Before I even start this recap, I should point out that I’ve now written over 30,000 words on this season of American Horror Story, and other than the fact that that qualifies me for admission to Briarcliff asylum, it means that I have very high standards for the parabolic plot arcs of this show. That’s why I'm totally flummoxed and disappointed by certain aspects of last night’s episode, namely the fact that Kit Walker (Evan Peters) had the unbelievable bad luck to cohabitate with two ax murderers. Ax murdering is not contagious: It is not the flu, it is not the herpes virus, it is not even AIDS. What a screwy, evil-mustachioed red herring to throw into the penultimate installment of your awesome torture-porn show, Ryan Murphy. Why do you play me thus? I already ate Catfish last night. I didn’t want to swallow the entire contents of the narrative ocean.
We dive right in: Evening, chez Walker. Inside Kit’s house are twin high chairs, a pair of whimsical-print dish rags, and a calendar telling us it’s 1967. Photographs on the wall of Kit with Alma (Britne Oldford) and Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) reveal that he’s now living an idyllic-looking polygamist lifestyle and raising a child by each woman. Unfortunately, Kit is huffing and puffing as he strains to dislodge an ax from a body on his living room floor. He steps into frame in underpants, splattered with blood, and plops down next to a stuffed sheep as a child calls from offscreen, “Daddy?” Kit tells the kid that he’ll be there in a minute and allows a single tear to slide down his cheek. He’s thinking, “I hope Grace, the known ax murderer, did this, because otherwise this will be an unfair manipulation of the viewers at home.”
After the credits, we find ourselves in the warm paisley afghan of Sister Wife life, pre-murder: Grace is at the table making charcoal doodles of the aliens who resuscitated her and gave her fertility treatments years ago, Alma is gathering produce from the garden and trying to wrangle their alien lovechildren, Julia and Thomas, and everyone’s wearing less flattering clothes than they were three years ago. Alma’s trying to plan their suburban farm, but Grace is completely absorbed in her creepy artwork and wants Alma to verify the praying mantis face of “the doctor” alien. “I don’t know if those were his mandibles! He was wearing a surgical mask!”
Kit enters, looking like he’s back from an audition for Godspell, all jazzed about the hippie march he wants everyone to attend as a family. Unsurprisingly, his ladies have reservations, and not just because they’re biracial polygamists with outer-space babies: toddlers at a march! So far from the potty chair? Alma asks Kit if Grace’s drawings might be “too much for the kids,” and later, as Kit makes a move on her, advises him to spend more time hooking up with his other baby mama because her preoccupation with the grays might be indicative of lingering ennui and romantic neglect. Grace is fragile — I mean, she murdered her family — so it makes sense that Alma, who seems comparably sane (cough) though she prefers to pretend the whole thing never happened, would be willing to give up her coital night to ensure that Grace doesn’t go bananas on the family unit.
Kit assents and brings his new sideburns into bedroom number dos, where Grace is still hunched over her sketchbook. She explains that the artist’s renderings are “for our children, [who] need to know where they came from.” She’d rather dwell on the alien experience than her own past, because she’s still haunted by “the memories of that black night — those feelings, when [she] lost control” of herself. Kit consoles her by telling her she’s a different person now, then rails her tenderly as Alma listens on the other side of the wall (a terrible design for living with multiple partners). Suddenly, the lights flicker, which as everyone knows is how aliens ring the doorbell. There’s a boom and a flash of bright lights, which causes Alma to lose her shit because she thinks she’s about to be stuffed full of more extraterrestrial fetuses. She screams for Kit — “don’t let them take me!” — but Grace comes to her first and they start to make their way toward the nursery while Kit grabs his gun. The curtains are on fire and a truck is screeching away from the scene, so it appears it wasn’t aliens after all, just another human hater taking issues with the Walker lifestyle.
