FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 2: “Tricks and Treats”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Glee, The New Normal)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the previous episode, “Welcome to Briarcliff” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Nor’easter” – click here
We begin “Tricks and Treats” directly after the end of the previous episode, as Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) crosses – apparently – Bloody Face in the tunnels below the asylum. Her husband Leo (Adam Levine), meanwhile, is bleeding out from a torn off arm. This part is savage, as Bloody Face stabs Leo to death in front of Teresa, who is hiding inside one of the cells.
The editing and sound design here is perfect! Bloody Face’s banging on the cell door goes from present day back to 1964, as a knock on the door from trick or treaters comes outside Wendy Peyser’s (Clea DuVall) house. Perfect little moment. Wendy has signed Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) into Briarcliff and now feels terribly about it.
Sadly for Wendy, though, another figurative knock on the door comes later. She lights up a joint, plays a record, but once she’s out and drying off there’s someone else inside with her: Bloody Face. In a tragic scene, she pleads with him because the kids she teaches “won‘t understand.” Bloody Face cares not about the plight of women, nor schoolteachers, and he hacks at her before the opening credits roll. I thought this sequence was so well-written, designed, and executed! Just one of the many instances where all the aspects of filming – the shots, the sound, the acting, the dialogue – come together to make a perfect set of scenes. Watching this over now for what might be the 3rd or 4th time around since Asylum first aired, I’m noticing so many of the little things which passed me by the first time around.
Poor Lana Winters is slowly becoming acclimated to her surroundings at Briarcliff.
We’re meeting more of everyone now from Pepper (Naomi Grossman) to Shelley the resident nymphomaniac (Chloë Sevigny). Everyone gets a little bit of time here and there.
Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) has problems with Lana; the feisty reporter has been keeping notes on the ill treatment at Briarcliff. Ms. Winters even threatens Jude by saying she doesn’t need the notes because she has a great memory. Jude plans to have Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) use the 1960s version of electroshock therapy – barbaric compared to anything used today – in order to scorch the memories out of her brain cells. The worst part is that Jude also has prejudice against Lana because of her homosexuality, so it’s disturbing enough to see her have Lana shocked as it is, but coupled with her not wanting any information to escape the walls of Briarcliff the fact she does not like lesbians/gays makes it all a bit more unsettling. This is further how Ryan Murphy and the writers of American Horror Story begin to explore issues during the 1960s surrounding homosexuality and the social stigma which then went along with it.
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) shows up in “Tricks and Treats”. There’s a ton of great stuff involving Thredson. First, there’s the immediate situation between Thredson and his new patient Kit Walker (Evan Peters), accused of the Bloody Face killings. Secondly, Thredson gives us a window further into the psychological practices of doctors in the 1960s; some of what they did under the guise of helping patients was downright primitive, uncivilized pseudoscience masquerading as scientific truth. What’s even more interesting is the fact that Quinto himself is a gay man, so I think it’s interesting what he’s able to explore through the character of Thredson, who deals significantly with Lana Winters further into the season in regards to her homosexuality. I won’t go too much into this now. I’ve seen these seasons, over and over, so I’ll wait until my review to flesh it all out.
At the same time Thredson represents a bit of misguided psychology, he also represents a more loud voice of reason than any of the clergy employed at Briarcliff. It’s still funny, though, as he rages at Sister Jude for allowing electroshock therapy to be used as treatment for homosexuality; in the same breath he points out that behaviour modification is “the current standard” versus her “barbaric” ways. Always love how period piece shows now in hindsight can dissect so many of the issues, as well as hypocrisies, surrounding the social and cultural climate of those times in which they’re set.
Another thing I love in “Tricks and Treats” is the inclusion of a patient whose parents believe something has “taken over” his body. This is a case of exorcism, which serves more than just the purpose of a brief subplot; you’ll come to see how later in this episode. When a young man named Jed Potter (Devon Graye) is brought in by his parents (Andrew Rothenberg & the fabulous Robin Weigert of Deadwood fame), Sister Jude reluctantly agrees to let Dr. Thredson sit in on a meeting. After they first meet Jed, though, Jude advises Thredson it is not medication the boy needs, but something else entirely.
Found that The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the true story behind it was absolutely an influence on the flashback to when Jed’s father found him in the barn, ripping open an animal. Not huge on that film, but I do enjoy tales of supposedly true exorcisms; I’m a sceptic, however, I do find the prospect of such things being true real exciting and dark and weird. The quick flash we see of the barn is creepy and subtle.
Lots of other stuff going on, as well.
Shelley tries to seduce Dr. Arden for privileges; I love the character Shelley because she represents another horribly misguided idea from the 1960s, which still resonates today, about the ideas men have concerning how women ought to act sexually compared to how they’re allowed to act in the eyes of society. I feel downright terrible for Shelley, and Chloë Sevigny plays her incredibly! In real life, Sevigny is a bit of a trainwreck I find, some of her interviews are madness; that doesn’t change the fact she is a terrific actor in every project I’ve seen her do.
