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

Gravely concerned about the direction in which The Asylum is headed, Sister Jude decides to express herself to Briarcliff's major domo, Monsignor Timothy, another patriarchal male capable of getting her hot under the habit, albeit in a different kind of way. We see her prepare a succulent meal of Coq Au Vin. We see her don a red negligee, then anoint herself with perfume in such a way that seems to suggest that Sister Jude doesn't always have mastery over her domain. We see her sit with him and serve him and watch him move that mouth as he gobbles up her saucy chicken --


"When you put me in charge here," she says, "I thought your faith in me was based on our mutually shared vision of madness as a spiritual crisis, an absence of god."

Munchmunchchickenmunch. "That remains true." Munchmunchmunch.

"I want you to know that wherever you found that man, he is not a man of god."

Monsignor Timothy puts down his fork and issues a mild rebuke. Dr. Arden? He was approved by The Church, patriarchal males "better equipped to judge his godliness than you." He asks her to open her mind to a different way of regarding the science that she believes is threatening their worldview. "It was God who put the idea into the doctor’s head to create the antibiotic that cured tuberculosis," he says. "These are amazing times, if you just look at it in another light." He then grabs her hands, strokes her flesh with his fine fingers, and sketches his vision of their shared future. "Here's what I want," he says. "I want this institution to become a place of such promise and renown that we are asked to become Cardinal of New York."


"Wherever I go, you go. You're my right hand," he says. "You will become Mother Superior, overseeing thousands of nuns who will call you Reverend Mother. And then, with God and you on my side, I see no reason why I couldn't ascend to the office of first Anglo-American pope. You would enjoy Rome, wouldn't you sister?"

Oh, would she. Sister Jude is utterly seduced by the Monsignor's proposal of death-do-them-part power and glory, and she loses it. She removes her habit, shake out her hair, removes her robe to reveal her sexy crimson underclothes, then straddles him and strokes his face --

She snaps out of it. Just a dreamy hot flash. Monsignor Timothy resumes his dinner, munchmunchchickenmunch. "I need you to be a team player," he says. "The doctor needs to have full oversight of his domain. You look after yours."

So to speak.

Sister Jude clears her throat, but is incapable of saying one thing more. Seduced. Neutralized. Oh, Monsignor! Thy kingdom come, indeed!

And with that, Dr. Arden goes to work.

The madhouse physician takes Kit from his cell and wheels him into his laboratory, where the shelves are filled with jars of brains extracted from the skulls of Briarcliff's deceased unfortunates. He exults in his power, and relishes the prospect of ideological victory over the Sisters and their "fairy tale" perspectives on life and lunacy. "This is my time now. The time of science," gloats Dr. Arden, who makes a passing yet conspicuous reference to one "Brother Abelard," whom he claims was castrated for his belief in reason...

Although this is not quite true. Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was a philosopher and theologian who was actually castrated for the shabby way he handled an illicit romance with a brainy chick named Heloise, a prominent clergyman's niece. Yet Abelard's proto-Enlightenment theological work was indeed deemed controversial, even heretical, like his "moral theory of atonement" (souls are redeemed not by Christ's triumph over death but by living lives of love inspired by Christ's sacrificial grace; what you put out in the world comes back to you), and his skeptical critique of the doctrine of original sin as a supernatural stain, passed down from Adam and Eve...

A critique which Dr. Arden is intent to prove in his own unique way by experimenting on The Man Who Would Be Bloody Face. His ambition: To study Kit's "cute blond melon," which he believes contains an egg more spoiled than 10 of the brains on his shelf combined, and crack the secrets of the darkness that dwells within the human psyche. "The devil doesn't reside in hell," he tells Kit. "He resides here, in the frontal gyrus in the occipital lobes." The frontal gyrus deals with go/no go tasks and risk aversion; the occipital lobes contain most of our visual cortex. The devil, then, resides in the proverbial theater of the mind. Is American Horror Story: Asylum implying that those who lack mastery over the images they put in their heads are at risk of being corrupted by them? In the words of the Sunday School song: Be careful little eyes what you see. Or, to quote a certain British Horror Story: "Viddy well, little brother. Viddy well."

NEXT: It Gets Worse.

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