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."

Born Again. Down in the dungeon of despair, a more authentic if equally improbable conversion story was taking place. While investigating the disappearance of Grace’s corpse in the death chute, Dr. Arthur Arden found footprints of a creature that he believed could not be of this world. In other words: An extra-terrestrial. He concluded that Kit Walker’s claims of alien abduction weren’t altogether nuts. A course of action formed in his mind.

The Nazi war criminal found Kit just as the young man was stashing the recording of Thredson’s confession under a tub in the hydrotherapy room. (We were left to wonder if Dr. Arden witnessed Walker’s clandestine work and now possesses the tape.) He brought Kit into his office, poured him some Scotch, and professed his faith in little gray men of superior intellect and technology. He also  presented a hypothesis inspired by the fact that these unidentified entities with their strangelove fingers had abducted the women in Kit’s life -- Alma and Grace – almost immediately after he had had sex with each. Arden’s big idea? “They’re experimenting. Probably refining some form of Eugenics.” Interpretation: The E.T.s want Kit Walker to procreate and reproduce, perhaps for similar reasons that Dr. Arden has been conducting his own  creepy-criminal experiments: To cultivate and better a stronger, better kind of human being. (BTW, I am sticking with my theory, now more than ever: Kit Walker is a starman, but doesn't know it.)

Dr. Arden wanted to meet these otherworldly entities. Compare notes on growing genetically modified plants or cultivating atomic holocaust-proof zombie superman or something. He believed he could manipulate the aliens into paying a visit by threatening Kit: “A good scientist always protects his subject.” Kit asked if this was Dr. Arden’s fancy way of saying that he wanted to kill him. “No, Mr. Walker. I want to almost kill you.” (One of the night’s best, funniest lines.) The plan: Dr. Arden would inject a drug into Kit’s heart that would produce the appearance of death. Then, after concluding his business with the aliens, he would inject another drug into Kit’s heart that would bring him back too full life. Kit rolled with it. It wasn’t like he had any other option. And besides: Dr. Arden made it clear that he didn't have a choice, either. If it helped get Alma back, why not? (How sad was it to hear him to confess and say of his wife, “I’d almost forgotten her.”

That night, Dr. Arden went Pulp Fiction on Kit’s chest by driving a needle into his sternum. ("This is going to hurt," he said helpfully, and with a glimmer of sadistic relish.) The electrical flashes and zzzzark! that accompany alien visitation manifested almost immediately. Arden tracked the source of the phenomenon to a cell, where he beheld a sight that spat in the face of his scientific orientation, something you could call a miracle. But it wasn’t an alien. It was Grace. She was alive and naked as the day she was born. She also wasn’t alone. She was with Pepper, who hadn’t been seen since the Nor’easter. Pepper, who was once mentally addled and verbally challenged, but was now clearly bright and articulate. Someone or something had fixed her. Oh, and one more thing? Grace was pregnant. Like, swollen-womb-about-to-pop pregnant. Will Kit Walker die? How was Grave revived? What’s the significance of the baby growing inside her? What if it's Grace who brings the scion of Bloody Face into the world, not Lana? So many questions – all of them also to be answered after the New Year. Cliffhanger!

Revolution? In an episode so cynical about redemption, “The Coat Hanger” contained one example of change you can believe in. It was, perhaps, the show’s prescription for change. It happened during Judy Martin’s first trip to the Common Room as a patient, as a defrocked nun, as “just” Judy Martin. As she searched for a place to sit, looking haggard and ghostly and most unglamorous, the unfortunates she used the rule and the underlings she used to boss twitched uncomfortably in her presence or shot her with contemptuous eye darts. Judy felt exposed and judged, and she knew she deserved it.

Judy spotted Lana Winters smoking at a card table scattered with checker pieces. There was an empty chair next to her. Judy took it. The pathetic sight of her former jailer, now fallen, took Lana aback: “What happened to you?” Judy replied, “Nothing I didn't do to you.” (Was she implying that she had been put through the electroshock ringer, too?) (At least she didn't have to suffer the indignity of Tumescence Touch Therapy.)

Judy wasn’t so humbled that she couldn’t ask for – and even demand – a smoke. “Goddammit, give me a cigarette, I earned it,” she said. She plucked off the filter and accepted a light from Lana. She thanked her, and then tried to apologize for what she had done to her. Judy didn't itemize the sins, but if they included all the wrongs done unto Lana within The Asylum, she would be taking responsibility for taking away Lana’s freedom, stripping away her identity, punishing her for her sexuality (Wendy, too!), and trying to stop her from righting the wrongs of society by exposing the corruption of Briarcliff culture. Oh, and the electroshock thing. And all those mean, cruel “Lana Banana” cracks! (So hurtful!)  “I’m truly sorry for what I did to you,” she said. “What I did to you was more than just wrong. It was immoral.”

“It was criminal,” Lana clarified/added.

Judy nodded, shamed. She told Lana she didn't expect forgiveness. She told Lana she was determined to atone. She told Lana she was going to get her out of Briarcliff. Lana didn’t believe her, for lots of obvious reasons, and also because somewhere along the way over the past couple episodes, she lost a lot of faith in humankind. Psycho shrinks and road rage drivers and power-mad nuns – plus marginalization, oppression, and phony or betrayed promises of justice -- will do that to you. And caning. “I don't trust you,” she said. “Or anyone. Or anything.”

“Well, I’m going to earn your trust,” said Judy. “Things are going to change around here.”

Judy stood up and went to the phonograph. “Dominique” by The Singing Nun was playing, as usual, per the rule of (grating, ridiculous, brainwashy) order established by Judy herself back when she was in the habit. She pushed away the needle, picked up the record, and smashed it to pieces. It was as if Nurse Ratched had been born again as Randall P. McMurphy. The reaction of the other inmates: Claps and cheers from many, but shock and fear from others. Revolution – even if wanted by all – can be jarring and scary that way.

Judy returned to her chair and continued to smoke. Lana – cooly impressed; not completely convinced but capable of appreciating meaningful symbolic acts when she saw one – could only think of one thing to say.

“Well, hot damn.”

It was a start. We’ll see how far it gets them when American Horror Story returns from a three week respite on January 2. Yes, even the most Satanic show on television is reverent enough to take a holiday break. I wish you and yours glad tidings of great joy. And remember: If you wake up in the middle of the night between now and Christmas, and you catch a clean shaven Santa playing with your toy train underneath the Christmas tree?

RUN LIKE LIVING HELL.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen


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