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

Untrue Confessions. Dr. Thredson launched his Briarcliff endgame by setting a time and location with Lana Winters for the great escape they hatched last week: After dinner, under the Stairway to Heaven. Then he went to his temp office, where Kit Walker was waiting. Last week, Kit bent to Thredson’s pressure and accepted as truth the narrative foisted upon him: That he was Bloody Face; that clandestinely marrying a black woman had driven him insane. Thredson had convinced Kit that such a confession would save him a sit-down with old Sparky. But any confession Kit made had to be sincere. So Thredson wanted Kit to practice. He asked Kit to record a confession, then listen to himself. Kit wasn’t in the mood. He wanted Thredson to help save Grace from sterilization. Thredson made no promises – Grace wasn’t his patient – but he offered to try, just as soon as Kit was finished with this exercise. Thredson opened up a suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape deck, and Kit, suckered, got busy damning himself: “My name is Kit Walker. And I murdered my wife…”

While Kit was spilling guts, we saw Grace in the white space limbo of the aliens’ operating theater, getting her guts ripped open. Among a flurry of images, one caught my eye: A long finger scraping a bloody incision across Grace’s abdomen. Alma stood by her side, attending to her, nursing her through the ordeal: “Don’t fight it. You’ll make it worse.” Do we take this at face value? Are we seriously dealing with legit alien abductions? Or are there other explanations? In Grace’s case, perhaps we were witnessing sterilization, and the E.T. fantasy was her way of coping with/escaping from the trauma. Or this: What if Grace was pulling her own Charlotte-to-Anne Frank breakdown makeover? What if what we were watching was the beginning of Grace’s attempt at transforming herself into Alma Walker? (And suddenly I’m wondering if American Horror Story has Norman Mailer on its mind.)

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes Your Stronger. Is there any doubt that Dr. Arden, aka Hans Gruber, is one seriously resilient Die Hard rogue? Having survived exposure and assassination, the president of the local chapter of the He Man Woman Hater’s Club returned to Briarcliff with a vengeance and brandishing a new accessory: A cane with a wolf’s head handle. The symbol screamed “Nazi” but also Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows. In a scene set within Sister Jude’s office lined with Catholic World books and illuminated by the glow of a crackling fireplace, Dr. Arden informed the First Lady of Briarcliff that he intended to press charges against her… although I think he really just trying to bully and bluff her into quitting The Asylum of her own accord. “On your watch, that crazy bitch got hold of a gun and you sent her home without as much as a slap on the wrist,” said Arden, who in the process called out the episode’s biggest plot hole. (Good point, Doc! Why didn’t Sister Jude – or anyone -- call the cops?) “Your ineptitude is staggering.” She asked what she could do to clean the slate with Arden. He suggested prostrating herself before him like a submissive supplicant and begging forgiveness and loyalty. I suspect he’s had that daydream more than a few times, and rehearsed it with his troop of role-playing prostitutes, too. But he knew she had too much pride to go down on bended knee for him. And again: He wanted Sister Jude out. “You’re through here, Sister,” said Arden. “And you know it.” She did.

His Briarcliff coup all but complete, Dr. Arden retired to his lair to change the dressing on his gunshot wound. Enter Sister Mary, who offered to play nurse. She made a show of taking the medical tray and going down on her knees, and while she worked on him, she begged forgiveness for her “untoward” behavior of the past few episodes and pledged obedient, submissive loyalty. She also knew that Arden had just knocked off Sister Jude, and her subsequent comments seemed to proceed from the unspoken assumption/awareness that Arden aspired to seize total control over Briarcliff. In other words: Watch out, Monsignor Timothy: You’re next on Arden’s list. And so it went that she made her pitch for Sister Jude’s job. “You’ll need a strong right hand,” she said. “Someone you can trust.” She would be Helpmate Eve to his Garden Lord Adam, the Anti-Christ to his God of Reason… and together they would burn The Catholic World to the ground with their army of transhuman supermen and build a Kingdom of Super-Science, where everyone would live free of the delusion of sin or fear of death, and I think I just gave Richard Dawkins a boner with this paragraph.

It was all so much seduction. And it seemed like Dr. Arden fell for it. He’s always been sweet on her. And he had proof of her sincerity: He knew she was the one who disposed of Shelley, and he thanked the naughty nun for protecting him.  It might have been out of that gratitude that he accepted Sister Mary’s apology and cleaned the slate with her and declared: “I trust you completely.” But did he? Arden has seen the change in her. He must be suspicious. Surely he wonders: What game are you playing, woman? Perhaps the old maxim ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ was what drove him to seal the deal on their axis of evil alliance.

NEXT: Dead Ringers theory

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