Appropriate for the second season of the show, Asylum seems to be following a dual horror approach. Just as the first episode dabbled in both extraterrestrial threats and body horror, so does the second utilize exorcism and slasher tropes.
The main focus this week is on an apparently possessed patient that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) decides to call in an exorcist to treat over the recommendation of new staff psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto, good to have your bad self back again, sir.) It's a startling turn from last week, and seems to be playing into a major storyline, but how it all ties together is anyone's guess.
The exorcism...well, it's nothing you haven't seen before. In fact, if the makeup used isn't the exact same as the makeup worn by Linda Blair in The Exorcist, then it was at least heavily inspired by. You get speaking in tongues, telekinesis, erotic blasphemy, the works. On the other hand, it's kind of like watching a man get shot out of a cannon. No matter how impressive the feat is, if you've seen it once it takes some pretty innovative switcheroos in order to break the mold. Consider the mold still whole.
Then again, whatever bit of evil was incubating in the patient has apparently passed into Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) and is manifesting itself with some very well done innocence-as-seduction scenes. It doesn't hurt that Rabe is red hot, and the sudden change of her character from pathologically submissive to confidently manipulative makes for one of the best scenes this episode.
More time is spent with Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), who does the absolute best he can with some rather uninspired developments. First he agrees to begin electroshock therapy on Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) in order to help Sister Jude keep her from notating the asylum's abuses for a newspaper article by giving her debilitating shocks. It's a sadistic setup that Cromwell and Lange play to the hilt, but it doesn't balance the weakness Arden receives later.
Brief aside, electroconvulsive therapy is still in use today for severe depression and catatonia, and it is nowhere near the torturous boogeyman your average hospital horror film makes it out to be. For instance, it can't be done without a long conversation with a doctor and a signed consent form. By the setting of Asylum in 1964, ECT was already on its way out anyway with the rise of antidepressants, and would've only been used after administering an anesthetic regardless. Except, of course, if you were just sadistic madmen running an asylum as your playpen, which means I might have just negated my own point.
Later, Arden is the subject of an attempted seduction by Shelly (Chloë Sevigny) in hopes of gaining a chance to go outside through trade of sexual favors. Shelly's history as a horny girl incarcerated against her will by a jealous husband who caught her in bed with two Navy guys sets out to be illuminating, but honestly plays out like a badly written Penthouse letter. Both Sevigny and Cromwell are immensely talented actors, but there is just so little meat in her monologue and nothing at all behind Arden's dismissive "whore" and "slut" comments to bring it to life.
Neither is the overly extended session of Arden with a prostitute later in the episode. He invites a girl over, then vacillates between charming dinner host and obviously serial killer. Eventually he dresses her as a nun, but is attacked after she finds a box of disturbing medical and bondage photos on his dresser.
Which brings us to Bloody Face, who finally makes his big appearance in the modern wraparound story that opens the episode. In a way, the facially hideous serial murderer is even more played out than exorcism, but here it works because thus far it is the only link between both the 1964 main setting and the present-day one, aside from the house itself. The all-too-short scene where he stalks Jenna Dewan Tatum through the derelict asylum, ultimately killing her husband as she's trapped in a cell, brings nearly all the adrenaline in the episode.
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Later, we see him in 1964 looking exactly the same attacking Lana's girlfriend.
Let's review the facts. Bloody Face is not a ghost. The man currently accused of being Bloody Face clearly isn't the killer, and is beginning to remember bizarre creatures and horrible medical experiments. Arden is connected to both, and also has ties to strange mutagenic biological advances.
The victims of Bloody Face are all women. Their heads and skin were removed with surgical precision while they were alive. Arden operated on Kit Walker (Evan Peters) while he was alive and without anesthetic. He is also clearly interested in doing horrible things to women.
I don't know how or why a man of Arden's age is still active more than 40 years later, but I am willing to bet the paycheck I cash from typing this that Arden is Bloody Face.