American Horror Story recap: The Exorcism of Hoary Potter

Sister Jude engages in spiritual warfare with a shrink, a possessed child and her own demons in 'Tricks and Treats'
Ep. 02 | Aired Oct 24, 2012

Feeling Clammy. Doe-eyed James Dean Hater and Smartest Person In The Room Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) gives a demon the stink-eye, then realizes she's looking in a metaphorical mirror in "Tricks and Treats."

Byron Cohen/FX

Twilight in The Asylum, and a devil is on the loose.

Bloody Face, an iconic serial killer, stands at one end of a corridor within the mischief-wrecked deathtrap that is Briarcliff Manor Sanatorium. The bogeyman cuts a terrifying figure -- trenchcoat, work gloves, a mask made of stitched human flesh. (What big green wolfish eyes you have, peeping through those holes!) He/She/It grips an orbitoclast, the ice pick lobotomy tool, invented in 1948 by Dr. Walter Freeman, one of the pioneers in so-called “psychosurgery.” But this psycho has a different kind of surgery in mind.

Teresa, a self-described "horror freak," is freaking out. A close encounter with Bloody Face? A chance to be hunted by Horror Culture incarnate? Not what she and her husband signed up for when the newlyweds bought into the "Haunted Honeymoon Tour."

Or is it?

Either way, Teresa does what she’s supposed to do. She runs. And Bloody Face chases.

Teresa goes to Leo, languishing in a slick of blood poured from the raw hole where his arm used to be, the limb that had been ripped from his torso like a weed pulled clean from the ground by The Thing On The Other Side Of The Door. She grabs Leo and begins to drag him to safety…

But Leo is too heavy, and Bloody Face is closing quickly, and fear is jabbing at her like a finger pounding on a panic button. Salvation demands that she leave her man behind. Teresa drops the dead weight of her dying spouse. She falls backward and crabwalks into an open cell and slams the heavy metal door shut. CLICK. Automatic lock. She peeks through the food hole, peeping the creepshow that follows:

Bloody Face straddles Leo. Leo murmurs "Help me." Bloody Face drives the orbitoclast into Leo's chest, over and over. Chunk. Chunk. Chunk. Chunk. Teresa goes Scream Queen, then screeches louder as Bloody Face rises and goes to the door and pounds and Pounds and POUNDS until finally --

SMASH!

Or rather: SMASH CUT

To another time. Another place. Another woman who abandoned her true love to a hideous fate, possibly Bloody Face himself. And there are ghouls pounding on her door, too. October 30, 1964. It is Mischief Night again in America. Also known as Hell Night or Devil’s Night. The evening before Halloween, full of highly spirited pranks and, occasionally, worse.

Wendy Paisa listens to the loud rapping, momentarily distracted from the shame she feels over the traitor’s choice she made last week: Remanding her girlfriend, Lana Winters, to The Asylum after a certain twisted Sister threatened to expose her sexuality to a town that doesn't and won't tolerate it, especially in their schoolteachers. Watching Wendy wrestle with her demons are two friends who mean well, but don't make for the greatest company. Barb smokes and says they shouldn’t answer the door because it could be a certain sadistic killer of women, aka Bloody Face. Lois shoots down the idea, because she believes the reports that Bloody Face is now safely locked away… inside the same mad house where Lana is currently trapped. Wendy sobs harder. Nice one, Lois.

POUND! POUND! POUND! Oh, screw it. Lois ain’t going to live life being afraid. She opens the door, and sure enough, there’s a masked monster waiting to pounce – a kid in a dime store Frankenstein costume. Accompanied by friends: Gypsy Fortune Teller and Clown. It seems they're celebrating Mischief Night by getting an early start on trick-or-treating. But Wendy has no candy, and anyway, she’s not in the mood. She's more in a Tears for Fears/It's-a-world-gone-crazy-keeps-a-woman-in-chains state of mind. “My job, kids, Halloween, nothing makes sense without her,” she sobs. “I just hate myself.”

Lois nestles next to Wendy and tries to offer some comfort… and more. “Do you want me to stay over tonight?” she asks. (Barb's eyes pop knowingly.) Wendy stands, as if trying to extricate herself from a moment gone awkward. She announces that at first light, she’s going to recant her affidavit and do what it takes to liberate her lady. Barb suggests an excuse: “You can say you made a mistake. You got scared and hit the panic button.” Wendy nods, resolves. “I just got to get her out of there.”

Later that night, Wendy lights up a joint, puts on a record (Dusty Springfield’s 1964 recording of “Wishin’ and Hopin’”) and starts a shower. Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and praying'/Plannin' and dreamin' his kisses will start/That won't get you into his heart/So if you're thinkin' of how great true love is...

The visuals deliberately evoke the infamous sequence in Psycho, but it’s a psych-out. Wendy is out of the tub before things get Batesy-Chunky...

But wait. Did she hear something? Or is the reefer just messing with her mind?

Wendy cuts an interesting figure as she glides down the hall, tracking the source of the disturbance. With her blue robe and with her hands folded and pressed to her chest, she looks like a Praying Mary. Blue robes on the mother of Christ symbolized innocence, truth and clarity of vision – a sly choice for under the influence Wendy.

The sound? Just a breeze coming through an open window, one of many in the home. No big deal for her. She feels safe. Safe as houses. She closes the window, walks through a beaded partition, and just as Dusty reaches the crescendo –

You will be his/You will be his!

Wendy walks right into Bloody Face.

Huh? Isn't Bloody Face in Briarcliff? Is he not Kit Walker? Just who or what is this gruesomely costumed trickster, who unlike Teresa’s Bloody Face in the present day, appears to have darker eyes and scraggly hair?

But He/She/It does have an orbitoclast. Which again, is a lobotomy tool, used in psychosurgery. It is a thing that is driven through the eye, into the brain, to sever the frontal lobes from the thalamus, for the purpose of reducing the pique of neuroses. The procedure, now considered barbaric, left many patients even more messed up before, with side effects including the blunting of emotions or personality. Which is to say: It could make you a vegetable, numb and desensitized.

Understanding this lends provocative subtext to what Wendy says next. She pleads for her life by arguing that the violence he’s about to commit will have a discombobulating impact on kids -- that it will destroy their innocence. “I’m a school teacher!” she says. “The children -- they won’t understand!”

Bloody Face, butcher of women and horror pop incarnate, is unmoved. We take Wendy’s perspective as Bloody Face gets in our face, raises the orbitoclast, and swings into the eye of the camera -- into our eye. CHUNK! Smash to black. Numb and desensitized. And now, we are his.

Okay, maybe I'm imagining things. But was Wendy seeing things, too? Was her close encounter with Bloody Face for real, or just reefer madness? MORE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What was the significance of those trick-or-treaters showing up a day early? I loved the subversiveness of jumping from present to past by linking the pounding of one certifiable masked monster to a child dressed as one for fun. But might it mean something more than just ironic juxtaposition? What is the extent of the relationship between these two horror stories? Is one influencing the other? Is the evil of one generation trying to POUND! POUND! POUND! break through the wall of time and ravage the other? Will the two realities blur and blend? Are horror history freaks Leo and Teresa spiraling into the past? Will liberation-questing Kit and Lana find freedom in the future?

NEXT: Enter the Headshrinker!

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