American Horror Story finally had a good episode. I was starting to get worried.
The first part of the Ann Frank two-parter was frankly worse than a disappointment. Everything that bugged me about the first few episodes: the mish-mash of characters and plot, the schlocky dialogue and the mediocre camera work was amplified in the first half of the story. Worse, having Ann Frank show up felt gratuitous at best and down-right exploitive at worst. You know what a show that already has serial killers, mutants, aliens, lunatics, ghosts and demons really needed? Yeah, sadistic Nazis. And also, the conversion therapy scene? Eew.
But the second episode turned it around. I'll credit a lot of this to a new (to this season of AHS, anyway) director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and also the episode's cleverly anti-climatic reveal of the identity of the Bloody Face killer. If you hadn't figured out who the serial killer was by the final 15 minutes of the episode, the writers found a way to turn a lamp on for you. I thought this scene was effective and made narrative sense. The allusions to past atrocities were ghoulish touch-stones grounding the scene in an imagined time and place. In previous episodes, this nostalgia felt counterfeit and bloodless but here it was all the tightening of a noose.
Falchuk wrote this episode and while I never really liked Glee all that much, the story benefitted from an experienced hand. Of course, Lana would jump at the chance to leave Briarcliff and of course the Bloody Faces killer's explanations would sound reasonable, right up until they didn't anymore. And by then, of course, it was too late.
But the other elements of the story also came together. The juxtaposition of Sister Jude's fall from grace and Charlotte's lobotomy were compelling and ironic without being obvious. Thredson's failure to help Charlotte appears tragic until it doesn't seem that way at all. Falchuk found a way to let this show's complex stories be without fussing with them too much.
The show seems to be focusing its energies on Dr. Arden. Is he a Nazi or not? Would it be worse if he was an ex-SS officer or is it more disturbing if he's an example of the banality of evil? Now that we know he isn't the Baby Face killer he reasons for being the story seem to be dwindling. He appears to have set the processes of Briarcliff in motion but he doesn't seem to have enough complexity as a character to suggest he'll be around long to watch how they play out.
The next episode is entitled the Origins of Monstrosity. I'm guessing were going to see a lot more of Zachary Quinto.