Image credit: Byron Cohen/FX
"I'LL FLY AWAY!" "Betty Drake" (Jessica Lange) takes a (psychotic) break in "Continuum." The haggard survivor of Briarcliff horror vowed to make like The Flying Nun (which was based on her life's story, don't you know!) and flap away from The Asylum, even without her magic habit. Was American Horror Story foreshadowing Sister Jude's fate in next week's finale? Theory: Watch the aliens float Judy up into the sky and then into their mothership, where she'll come face to face with the Queen E.T., played by Sally Field.
Oh, and one more thing: Monsignor Timothy had submitted the paperwork for “Betty Drake’s” release. “The cruelty ends here,” said the Monsignor, as if he had nothing to do with it.
But Judy was so far past that. “The cruelest thing of all, Timothy,” she said, “is false hope.”
“I promise,” said the priest. “I will make you a believer.”
He didn’t, of course. And in his small, veryveryvery tiny defense, it’s quite possible that Judy’s eroding mind was playing tricks on her. Which to say, he may never have made the promise at all.
We cut to a scene in the bakery, as newly secularized Briarcliff welcomed its first influx of jail-surplus unfortunates, rolling in like an immigrant tide, like a veritable alien invasion. We heard Jimi Hendrix druggy-jamming on the radio (There must be some way out of here/Said the Joker to the Thief), and we saw Judy lock eyes with a familiar figure emerging from a puff of cigarette smoke and hazy sunshine. The woman, played by Francis Conroy and named "Vera" according to F/X, was a dead ringer for the otherworldly Shachath, the angel of death… if Shachath had lost her black wings and femme fatale glam and given herself a makeover that was equal parts hag horror Joan Crawford and Matt Dillon in Rumble Fish. FUN FACT! In an episode featuring lady axe murderers and Jessica Lange in a straight-jacket, I have to think “Continuum” was winking at the 1964 camp-chiller Straight-Jacket, starring the aforementioned Crawford as an axe murderer, and an example of the “Psycho-biddy” subgenre. Also see: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Whatever Happened To Aunt Alice?, What’s The Matter With Helen?, and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (Clearly, a golden era of horror.)
If I was even a quarter of the Susan Sontag wannabe that I want to be, I might be able to deconstruct Vera's campy-creepy visage with some kind of intelligence… or know enough to know that I shouldn’t. But I pseudo-intellectually digress-punt. Vera the black-eyed dye-job greaser was (I think) a former slumlord who stole government checks from the riff-raff who refused to pay their rent. (She also killed said loafers, too.) From the second she walked into Briarcliff accompanied by two thuggy dames -- a goofy-menacing Batman TV show baddie backed by Goon 1 and Goon 2 -- Vera acted like she owned the joint, and she made sure the Queen of Candyland knew it. She gave "Betty Drake" an ultimatum: Share power or die.
Judy was spooked, largely because she was certain that the scary lady threatening her life was actually Shachath in disguise, come to claim her soul. But that made no sense. Shachath only stalked to hopeless, and Judy had hope. The Monsignor was getting her out. He promised! Happily ever after loomed!
Her fear intensified – and her deterioration escalated – when she learned she had to share quarters with Vera. “Everything in this cell belongs to me,” the draggy dragon lady announced from the top bunk. “That includes you.” She told Judy she would soon have her “shakin’ and moanin’.” She told just-say-no Judy she would make her change her tune. The build toward Caged Heat went next level the next day in the common room, when the new Bad Woman on Campus bullied poor Percy, then shivved him to death, then blew Judy a kiss. The frazzled former First Lady of Briarcliff clutched her head, as if trying to keep it together. There was a fade to black…
And when Judy came out of it, Shachath was on top of her, although it was Vera’s voice who said, “Give me a kiss, sweetheart.” Judy went Alma: She snapped, broke bad. “Get away from me! I don’t want to die!” She pushed the woman away, and began to violently beat on her, and when the orderlies pulled her away, Judy saw she wasn’t beating on Shachath or Vera, but someone else altogether, a frumpy female inmate heretofore unseen.
When we next saw Judy Martin, it was her turn to go Grand Dame Guignol. Pale skin. Longer, scraggily hair. Bloodshot eyes and wasted face, and of course, the straightjacket. She was struggling to get her bearings. She was in her office at the top of the Stairway to Heaven…
No, wait. She hadn’t had an office in years. Not since she was Sister Jude. Judy focused. Get it straight. This was her old office, now occupied by one Dr. Miranda Crump. Briarcliff’s reigning administrator informed Judy that unless she made a better effort to get along with her roommates – she had gone though five in the past two months alone – she was going to be sent back to solitary. Judy’s eyes squished with confusion. Five roommates? In two months? But it had only been a few days since Timothy Howard promised to work on her release! Surely Dr. Crump was mistaken! But no: It had actually been two and a half years since the Monsignor left Briarcliff. Judy protested. She asked Dr. Crump to fetch Pepper. The Pinhead would clarify everything. No, that was impossible: Pepper had died in the winter of 1966, well before the events of this episode. “Don’t you remember?”
We were left to wonder: Was Vera even real? An expression of Judy's anxiety and alienation, dressed by her pop-hazed imagination? A composite character who embodied all of her former roommates, and of what Briarcliff was doing to her? Destabilizing her. Degrading her. Violating her physical and psychic boundaries. Threatening to completely destroy her...