When the cops arrive, Kit fingers “Billy and his friends,” the same gaggle of goons who cast shade on him for marrying Alma way back at the beginning of this weird saga. The police, however, think that Kit’s domestic situation is too weird to merit arresting anyone on his behalf. Alma’s “inconsolable” after the incident, but Grace remains unruffled, reminding Kit that she’s “strong” and only looking mildly wistful when he leaves her to tend to Alma. In the morning — or some morning thereafter — Grace is simultaneously teaching her son French while drilling him on his conception, which really needles Alma. “I’m done with the alien talk,” she tells Grace. “It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and you act like it’s a religious experience.” Grace, in the ugliest pants ever, confirms that for her, it was. The aliens gave them their super-amaaaaazing love-crowded life, their incredible children, and something to doodle about for decades. They bicker — Alma’s hung up on the painful metal probes she was raped with, Grace is still mooning over the aliens’ scientific advancement — while we keep cutting away to Kit hacking at some lumber in the yard. With an ax. Even though smart people who live with violent criminals usually just order a cord of that shit for, like, $15.
Grace pushes her fantasy that the aliens are coming back for Kit, Very Special Kit with his Very Open Mind, which triggers Alma to remind her that she and Kit had a pretty dandy life living together as a regular couple before he brought home a murderer from the insane asylum. Oh, yeah? Grace counters, “at least I wasn’t the one locking myself away. Is that how [she] wants Julia to grow up? Ashamed of who she is?” Alma smacks Grace, immediately following it with an apology that doesn’t stop Grace from slamming a bunch of noisy kitchen instruments to the ground. Kit walks in with his wood and, seeing the plumes of bitchfight-smoke still hanging in the air, suggests a family meeting, which everybody declines. That night, he sneaks out from bed next to Alma and joins his more artistic lover in the living room. They’ve got the rainbow asylum connection and bond over the time wasted behind bars; Grace oozes treacly joy over their “miracle babies,” their precious life, and her love for Kit and Alma, but she wants to “embrace” the future, and that means that Alma needs to open her mi— GLUG.
That’s when her back receives Alma’s ax like she’s a human-shaped wheel of brie.
Alma sinks it to her a few more times before Kit pins her to the ground, but it’s obviously too late (because, you know, axes). Alma cries that she couldn’t have the aliens return as their rude houseguests, and entreats him to hide with her from the little green men as Grace expires bloodily on the carpet. Now we’re back where we began, which is very tidy other than the fact that it makes no sense. Alma may have been in denial, she may have been sort of a closed clam about her emotions, and I wouldn’t have even put it past her if she wanted to poison Grace just a little, but I needed hella more buildup to this event. I can not only see the wizard behind the curtain here, I see the wizard up at 2 in the morning draining his millionth Corona and saying, “You know what, fuck it. I can’t keep writing dialogue for these three.”
How’s about we just skip forward to 1968 and beam ourselves into the Briarcliff common room, where Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) is playing Candyland with Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and a Whitman’s sampler of other, unfamiliar patients. As if to prove that it’s really 1968, the television is playing a news broadcast of a press conference announcing Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes) enters the ward and addresses Jude, who informs him that “Jude is dead” — and though she’s not dead, she’s dominating Gum Drop Mountain, she does have a death certificate, as Monsignor Timothy previously informed Lana (Sarah Paulson) when she arrived to spring Jude from the joint. Jude has been renamed Betty Drake, she bitterly reminds the Monsignor, but eventually submits to leaving the card table to talk with him in a no more private corner of the room.
He tells her that he’s leaving Briarcliff to accept an appointment as Cardinal of New York, and that the church has donated Briarcliff to the state for use as an “overflow facility.” He also mentions that he’s getting her out of Briarcliff, and that “the cruelty ends here.”
“The cruelest thing of all, Timothy, is false hope,” counters Jude, but he puppy-dog-eyes her into believing that he’s sincere. Optimistic, Jude is smiling over her brioche station when some of the aforementioned overflow arrives, but her good humor is ruined and replaced by the willies when she sees that one of the new patients is a very handsome — while at the same time extremely evocative of Roy Orbison — Angel of Death (Frances Conroy). The Angel of Death doesn’t seem to know that she’s the Angel of Death, but Jude is sure of it and really unhappy at the prospect of meeting her demise right before she gets a taste of freedom. Even though they’re speaking different languages, her obvious fear makes it pretty easy for the Angel of Death Doppelgänger to pin her as her personal bitch. Rattled, Jude tells Pepper “there are storm clouds brewing” and hopes that the Monsignor will get her out fast, but Pepper isn’t so sure, mostly because the Monsignor is a lousy person, and rarely does anyone return to Briarcliff to accomplish what they promised when they left. Alma shuffles in the front door with her state-issued toothbrush, because we had to do something with her character, right?
