A show like Mad Men uses its nostalgic setting to mirror present day issues, like women’s rights, through the prism of previously condoned standards and practices. It uses subtle indicators and metaphors of social importance like comments, roles and behaviors to illustrate the plight of the woman; a plight that, if one listens to the far right for too long, is still raging on. A show like American Horror Story: Asylum confronts these same issues by literally stripping its female characters of their freedom, reproductive rights, power, and personal identity. A tad less subtle; but when you have to compete with aliens, demons and Nazis, subtly is overrated.
As predicted Anne Frank wasn’t really Anne Frank. She was Charlotte Brown, just your average crazy woman with delusions of grandeur. Or, more accurately, a woman suffering post-partum psychosis whose mental break had afforded her a new identity with more power and a cause of more importance than tending to a colicky baby and a thirsty husband. Either way, the diagnosis meant that Mr. Brown was left to care for himself and his son alone and that would not do. Thankfully Dr. Arden, eager to punish his attacker (and perhaps wipe her memory) had a handy solution; a lobotomy. A few taps of a silver hammer into Charlotte’s eye and the next time we see her she is Stepford Wife perfection; a vacant mind dressed to the nines and eager to do her husband’s biding. Was this a reality or a fantasy? Would that procedure really leave no scars or was this bleached out end cap merely the fantasy of men like Dr. Arden and Mr. Brown who want to believe that domestic bliss can be medically manipulated.
Speaking of Dr. Arden, Charlotte’s identity may have been a fabrication, but it seems like her accusation was not. The final parting shot of the night was a propaganda photo of Hitler flanked by the Hans Gruber of Charlotte’s false memories. If in fact her claims had been a symptom of her psychosis I doubt Dr. Arden would have reacted so violently (although that seems to be his go to reaction). As soon as she entered the building spouting claims of war crimes Dr. Arden made it his mission to silence her. Of course, this may have more to do with his inability to cope with strong women, a trait that is further illustrated through his continued harassment of Sister Jude.
Upon returning to Briarcliff, with a sweet, not at all Nazi reminiscent, wolf’s head cane, Dr. Arden made it clear who he blamed for his injury; Sister Jude. And he also made it abundantly clear that he would do everything in his power to strip her of hers. Admittedly, the way things appear, on Sister Jude’s watch three patients have escaped and one armed herself and attacked a doctor. True, those “escaped” patients are actually dead, mutilated and kidnapped and the attack was pure self-defense, but in the eyes of those in power (men) Sister Jude has failed in her leadership role. And she dealt with this dismissal by taking a note from the Don Drapers of the world. She put on her tightest dress, her reddest lipstick and found herself a man to make her powerful again, at least for the night. Not exactly what Jesus would do, but old habits die hard.
But Sister Jude isn’t innocent either when it comes to denying the rights of women. Endeared by Kit’s confession Sister Jude gave him a stay of sterilization, but Grace got no such pardon. But was she sterilized or was she experimented on by aliens? A distinction I never thought I’d have to consider, but which I am now giving a lot of thought. She awoke to a bright white light and a shaking door, the same markers as Kit’s abduction story. Once in the cocoon of light Grace appeared to be enduring the same kind of procedures Kit underwent. But Grace had a special attendant, Alma (who looked pregnant to me, but I could be wrong. Those were some very fast cuts) who assured Grace it would be less painful if she stopped fighting. So again, I question, are we supposed to take these alien abductions at face value or do they represent a suppressed conscious? Were the images merely the delusion Grace created to cope with her sterilization, was Alma (who Kit had just mentioned) merely a projection of her feelings for Kit or was she really abducted and experimented on by aliens?
Of course all of this is merely filler when compared to the real revelation of the evening; Bloody Face (at least the orginal one) is Dr. Thresdon. It was a perfectly executed twist (i.e. one that remained hidden until about a minute before the reveal). Lana, one of the strongest women of Asylum thought she had found her salvation in Dr. Thresdon, a man willing to risk his own career to help hers. The hints started dropping as soon as Lana was outside the hospital walls. His parting words to Sister Jude via Frank (“I don’t work here anymore. In fact I never did”) and his slip to Lana (“You’re the one to write my story”) started the tension and the skin lampshade and skullcap candy dish were merely added ick factor. But what are Dr. Thresdon’s intentions for Lana? He mentioned continuing her therapy as well as the previously mentioned writing of “his story”. He saved her lover instead of dispatching her the same way as his previous victims, perhaps in order to further torture Lana, so clearly this victim is different from the others. I guess we’ll have to wait to find out why.
But not all the women of Asylum can be kept down. Dr. Arden thought he had gained an ally in the demonically enhanced Sister Mary Eunice because she got rid of Shelly before Sister Jude’s prying eyes could find her. Of course Dr. Arden’s idea of “got rid” and Sister Mary Eunice’s differ greatly. In fact, Shelly was not so much hidden as left in a highly visible area, a decidedly not evil choice for the devil to make. As for Shelly, she may be down, but she’s certainly not out and she’s going to keep clawing and climbing her way to salvation. Why, she’s a regular Peggy Olson.
– Devin Mainville