Sweet, sweet irony. Without explaining Alma’s return—with baby!—last week, American Horror Story: Asylum picks up three years later, with Kit, Grace, and Alma all living in a hippy-dippy Three’s Company situation, only with a lot more heterosexual sex. All is going well until Grace’s obsession with the aliens drives Alma first to slap her across the face and then to drive an axe through her head. The axe murderess felled by her own weapon? Priceless. (To be fair to Alma, that whole alien abduction thing did happen three years ago. Move on, Grace!)
A year later, Sister Jessica Lange has made a life for herself as queen bee of Briarcliff, rechristened Betty Drake and winning at Candyland and making Pepper her assistant. Until, that is, the Catholic Church gives Briarcliff to the state, which turns it into a dumping ground for the men and women who have nowhere else to go. Father Joseph Fiennes, unwilling to let the loss of his virtue interfere with his ambition, is taking a post as Cardinal of New York—but he promises Sister Jessica Lange he’ll have her released.
Also angling for Sister Jessica’s release is the Angel of Death, who appears in the guise of a tough-talking broad straight out of a 1950s women in prison B film. Frances Conroy is having a ball, sexualizing everything and beating up on anyone who crosses her—and flirting with new inmate Grace. (Is there nowhere else to go in this town?) Sister Jessica Lange has no intention of dying when her freedom is so close—but twist! All of that happened three years ago, and she’s now sitting in a straightjacket face to face with one Dr. Grump. Pepper is dead, Father Joseph Fiennes long forgot his promise, and Sister Jessica Lange has no hope.
Another year later, and best-selling authoress Lana is giving a small, tasteful reading of her book Maniac, in which she has taken certain…liberties. Such as including Bloody Face Quinto dragging another victim into his basement lair and, presumably, skinning her alive in front of her. Bloody Face Quinto appears in the audience, demanding an explanation. “I’m a writer,” Lana says calmly. “It’s my job to tell the essence of the truth.” According to dead Clea DuVall, that truth also includes a whitewashed version of their relationship. Guess Lana isn’t the Sapphic Journalist anymore.
Kit swings by the reading and takes Lana, who is disgusted by the warm Tab her assistant gives her, for coffee. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lana has hardened into a brittle career woman, cutting short their conversation about Kit’s wife murdering his girlfriend in front of him to ask if he’d seen her on Dick Cavett. Kit, however, is not having it and demands why she hasn’t fulfilled her promise to expose all the dirty doings at Briarcliff. And this is where Asylum proves itself better than Season 1, because Lana has changed in ways those characters didn’t. The pioneering journalist has been replaced by a woman who finds it safer to have money and fame where her heart should be, and Lana is unapologetic about abandoning her desire to make a difference in order to survive. “Things could have gone much differently for me,” she tells Kit. And she’s right; as it turns out, even her highly fictionalized book helped women escape from their own, lesser versions of Bloody Face.
But Kit is right to when he reminds her that she promised Sister Jessica Lange. Who, he casually mentions, is still knocking around Briarcliff. He found her watching The Singing Nun, almost a vegetable, when he went to collect Alma’s body. Momentarily thrown, Lana steels herself once more. “Every bed in that place, she made herself,” she snaps, before going back to her adoring fans.
Next week she’ll have the chance to meet one more: her son. Bloody Face McDermott shows up at that same bookstore in the present day, demanding the signed copy of Maniac that he knows the owner has. She’s unwilling to sell, so he slowly unspools the plan he has for the book. In short, he wants to show it to Lana and then shoot her in the face, just the way his father wanted to 48 years before. Looks like Lana will have one more maniac to conquer.
Next week, it all comes to an end. Will redemption come for our fearless trio? Will whatever redemption they may achieve be the version of redemption we want for them? Only time and Ryan Murphy will tell.
The contents of Mark Peikert’s brain play on shuffle at