When Jude enters her cell for the night, she sees her new roommate, the Angel of Death Doppelgänger, luxuriating on the top bunk. Jude’s dismay is profound: She doesn’t want to die, plus (like all terrible roommates) the AoDD has pilfered her smokes. “Everything in this cell belongs to me, and that includes you,” says the AoDD, which means that Jude’s got to really watch her leftovers from the Cheesecake Factory and her expensive shampoo. Roommates, amirite? She tells the AoDD that she wants nothing to do with her, to which the AoDD responds, “You’ll change your tune.” The AoDD attempts to seduce Jude, who declines and retreats to her crappy bottom bunk to turn into a human rock of tensed muscle until their joint lease runs out.
The next morning, Jude is zonked and cagey, telling Pepper that she couldn’t sleep because she’s bunking with death — er, a new roommate. The AoDD enters the ward, hits on Alma (“my little chocolate bunny”), and shivs a jumpy patient for failing to “squirrel away” his meds for her recreational pleasure. That’s a boss bitch, right there. She blows Jude a kiss, which doesn’t count as a death knell because the official rules of the afterlife state that there needs to be physical contact to cross over, but Jude clutches her head as though maybe she’s been fudged with a little bit in her already warped noggin. The next thing she knows, she’s fighting off Frances Conroy in full black death costume as the angel tries to snog her in her bed; the guards arrive, summoned by her screams, and she snaps out of it to realize that her hair is a lot longer and stringier and the bunkmate she’s fighting off isn’t Frances Conroy at all. It’s just some pissed-off lady. Straitjacketed, Jude’s carted off to the hospital shrink, whose office is the same one Jude once occupied when she was living the high life and caning everybody who crossed her. Boy, is her hair long.
Seems like a lot of time’s elapsed, and indeed it has! Over the course of her meeting with Dr. Miranda Crump, she learns that it’s been over two years since the Monsignor was appointed Cardinal, that she’s had a string of roommates over the course of two months, and that her dear Candyland buddy Pepper died in 1966. Either that electroshock really did some damage, or the air kiss from Frances murdered a couple of years of Jude’s life. Her meds are adjusted and she is relinquished to stare at herself upside-down in a pitcher of water on the desk before being thrown into the dark before a commercial break.
But at least one Briarcliff alum is having a gas: Lana is looking sharp at a bookstore reading of her tome, Maniac: One Woman’s Story of Survival, 10-week New York Times best seller. She’s smug, smug, smug. She sits down to read after a warm welcome, and as she gets into her ripping yarn, we realize that she’s embellished quite a bit, adding extra victims and lots of adjectives whenever she feels like it. A vision of Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) stands up to object and call her a sellout, but Lana responds that it’s her “job to tell the essence of truth.” Wendy (Clea DuVall) interrupts from behind a serious-looking lady in a Newsies cap to take issue with Lana refusing to acknowledge the sexual nature of their relationship in her memoir. Both of them think Lana’s a dirty famewhore. I sincerely wish all readings were like this.
Lana starts to weep as the moderator’s hand lands on her shoulder; “I’m sorry, I must have lost my place,” she says, but her faltering just compels everyone to moon over her even more because it pairs well with her role as a scarred victim of abuse, and it wasn’t a messy cry, just a couple of tears making their way toward her dapper royal-blue dress. While signing autographs afterward and being a diva about the temperature of her Tab, Lana encounters Kit, rocking even more robust sideburns than in his previous scene, and agrees to meet him for a cup of coffee. She’s halfway up to date with the goings-on of Kit’s life, like the fact that Grace was butchered before his eyes, but hasn’t been in touch because she’s been busy negotiating motion picture deals, fantasy-casting Tuesday Weld in the movie of her life, and counting out almonds as snacks.
