American Horror Story

Episode Report Card
Joe R: A- | 5 USERS: A+
Let's Do the Time Warp Again

After the break, we're at Briarcliff. It's 1968 and despite the fact that it's Briarcliff and Judy and Pepper are unjustifiably stuck there among the drooling masses, things are actually going pretty well. Or maybe I just put more stock into board games than most people. Jude and Pepper and some of the loons are playing some bastardized version of Candy Land that involves dice and playing cards in addition to the familiar color-block cards that are traditional to the game. "Gumdrop Mountain is mine, chickens," Judy declares, in a line that instantly makes the shortlist for best of the season honors. Across the room, the poor reception on the TV is making it hard to follow President Johnson as he announces the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Judy and the card sharks are more interested in the goings-on in the Peppermint Forest. I guess social justice takes a back seat when you've been effectively removed from society. One of the crazies, Percy, starts pounding on the TV and Jude hollers at him to knock it off. She observes to Pepper that his lithium levels are too high and "Dr. Miller" should be informed. Pepper nods like she's making a note of it for later. So I guess Judy and Pepper are, quite literally, the inmates running the asylum. Monsignor Howard stops by to ruin everyone's good time, and despite Judy's best efforts to ignore him (including passive-aggressively expositing that she was re-named "Betty Drake" after the Monsignor faked her death), he asks to speak to her privately. He's got news: he's leaving Briarcliff. He's off to become Cardinal of New York, which pretty much fits with the Church's position of letting employees ascend through scandal. Jude offers her dark congratulations and lights up a cigarette. He also informs her that the Church has donated Briarcliff to the state, which will now use it as an overflow facility. Nothing ominous about that! Finally, the Monsignor has decided to leave Briarcliff with a clear conscience, which means he's arranging to have Judy released. "The cruelty ends here," he says, both going farther than I ever expected in acknowledging his own role in perpetuating cruelty and yet angering my all the more by having the nerve to look beatific about it. "The cruelest thing of all, Timothy," Jude says with a shaky voice, "is false hope." But he promises her, pledges to "make a believer" out of her.

Some time later, Jude and Pepper are actually having a bit of fun, working in the bakery and listening to some Hendrix on the radio. The fun's about to end, though as a cattle call of mental patients is pushed into the ward -- this would be the overflow that the Monsignor spoke of. And who does Judy spot among the gaggle, but our old friend the Angel Conroy. Only not quite. It's Frances Conroy, of course, and she's got the familiar dark hair and pale complexion. But she's no longer dressed for a New Orleans funeral, instead wearing the familiar prison blues and a sad cardigan. Most tellingly is her face. Gone is the expression of kind pity, replaced by the cold, hard pragmatism of a lifer. Does she even look like the Angel Conroy to anyone else but Jude? Is this just a leftover jolt from the ECT playing a delayed joke on her psyche? We never really find out. But from the moment she sets eyes on this new woman, Jude's hard-won crown as the Queen of Candy Land vanishes forever. This is the beginning of the end. So Jude starts freaking out, all "I didn't call for you," and of course the Prisoner Conroy is only responding as a prisoner would, staring at her with dead eyes and telling her cronies to get a load of the Briarcliff queen bee. She advances on Jude and tells her there are two ways this can go: she can either sign on and rule the roost alongside her or just be "another dumb cluck." Frances Conroy is an utterly different person here. It's astounding. The accent work is subtle, the lower register of her voice is terrifying -- it's a complete transformation. It's the stuff that guest-actor Emmys were made of, if the guest-actor Emmy was in any way a meritocracy. Anyway, Jude's too paralyzed with fear of the Angel of Death to respond, even when the Prisoner Conroy puts a cigarette out in her loaf of bread. (Not a euphemism.)

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American Horror Story




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