The Saga of Anne Frank: From an Attic to 'American Horror Story: Asylum'
By Mark Peikert
The introduction of Anne Frank as a character might seem to herald a certain lack of direction on the part of American Horror Story: Asylum, but this week’s “I Am Anne Frank: Part 1” was a nuanced, textured episode that hurtled multiple plots forward while finally coalescing some of the characters.
Found on Briarcliff’s doorstep, Anne Frank (Franka Potente) tells Sister Jessica Lange her story calmly and believably. After an altercation at a bar over an anti-Semitic remark, she came to Briarcliff… for a rest cure? She never really says. But she does explain that she was rescued from Auschwitz and came to America with her husband; when her diaries were published, she realized that a dead, martyred teenage girl would do more to force the world to acknowledge the atrocities of the Holocaust than a widowed 30-something, so she kept silent. But she won’t keep silent about whom she recognizes in the institution: Nazi Doctor James Cromell. Back then, he was Dr. Gruber, and conducted horrific experiments on women that left them sick and terrified.
Much like the ones he’s conducting on newly paraplegic Chloe Sevigny! But Sevigny may be proving her status as a “special guest star.” Between Anne Frank’s convincing testimony against Nazi Dr. Cromwell to Sister Jessica Lange and the similarities visiting homicide detectives have found between Bloody Face’s crimes and that old Nazi’s skill set, her days are numbered. Father Joseph Fiennes says as much when he warns Nazi Dr. Cromwell to do his housekeeping soon, after Sister Jessica Lange revealed all she had heard.
She was dismissed, of course, because one of this season’s themes is the oppression of women. But she found strength in her Mother Superior during a post-storm walk, during which she confessed to drinking again and worried about what a “sadist” could do to her charges. The Mother Superior scoffed at Sister Jessica Lange’s reluctance to ignore Father Joseph Fiennes’ orders, telling her to follow her God-given compass, the one that led her to the church after that hit-and-run accident.
It was another good week for Lange, because in addition to the beautifully played scene with Mother Superior, she also had a couple of good cracks (“Are you determined to create a murder baby?” she asked Kit and Grace after they were caught having sex in the bakery) and a very moving scene near the end of the episode when Kit asks her how to receive forgiveness from God. Near tears, both at Kit’s anguished confusion about what he may have done to his wife and at her own fallibility, she reassured him that God sees all and forgives all.
Of course, forgiveness hinges on asking for it, and so Grace will probably not be receiving any in the near future. After spinning a tale of betrayal at the hands of her sister and her sister’s lover, who framed her for the hatchet murder of her father and step-mother, Grace comes clean to Kit. The truth is not among the show’s best work: Grace was molested by her father, and her step-mother gave her candy to keep her quiet until one day Grace just snapped and gave them 40 whacks. Unapologetic about it, she’s thrilled that Kit admires her for taking a stand. Young love!
But the highlight of the episode was Lana’s “therapy” with Dr. Zachary Quinto. Determined to rescue her from Briarcliff, he convinces her to submit to aversion therapy to cure her homosexuality. Lana reluctantly agrees, and the scene becomes a squirmy delight as Dr. Quinto screens a slideshow of sexy women while feeding Lana a drug that makes her vomit. Afterwards, she’ll associate naked women with her feelings of nausea! (Does that mean her own naked body will make her feel sick? I’ve always wondered.) But that’s only half of it: He then brings in a handsome-ish male patient who has volunteered to help, and instructs Lana to touch herself while fondling his genitals. Queasy and sobbing, she does so in the most brutally uncomfortable way imaginable. This will help her associate the feelings of pleasure she’s giving herself with a man’s “tumescence,” Dr. Quinto informs her, but Lana is overcome with more nausea before she can get very far. Not that it matters; Dr. Quinto decides to spring her out at the end of the week regardless of her sickness.
She may have to wait in line, though, because Nazi Dr. Cromwell would be the first out the door. After dragging Anne Frank into his lab, he’s stymied when she pulls a gun on him—and promptly shoots him in the leg. Unlocking a door from behind which are coming blood-curdling screams, Anne discovers a hideously deformed Chloe Sevigny, crawling around and begging for death. Guess we’ll never find out the final outcome of all those experiments.
Or maybe we will, because next week it looks as if possessed Lily Rabe will conspire to save him from Sister Jessica Lange. Poor Lily Rabe. Even possessed, she is no match for the steely resolve of that nun.
The contents of Mark Peikert’s brain play on shuffle at www.karencarpenterdiedforyoursins.com