At the same time, Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) is starting to help Lana Winters in an attempt to hopefully escape. Though, Lana does not want Kit to come, which is a stipulation imposed on her by Grace. Kit involves himself all the same; we pretty much know he’s innocent, not for sure but we think, yet Lana believes him to be Bloody Face. She doesn’t trust him, yet he tries to help her by grabbing a note she’d written in order to save her from the guards. We’ll see where that goes by episode end.
The exorcism section of “Tricks and Treats” is damn eerie, all the way home. I like the little introduction to Father Malachi (John Aylward), as he gives a classic line (seen above). Even better is the exorcism scene itself because the demon inside young Jed Potter says some WILD stuff! It’s entertaining, intense, and all at once quite disturbing.
Jed, or the demon inside, begins spewing secrets about the inner lives of the clergy present, as well as Dr. Oliver Thredson – an interesting comment about him being given up obviously foreshadows backstory elements for his character. But the best is when Sister Jude Martin steps into the room with Jed, after Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) urges her to help.
The demon knows all about Jude, about her past life before becoming a nun and a wife of Christ. It’s revealing and also sad, because we can see how clearly Jude tries to run from her past. Still, it always keeps on catching up with her. Love the red dress she wears in the flashback to her life before the convent and Briarcliff; parallels her red lingerie under the habit so well, shows how she still hangs on. Even further, the demon talks about a night when Jude hit a young girl with her car – drunk off her ass. Jude never got out, only went on over the road. It’s a wild scene that speaks volumes.
Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) has a nice dinner planned at home. Not only for himself, but a guest arrives: a young prostitute (Jenny Wade). It’s a chilly scene, as Arthur almost looms over and around her. He’s given her a fake name; she calls him Stan over and over. He clearly has ideas about what a woman ought to be. When the prostitute talks about a “big cock,” he looks utterly repulsed. He starts talking about how unsafe it must be for women on the streets such as herself with Bloody Face about. Though cheekily he says now the culprit is locked up and the girl is safe once more – all the while, he carves up some rare, bloody pot roast with a long, gleaming sharp knife. Ominous the way he handles the knife throughout the scene, especially at this point. Even the poor prostitute reads between the lines; you can just about her the GULP in her throat.
“Tricks and Treats” is one of my favourite episodes because it contains SO MUCH information and plot movement, as well as character development. Above all, I think my absolute favourite scene is when Jed Potter finally succumbs to the demon/sickness inside him and goes into cardiac arrest. Then the essence of evil inhabiting him releases – Jed eyes Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) standing in the back of the room while Dr. Thredson and Monsignor Howard try to help the boy – and she falls backwards to the floor, fainting.
The demon may have found itself a new vessel.
Creepily, Dr. Arden has his prostitute guest dress up in a nun’s habit. I mean, is it hard to tell he has a thing for Sister Mary Eunice? Earlier he fed the nun a caramel apple, he’s always around her, getting her help feeding the things in the forest.
The prostitute dressed like a nun in his room goes a little too far by picking through Arden’s things. She finds some strange pictures and a small fetish magazine. Unsettling things, of a violent nature. This sets up a moment where we’re sure Arden is going to dispatch the young lady. Luckily for her, she bites her way out and gives the naughty doctor a knee in his groin, escaping alive. Unfortunately for Dr. Arden, this might come to pose a few problems down the line somewhere.
When Sister Mary Eunice comes to, she is slightly different than before. Still the same sweet lady in a sense, but behind those eyes lies newly discovered knowledge; a deep, dark well full of it.
Love how she covers up for Dr. Arden, playing the fool, and then when he leaves she flicks the blankets off her body in an almost disgusted gesture. At the same time, the crucifix on the wall shakes. Dig that moment so hard!
Grace tries to help Kit escape with her and Lana, but the reporter pulls the plug: still believing Kit to be Bloody Face, she won’t allow him to make it out and terrorize any other women. After they’re caught, Sister Jude gives Lana a reward – of not being punished and having to watch the punishment (bare assed caning) of Kit and Grace. A twisted view into the corporal punishment ideals of Sister Jude Martin. Plus, it amps up the tension in the relationships between all these characters – Sister Jude & Alana, Kit & Sister Jude, Kit & Grace, Grace & Alana. Should be great to see all these dynamics further expand throughout the season.
Awesome episode. One of my favourites of Season 2, as well as overall in the entire series of American Horror Story. Then again, while some aren’t huge on this season, I think this is one of my top 3 overall so far.
Stay tuned for more horrific and wild episodes. Next one is titled “Nor’easter”, directed by series regular Michael Uppendahl whose other work includes Mad Men, Shameless, Ray Donovan, and much more.