American Horror Story recap: Downfall Abbey

Death and regime change come to The Asylum, as the powerful take a tumble and the misfits take charge. And dance!
Ep. 10 | Aired Jan 2, 2013

Damn Plucky. Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) conspires to take control of her fate in "The Name Game."

Prashant Gupta/FX

Which brings us to the jukebox. Sister Mary had it installed in the common room, to replace the phonograph that had become obsolete after Judy Martin shattered the only record it was ever allowed to play, The Singing Nun’s maddeningly catchy Catholic pop ditty “Dominique.” The Devil decided it was time to “bring Briarcliff into twentieth century” and make The Asylum’s residents dance to a different tune – or any tune they damn well wanted. “I am sure there is something here that can appeal to everyone’s taste,” said Sister Mary, who made her “GREAT! BIG! MUSIC! BOX!” – a metaphor for an eclectic, diversified, secular popular culture -- sound like an intrinsic good. Yet her inaugural musical selection was downright ominous: “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Right at the moment when Jay unleashed one of those signature screams, we saw Dr. Oliver Thredson strut into the common room, looking like he owned the place.

It was Judy Martin who made the episode’s most interesting musical selection. Returning from the electrotherapy room with her egg thoroughly scrambled, she drifted toward the jukebox and began pounding on it, as if attacking this unholy thing, and then tried to unplug it. As Lana tried to restrain and calm her, Judy looked through the glass and saw a song that called to her: “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis, a novelty tune (also known as "The Banana Song") in which the singer brags of her ability to turn anyone's name into a nonsense rhyme. Given the themes of the episode, I wondered if the song was Judy's way of warning her fellow inmates of evil disguised as "progress" that threatened to subvert their lives with more meaninglessness...

A BRIEF AND POSSIBLY RELEVANT DIGRESSION! "The Name Game" was nestled between Edith Piaf’s “Le Vie En Rose” and Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet.” (Meaningful allusions? “La Vie En Rose” was used in Inception, a movie about dreams, while David Lynch appropriated “Blue Velvet” for his classic 1987 neo noir renowned for its surreal dream logic. Consider this a sign post of foreshadowing if American Horror Story winds up going down some reality blurring Lost Highway/Mulholland Drive during its final three episodes.)

From there, we segued into Judy’s electro-popped brain for a Glee-fully demented sequence in which Jessica Lange rocked a blonde wig and powder blue dress and danced with the other Briarcliff unfortunates as she warped their names into goofy ridiculata. The tune is pure mid-sixties fun-time dance music, but in the context of an episode about losing personal meaning, the song represented something darker, an anthem for Judy’s deteriorating identity. Perhaps summing it up best was the recurring shot of one inmate merrily keeping the beat… by repeatedly pounding his head against a pillar. Coming out of the sequence, Lana looked Judy (and us) in the eye and asked, gravely, "Do you know your name?" Judy couldn't answer the question, so Lana did it for her: "Your name is Judy Martin." Warning: An electronic culture of euphoric pop thrills can be hazardous to your mental health, and possibly the entire wired, interconnected Global Village. Okay, I’m not 100% sure what exactly AHS was going for here… but damn if it wasn’t entertainingly strange, outrageous and provocative.

I was moved by Judy’s poignant, heroic final moment. We saw her in the common room, parked like a couch potato, a still life of frazzled misery, trying to hold onto to mind and meaning by looking at each patient and trying to remember their names. When Mother Superior paid her a visit, she drifted into the deluded daydream of going to Rome with Monsignor Timothy as his bride, serving together as Pope. But then she saw the woman whose life she ruined, and she regained some focus and recalled her redemptive mission. “Do you see that woman over there, smoking that cigarette?” she asked Mother Superior. “Her name is Lana Winters. She doesn’t belong here. I put her here. Help her! Get her out!”

I hate to give short-shrift to the episode’s other bits of business, i.e. the Lana-Kit-Thredson manipulations, the birth of Grace’s baby, and the Son of Bloody Face stuff, but I’m sure we’ll be talking a lot about all of that over the next three weeks, as these conflicts and lingering mysteries seem set to drive the endgame of the season. But let me say that Lana scored the best line of the night: “You know I can do it, Oliver. I’m goddam plucky, remember.” I cede the floor to you, my fellow horror freaks: What did you make of “The Name Game?”

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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