Now that Lana’s sprung from the institution, what was once her admirable personality cocktail of determination and drive has now become completely insufferable in the real world, and she natters on about her own boring trivia and preoccupation with becoming the new Truman Capote, as Kit tries to steer the conversation back to the important stuff: Briarcliff, the place she was supposed to destroy with her exposé, and Sister Jude, whom she once promised to free. Lana defends herself by saying that she spun “straw into gold,” and laments the fact that Kit can’t get where she’s coming from.
Kit explains via flashback that Alma languished at Briarcliff: sadly fingering handprints from her half-alien children, asking him to bring them to visit the newly crowded asylum and then recanting that desire after seeing a man rip a catheter out of his body and giggle at the spray/a pair of crazies humping in a grotesquely squeaky chair/a man trying to eat his own foot on the dirty floor. Alma, he reveals, died soon after being admitted, with “no warning — her heart just stopped” from the grodiness of it all, and Kit held her hand and accepted responsibility for ruining everybody’s lives by, I guess, thinking he could fabricate a nice free-love, free-living existence with two women with issues. He decides to take Alma’s body home to bury her on his land, which is smart because maybe the aliens can hook her up to their megawatt bulb and restore her life force later on down the line.
Lana expresses her regret and notices that “everyone’s gone but us.” Kit reminds her that Jude’s still at Briarcliff, and assures Lana that even though she saw Jude’s death certificate, the old bat’s still hanging around in that cave — he saw her on his last visit, when he claimed Alma’s body. Sure, she was crazy: She was, in fact, watching an episode of The Flying Nun when Kit approached her, and was feeling pretty salty about the fact that the script was stolen from her life, “every word of it,” as well as the hat. “But I don’t need the hat,” Jude tells Kit. “I can fly without it. One of these days, I’m gonna fly my ass right outta heah!”
Someone please help this woman before her hair indicates that she’s been stuck in this crazy hell for three decades. I don’t want to see Jude looking like Cousin Itt and confronting Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott) in the present day. As sad as Kit’s tale is, Lana absolves herself from guilt by saying that Jude had a hand in creating the vacuum of horror that is Briarcliff, pays the check, and goes back to signing hardcovers.
Pursuing one of those hardcovers an entire generation later is Lana’s grown-up baby by Dr. Thredson/Bloody Face, Johnny Morgan, who is smoking drugs (I don’t know, meth? Crack? Something you smoke while listening to horrible music in your car) in the parking lot outside of a bookstore that’s having an “everything must go” clearance. He enters the empty store and asks the proprietor to help him find “a first printing” of an old title, explaining that he’s a connoisseur. “You mean a first edition?” asks the saleswoman, who's apparently a snob. She’s also falsely advertised that she has an autographed copy of Maniac for sale, which is why Johnny’s here; the copy in question belonged to her mother, for whom the book had personal significance (“she credited that book with giving her enough courage to finally leave my father”), and is not for sale.
Johnny offers a wad of bills and tells the woman to name her price, informing her that Lana is his mother. The saleswoman, however, was a women’s studies major and is under the impression from Lana’s autobiographical canon that the child she conceived by Bloody Face died at birth. Johnny asks to see the inscription anyway, his little octopus-leg neck hairs curling with feelings, and demands to get possession of the book because it’s his “fate to have it.” He plans to confront his mother with the book and the fact that he’s the “piece of trash [she] threw away 48 years ago.” Hold up! He looks really good for a guy who’s 48 and has been doing drugs and strangling hookers all this time! I guess I wasn’t doing the math. He must use a cream. Then Johnny’s going to take out his handgun and shoot her with it, “and finally [he] would have completed [his] father’s work.” That’s convincing enough for the saleswoman to hand over her copy of Maniac.
So: during next week’s finale, are we going to see a 70-something year-old Lana Winters? Are Kit’s alien babies going to be prominent modern figures with glowing neon eyes? Will Alma rise from the dead? Are the original aliens coming back with Shelley (Chloë Sevigny) driving the spaceship? Did Jude manage to coordinate any more siiiick dance routines to early-1970s pop? I’m down for whatever, but please. No more axes. Steak knives and cyanide and bazookas are fair game. I just crave variety after investing so much.