American Horror Story recap: Suffer Not A Woman

Not a good night for the ladies, as Bloody Face shows his true face and Dr. Arden seizes control of The Asylum 
Ep. 05 | Aired Nov 14, 2012

"HEIL ME!" Suspected Nazi war criminal Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) bluffed Sister Jude out of power and silenced a threat to his freedom with a few taps of his orbitoclast in the conclusion of "I Am Anne Frank."

Byron Cohen/FX

Sister Jude lost her power. Lana Winters lost her freedom. Grace lost control of her body, and then her voice, while “Anne Frank,” married name Charlotte Brown, born Charlotte Cohen, lost her mind and all of her identities. The second part of “I Am Anne Frank” was one goosestep forward for the wolfish Mad Men of Briarcliff Manor Sanatorium, one giant leap backward for women and their fight for self-determination. As usual, the episode was a dark mirror to the dark stories that fill our culture, fictional and otherwise, including racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Especially misogyny. The Hitchcock-taut set piece that concluded the outing – which revealed that Bloody Face (circa ’64) was Dr. Oliver Thredson -- was encoded with a cultural genealogy of Men Who Hate Women spectacle, implicitly quoting Ilse Koch, Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Amid the wreckage of female destruction, there was hope, albeit ironic, even hideous. She was a monstrous Fury, set loose by a lady Lucifer, a spirit of We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore! vengeance, unleashed by a certifiably Twisted Sister. How genius was the scene with Mary-liberated Shelley, boiled and dismembered, pulling herself up those schoolyard stairs, as if climbing out of the pit of Hades. To quote Charlotte Perkins Gillman, whose short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was cited in last year’s “Rubber Man” episode (Moira! Miss you!) and echoed loudly in Charlotte Brown’s tale: "Here she comes, running out of prison and off the pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman."

But barely.

The Dark Knight of Mirrors. We opened on Sister Jude, sitting in her car, out of “costume,” as Dr. Arden might say. She was examining her crimson kerchief bonnet in the vanity mirror, one of many such looking glasses in the episode. She was on a secret mission to consult with underground Nazi hunter Sam Goodman. Little Red Riding Hood, meeting with The Huntsman, about a certain Big Bad Wolf. Inside Sam’s place, the camera panned back between Judy and Goodman in the flesh, and Judy and Goodman reflected in different vanity mirrors. She told the Holocaust survivor and war crimes vigilante (“I don’t do this for money,” said Goodman, a veritable superhero) about her suspicion that Dr. Arden was actually a former S.S. doctor named Hans Gruber. Goodman told Judy about Operation: Paperclip, and how the United States secretly brought Nazi eggheads into the country, gave these Dr. Strangeloves freedom and “false biographies” in exchange for the science that helped build our space program and nuclear arsenal. (Sing it, Starship: We built this city!/We built this city on Nazi rock ‘n roll!)

The disorienting use of mirrors in a scene reminding us of our God blessed nation’s immoral opportunism and reprehensible hypocrisy reminded me of Kevin Costner’s famous line in Oliver Stone’s JFK: “We’re through the looking glass on this one, people. White is black, black is white.” Regardless, just as she did so often last week, Sister Jude saw her secret shame (SCREECH! SLAM! SPLAT!) and bogus redemption in someone else’s story, this one about a crusader chasing after at-large criminals who've found safe harbor in new identities within allegedly noble institutions, who need to be exposed and brought to justice.

Say it, Sister Jude: “I Am Hans Gruber.”

Persona Blues. Back at Briarcliff, the woman who wasn’t Anne Frank hauled the man who wasn’t Dr. Arden into Sister Jude’s office. Sister Jude was off campus, of course, but satanically enhanced Sister Mary Eunice was there, searching Sister Jude’s desk drawers for… something. Did she find it? “This man is a monster!” said Anne Frank. “You should see what he has in his office!”  Sister Mary – not wanting to argue with the crazy lady with a gun – said she’d investigate and fetch Sister Jude, ASAP.  Anne was content to wait. But her revolution ended as quickly as it began: Frank caught her with her back turned and put a gun to her skull. Game Over.

It was Game Over for Sister Jude, too, if Anne Frank couldn't cough up proof that Dr. Arden was Hans Gruber. She surmised -- correctly -- that Arden would attribute Lady Die Hard’s yippee ki-yay nazif---er gunplay on her lack of institutional control and demand her resignation or termination. Anne continued to claim that Arden was keeping a legless she-thing in his closet. Sister Jude went looking for said freak, found nothing. (We would later learn that Sister Mary dragged Shelley out of Arden’s dungeon before she could be found.)

Sister Jude’s cooked goose really began to smoke once Anne Frank’s husband showed up and explained that yes, "Anne Frank" was not really the Anne Frank of history. The husband: Mr. Jim Brown, a clean cut joe with a square jaw and a kindly face, a mid-century American male who aspired to Don-and-Betty bliss. His tale of weird male woe was illustrated with stylized flashbacks –narrow screen; washed-out yellow-green hues; mono audio; creepy Theremin music -- that evoked a soap opera broadcast circa sixties color TV. A late run installment of Dark Shadows, perhaps. The chilling significance of this choice wouldn’t be felt in full until the very end of the episode.

A few months ago, Mr. Brown explained, his wife, Charlotte, started acting “cuckoo.” It began when she read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl when she was eight months pregnant, followed by a stage adaptation in Boston. After she gave birth to their son, David, and as she struggled to assuage his fits of colic, Charlotte became overwhelmed with a feeling of “powerlessness.” It was then that the identification with Anne Frank ignited, and she started spending more and more of her time researching Holocaust horror. “It was like she wanted to relive it, that she could change the outcome,” said Mr. Brown. (I put that line in bold, because I am convinced it's a clue to what's really happening at Briarcliff. More, at the end of the recap.) In a flashback, Mr. Brown, stuck with trying to soothe David, watched Charlotte rush out the door to find material about children who died in Nazi gas chambers. What about the baby? “He’s not the one who needs me!” cried the would-be Wonder Woman, flying away in her invisible plane of crazy.

NEXT: Grok Theory.


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