American Horror Story, S2, E4 - (2012)

"I Am Anne Frank (Part 1)"

Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto; ft. Lizzie Brocheré, Franka Potente
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, psychological thriller, insane asylum
Scare score:  D
Rating:  B

Plot overview:  A new patient claiming to be Anne Frank (Potente) arrives at Briarcliff.  Upon seeing Dr. Arden (Cromwell), Frank claims that he is an escaped Nazi war criminal named Dr. Hans Grüper who committed unspeakable and secretive medical acts at Auschwitz.  Aside from this accusation - which Sister Jude (Lange) begins to believe - there are detectives investigating Arden regarding his treatment of a 'woman of the night' (from a previous episode) and the peculiar things she saw in his house.  The relationship that has been growing between Kit (Peters) and Grace (Brocheré) is tested as Kit questions his own innocence and we learn why Grace is in Briarcliff.  While Dr. Thredson (Quinto) and Lana (Paulson) try and fail with therapy to "cure" the latter, we learn just how far the former is willing to go to help Lana.

This episode was certainly more slowly paced than the previous, exchanging jumps and scares for explanation and suspense.  I'll try and make this short, because I don't have much to say aside from my feelings about the several plots this episode focused on.

Dr. Thredson's therapy with Lana - both the methods and the fact that Thredson is even making her go through it instead of lying - was really strange and made me uncomfortable.  By uncomfortable I mean that I feel really suspicious about the good Doctor and his intentions with Lana.  Quinto seemed different in this episode; I think the difference in character was obvious, and for that I'm also thinking it was done on purpose.  I can't tell if the writers are using this subplot to explore systematic, psychological horror - perhaps the fear we find from the power and influence of established social systems (as Lana talks about psychological and professional guidelines in the moment; the fact that being a lesbian was seen as an illness or crime) - or if it is also serving as some layered message since advocate Quinto is the character dealing with Lana's situation.  Either way I found that these scenes mainly resulted in uncomfortable and bizarre segments.

I really liked Sister Jude in this episode.  We saw so much more clearly where her heart is, and even though she clearly has issues with power and [self] control, I think that she is still a good character (more so than truly bad).  I was never the biggest Lange fan, but this season with each new episode I find myself joining that crowd.  She has been a tremendous actress so far.

On a similar note, I keep realizing how much more I like Evan Peters this season than I did last season. Obviously his character is different which changes things (never was the biggest fan of mentally troubled kids turned school shooters turned meddling ghosts).  It was fun in this episode exploring his guilt and his mind: how the mind deals with stressors, how the mind covers its tracks in cases of reality it can't accept, etc.  Again, the interactions between Kit and Thredson made me uncomfortable, mainly due to the Doctor's determination on fixing his case and dealing with the moral question in his situation.

I guess I have to bring up the whole, uh, Anne Frank thing at some point?  Aside from even questioning whether or not Anne Frank is a personality that can be brought to life in a given TV show, I think the general concept of suddenly introducing any historical figure into a TV show (not for comic reasons), and thereby changing accepted history, is a risky move.  Potente does an alright job, but there are a lot of questions.  Is she lying?  After all, she is an unidentified woman that ended up in a mental institution.  There were a lot of smaller questions having to do with the story of her past, why she stayed silent, why she didn't try to contact her family, etc.  Unfortunately I think the idea ended up more than a bit cheesy.  I understand the writers are wanting to pursue this bit about Arden as a Nazi (pssst- anyone else think he aged too much between the youthful actor in Anne's flashbacks versus Cromwell in the present?  It's only a 20 year difference, mind you), but the plot felt forced and just plain awkward.  Introducing an innocent, famed, teenage girl from history - one who represents more deeply emotional and hugely profound human concepts than Horror Buff is eloquent enough to expound upon - into your program that simultaneously deals with possession, mutant science experiments, and aliens is a bit offensive, to Anne more than anyone.  I would have understood with historic personalities such as Amelia Earhart - about whom it would be easy to pretend they were still alive - but when you take a delicate character such as Anne Frank you are involving yourself in something very big.  What I'm trying to say is that it really fictionalized the show, and it left a lot of questions regarding what is done in good taste.

On the other hand, this subplot really helped to push forward a lot of the suspended action that has been building up in the previous episodes.  I'm really excited for this week's episode, so that we can see what happens regarding the investigations pending around Arden, the experiments being conducted on Shelley, among others, and just what that Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) is up to.  More than anything else, this episode dealt with heavy religious themes and questions, which can also be dangerous for any TV show.  I think this episode handled things well, and it's fun to see the dark side of faith: no one at Briarcliff thinks there is something clearly wrong with Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe)?; the aforementioned suspicious Monsignor - as well as the good side of faith, the ongoing struggles and successes of Sister Jude, her visit to Mother Superior, and Kit's wanting forgiveness.  We'll have to see just where this season takes us.

Final critique:  While this episode wasn't scary except for maybe 3 short scenes/ shots, it was interesting.  As any "Part 1" will do, I am very excited now to see "Part 2."  I find myself rooting for Sister Jude, suspicious of Thredson and Monsignor, and more than anything else, begging for some explanation - what are those creatures in the woods? who is Bloody Face? - which I understand we will be receiving this week.