My apologies to loyal readers for skipping out last week on American Horror Story: Asylum. My attempts to watch the ever-increasingly display of terror and brilliance was continuously hampered by an excited child high as balls on her mother's delicious Thanksgiving desserts and said child's insistence on watching Dora the Explorer until midnight. While such an experience is deeply terrifying, it's not what you expect of me.
So here we are back this week, and Neil Gaiman's Death shows up. Sure, she's 60-year-old Frances Conroy instead of the perky goth girl in her twenties, but it is literally the closest thing I have ever seen to getting my favorite character in from DC Comics on television. Conroy brings the wonderfully peaceful and accepting nature of the female reaper to absolute life, right down to the sudden beating of her ebony wings and a pretty much direct quote from Death's appearance to Lex Luthor in Action Comics #894!
Sorry, I want my High Cost of Living movie, and this is the nearest equivalent in like two decades. Back to Asylum.
Watching this week, I begin to wonder if someone didn't pen the amazing story of a woman who loses herself and her life in alcohol, manages to find redemption through service to God, only to fall once more. "Dark Cousin" takes the brave and utterly necessary plunge of focusing almost entirely on Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). Sure, the show manages to work some wrist-cutting, rape, gunshot wounds, telekinesis, and the first good look at Dr. Arden's (James Cromwell) murder mutants, but the heart of what's going on is the journey of Jude's soul.
Last episode she happened across an investigator who she had hired to track Dr. Arden, only to find that he had been attacked by the possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe... still hot in case you were wondering) and was now dying. Mary had left evidence that the investigator was looking into Jude's hit-and-run on a young girl, not the Nazi activities of Arden, and called Jude to let her know that she should run. Barring that, she could kill herself with the straight razor she had also left with a bottle of whiskey.
Jude spends much of the episode in flashbacks, showing the drunken car crash that led her to a convent as well as the utterly pathetic day she tried to seduce her bandleader into not firing her from the band after missing a gig. It's very interesting, having gotten her story in tiny junks over the course of nine episodes, but more than anything it makes me wish me for a complete cinematic narrative of Jude's life.
Her conversation with Death in a diner alone is one of the absolute greatest moments of television ever. It's a moment that Kevin Smith was trying really, really hard to coax out of Linda Fiorentino in Dogma but couldn't quite manage even with Alan Rickman at his side.
Where Fiorentino failed, Lange flies. She makes an internal journey through despair to a final hope of closure and peace that is as beautiful and terrible to watch as the series finale of Six Feet Under. Under the counseling of Death, she seeks one final act of contrition.
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Here there be spoilers...
Jude visits the parents of the girl she hit with her car to confess, her last act before suicide. That's where she finds that the girl didn't die at all. She had in fact lived, married, become a nurse, had a daughter, most importantly lived.
That's when Jude realizes she has been running from herself all along. I don't know much scripture, but I do know Proverbs 28:1. "The wicked man flees where none pursueth." The girl's mother muses on how for a long time the family wanted revenge, only to realize that what they really wanted was their daughter's life, and they had that.
In a movie, say maybe one done by Vincent Gallo in one of his less insane moods, we would cut to a scene of Jude somewhere looking out into her own spiritual awakening. She'd see all the walls inside herself bare, and the nature of the tortures we inflict on ourselves would finally be faced. Asylum ends with a disembowelment, instead. Love this show, but sometimes it forgets that horror is best defined by hope.