American Horror Story recap: Change You Can't Believe In

The monsters of The Asylum try to redeem themselves (or pretend to) in an episode filled with cliffhangers and one nasty coat hanger 
Ep. 09 | Aired Dec 12, 2012

WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER! Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) discovers one more sour reason to really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really hate Dr. Oliver Thredson in "The Coat Hanger."

The magistrate wasn’t inclined to believe the word of a mass murderer who had dodged the death penalty by hiding behind an insanity defense. But Lee bolstered his credibility by taking full responsibility for his murders (at least he sent them to Heaven!), and more showing amazing grace toward Sister Jude. “I can't hate Sister Jude for what she did to me,” said Lee. “But I can try to forgive her, and I can try to carry on in my own personal road to true redemption, so one day, when I enter the gates of Heaven, I can apologize, personally, to each of those 18 people I sent there before me.” The judge bought it. And with that, Sister Jude was sentenced to life imprisonment within Briarcliff, and stripped of her position within The Church. Sister Judy ceased to be. Judy Martin was now, as ever, just Judy Martin.

Monsignor Timothy was particularly (dumb)struck by Lee’s proverbial Pauline conversion. He also saw a change he wanted to believe, especially since it affirmed his faith and presented an opportunity. In Lee, the earnest saver of souls saw proof of God’s power. In Lee, the craven careerist saw a success story that would burnish his papal resume. “You could be my miracle, Lee,” said the Monsignor. “If I could turn a man like you to toward Christ, imagine the reforms I can make on a national scale, not just mental health. Believe me, if I could ascend to the highest ranks of The Church, I would not back down from the fight. I just want to make a difference in the world.”

In Lee’s shifty noodle, wheels turned.

We assumed the worst when Monsignor Timothy brought his experimental redemption project into Judy’s room so the seemingly saintly Santa could tell his former jailor, abuser and would-be executioner that he forgave her. In a flashback, we saw a moment from a year earlier when Lee made it loud and crudely clear that he didn’t think much of her redemption tactics (especially since they involved keeping him restrained and isolated). Now, a year later, their positions reversed, with Lee looming above the bolted down Judy, it seemed Lee had the opportunity to do… something. Something vengeful. Something violently nasty. Something that would involve teeth, given past precedent (see: The Christmas Party Nose Chomp Debacle) and since his hands were cuffed. But no: “I forgive you,” he said, and kissed her on the forehead. He turned and shuffled humbly out the door, hands folded as if in perpetual prayer, reeking of disingenuousness that apparently only Judy Martin could detect. She was quite familiar with the scent, having worn it like a habit for years…

The truth was, Sister Nun wasn’t Lee’s target. The fulfillment of his insidious plan for vengeance/escape came when Monsignor Timothy baptized him in The Asylum’s chapel. The priest issued the sacrament, cleansing Lee’s soul for all time in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Lee was now, officially, a new creation and a new citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and he celebrated by proving to the Monsignor that… nothing had changed. Certainly not him. The Lecter lights in Lee’s eyes suddenly ignited. He grabbed the priest by the collar and stuffed his head under the water, exulting in his unrepentant Bad Santa rage, every fiber of his furious being singing with the force of 10,000 maniacs.

But Lee Emerson, the psychotic scourge of humbug, wasn’t finished with Monsignor Timothy yet. No, a grand symbolic gesture needed to be made out of this corrupt man of faith’s defeat. In the last moment of “The Coat Hanger,” we found the priest hoisted by his own petard, so to speak: Lee had nailed Timothy to the chapel’s cross. Psycho Santa had even dressed Timothy to resemble the crucified Christ. I didn’t find the image too heretical. Monsignor Timothy was a horrible man. He murdered Shelley. He harbored a Nazi war criminal to profit from the science. He railroaded Sister Jude. He was a criminal – and lest we forget, the cross was an instrument used to execute criminals. Still, given the concerns of American Horror Story, it’s hard not to read subversive intent in this shocking spectacle: Howard wasn’t just paying for his sins, but for everything he represents, from rotten patriarchs to spiritual hypocrisy to the perceived failings and fraud of The Church. As Monsignor Timothy suffered upon the cross, an angel of the Lord attended to him. Except this was no ordinary angel. It was Shachath, the femme fatale of Death. “I’m here,” presenting herself as a proverbial instrument of deadly liberation – a coat hanger, if you will. We will have to wait until the New Year to see what choice the Monsignor made.

NEXT: Close Encounters of The Gracious Kind

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