedia) tells the story of a young woman (Jones) who frequents a cave – dumping ground for a hospital’s hazardous waste – and begins having visions of a woman known as “The Lady” (she calls herself “The Immaculate Conception,” aka The Virgin Mary) and becomes convinced that the water flowing from the (contaminated?) cave has healing properties. Bernadette is doubted, then vindicated. She becomes a nun, then dies of tuberculosis. Jones other films included Beat The Devil and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing. In her later years, following some personal tragedies (including a suicide attempt -- something she also had in common with Turner), Jones became a noted activist for … mental health causes.

Lana gets Sister Jude talking about the bakery, which gets Sister Jude talking about the visionary mogul running her life, Monsignor Timothy Howard. When the Catholic Church took possession of Briarcliff two years ago, the joint was "a hellhole." But a great work is underway, Sister Jude says, one that will rehab this proverbial dump site of toxic humanity into a veritable spring of holy healing, affirming anew the relevancy of The Church to an increasingly unbelieving, science-smitten world. "[The Monsignor] believes the tonic for a diseased minds lies in the three Ps: productivity, prayer, and purification,” raves the sister. “Oh, we have such dreams for this place!”

At that moment, Sister Mary blows in like an unwanted spirit and tries to discretely inform Sister Jude that “the bad man” has arrived. The scoop-seeking snake… er, journalist in their midst pounces, revealing her true agenda. She isn’t there to write a story about the bakery. She’s there to be at the right place and the right time to score an exclusive interview with the monster that has captured the imaginations and rattled the nerves of the community – a monster named Bloody Face. Preys on women. Decapitates their heads, wears their flesh for a mask. Lana wants just three minutes with him, and she appeals to something like the public interest to convince Sister Jude that granting the interview would be the right thing to do…

Sister Jude ain’t buying it. Just like she wouldn’t buy any recapper’s claim that the reason that we watch American Horror Story is for the meaningful themes, sly allegory, or insight into human or national character. No: We’re here for the electroshock jolt of ripped arms and kinky sex. We’re here out of filthy prurient interest. Or just Jessica Lange.

And so Sister Jude gets into Lana’s face/looks into the camera, bores deeply into her/our soul, and points an accusing finger at her/us. “I see you for exactly who you are.”

(Yep. She's talking to you, Horror Freak.)

NEXT: Live from the mothership, it's... Bloody Face?!

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