American Horror Story: “The Coat Hanger”
B

American Horror Story: “The Coat Hanger”

B

American Horror Story

“The Coat Hanger”

Season 2, Episode 9

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After the sadly brief reign of Murder Santa, American Horror Story gets back to brass tacks this week, with an episode featuring alien pregnancy, self-administered abortions, crucifixion, more than a fair amount of characters dying forever and popping right back up, and the return of Dylan McDermott, this time as the guy getting the psychotherapy. So, y’know, it was just another episode. It’s kind of depressing that at this point in the show’s run, an episode that concludes with a dead woman appearing in a cell, suddenly alive and pregnant, then proceeds to a priest hanging from a cross, the angel of death coming to give him a kiss that will send him to the afterlife, is run of the mill, but that’s the point we’ve reached with American Horror Story, and I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. See you all in January!

As most of you have predicted, Lana is pregnant with Thredson’s child. We open the episode to see what I can only assume is the ultimate product of that horrifying union—Dylan McDermott, jittering away in a psychiatrist’s chair, talking about how bad he is at skinning people. Is it too late for him? The psychiatrist says it’s never too late to turn around your awful compulsions, and she’s someone who helps people stop smoking and lose weight, so she would know. “No,” he bellows, “to go to medical school!” Welcome back, Dr. Ben Harmon. You (and your line delivery) have been sorely missed. Yes, I know he’s not actually Dr. Ben Harmon, but I like the way the set design of the office conspires to make you think he just might be. It’s very similar to his office set from last year. It might even be the same one!

Naturally, back in the past, Lana is just figuring out that she’s pregnant, and she knows there’s only one possible answer for who the father might be. In a season filled with rape and threats of sexual violence, this was perhaps inevitable, and I’m glad the series grounded this horror in Lana, the one character it seems to be taking seriously on a more or less consistent basis. (This is really saying something for someone who was kidnapped by a psychopath who wears human skin, then trapped in his Sweeney Todd fantasy playset.) When Lana’s face goes through the full gamut of emotions—mostly negative ones—upon learning from Sister Mary Eunice that she’s pregnant, I doubt there’s anyone in the audience who hopes she won’t succeed at her self-administered coat hanger abortion. Thankfully, the series cuts away before we see anything other than a few quick flashes of the procedure later. Less thankfully, for Lana at least, it doesn’t work. Mary Eunice places a hand on her stomach and offers a devilish grin. The child’s still alive. It’s a boy.

Now, it’s a wonder that scene can have any weight at all, considering that it’s a demon-possessed nun delivering the dialogue, but the Lana storyline has been handled with such care—and we’ve already seen what we at least assume to be the result of this unborn child—that it makes for a chilling moment nonetheless. In just a few scenes, including the one where Mary Eunice tells Lana that once the child is born, they’ll make sure he’s sent off into the foster system, the show neatly sketches in the tortured history of the man who ends up in the psychiatrist’s chair. I can’t really say I’m all that invested in what happens to Bloody Face, Jr., but if this episode has a spine, it’s about how those who care so much about this fetus—including said demon-possessed nun and a serial killer—don’t really give a shit about it once it’s out of its mother’s womb. And that’s how we get Serial Killer Babies, everyone! (They make your dreams come true!)

When the episode got away from Lana’s travails, it lost a little something for me. As it turns out, Sister Jude has been stripped of her title, reduced to plain old Judy Martin and made a patient at Briarcliff. Why has this happened? Well, Mary Eunice, Arden, and Murder Santa conspired to say that she was the one who went on the rampage last week, and she can’t be allowed to go free. To be sure, once I saw that Jessica Lange was playing a nun who ran a mental hospital, I was pretty certain she was going to end up as one of its patients at some point, but I’m still impressed with how relentless the show has been in tearing down everything Sister Jude believes in or wants. When she stands up from her seat by Lana and goes over to snap the record endlessly playing the French ditty, it feels like the moment her character takes back her agency, no matter how small that agency is, and I’m excited to see how Jude works her magic from within in the weeks to come.

Less exciting to me is the story of Arden figuring out that he can bring the aliens to him by killing Kit or somesuch nonsense. (To his credit, he gets Kit in on his wacky scheme, instead of just dragging him downstairs and pumping chemicals into his heart.) I keep waiting for some sort of shoe to drop with the aliens and mutants, but it more or less feels like they’re there for local color, rather than any organic story weight. The aliens, at least, are tied into a bunch of other story threads and have now impregnated Grace with their unholy spawn (or unnaturally advanced the product of her union with Kit), so I’m holding out hope that they’re going to play a vital role in whatever fucked-up endgame this season might have. But if you had “mutants win the pennant” in the office pool, I’m feeling sorry for you, because I think even the show has forgotten that one time Arden chopped off most of Shelly the Nymphomaniac’s limbs, covered her in radiation burns, and left her in a school parking lot. Still, the end of this storyline is a lot of fun, as the return of Grace makes for a good shock moment, while also reminding us that nobody ever, ever dies on American Horror Story.

Unless that somebody is the Monsignor, who falls afoul of the treacherous hands of Murder Santa, in the baptismal pool, with his, er… hands. Pumped up in his belief that he’s going to be the first American pontiff by Mary Eunice’s sweet, sweet words, the Monsignor decides to win more souls to Christ by starting with Murder Santa, because that’s just a thing that would totally happen. Anyway, he baptizes Murder Santa, and Murder Santa drowns him, then takes the time to hang him up on the cross, where the death angel comes calling for him. I will say this for the show: If you reprinted the immediately preceding sentence in any other context, people would think you were stringing random English words together in an attempt to seem weird. If there’s one thing American Horror Story: Asylum excels at, it’s making the illogical seem positively pedestrian.

Grade: B for Bloody Face And Sons, Inc.

Stray observations:

  • The teaser in the present day more or less made sense, but the less-motivated cut to the aftermath of Bloody Face, Jr.’s psychiatrist visit didn’t work nearly as well.
  • I do like to imagine that now that Arden’s discovered the most foolproof way to call the aliens, he’s going to keep killing people until he finds another the aliens have their eyes on. This mental hospital will make crazed serial killers of us all!
  • It was, as always, a pleasure to see Ian McShane pop up on my television screen, but now I know that Ryan Murphy has his hooks in the guy, and we can definitely expect to see him in American Horror Story: Yetis All The Way Down next fall, perhaps as a Yeti.
  • I’m kind of tired of the endless Thredson monologues. We get it. You’re a psychopath! Yawn.
  • We’ll see you all in January, when we close the season out with its final four episodes, which will surely feature all manner of tap-dancing bullshit.

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