There's nothing like the use of a historical icon to make waves within a show. American Horror Story has no qualms about inserting well-known people into the story; in the first season, the Black Dahlia made an appearance, and now in Asylum, we get an introduction of Anne Frank. Unlike the Black Dahlia, this insertion of Anne Frank (that sounds wrong) is more believable and has a much more involved backstory to it.
But first let's talk about the stuff that happens before Anne Frank gets involved in the proceedings. "Nor'easter" takes place during a large storm, if there was any doubt in your mind after the title. Things are a little tense at the asylum now that Zachary Quinto's psychiatrist character, Oliver Thredson, has been messing with the system – he’s directly interfering with Sister Jude’s (Jessica Lange) methods, and he also didn’t succeed in that exorcism he performed with the priest in the last episode. Then there’s Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who has gone from the perfect little angel of innocence to the devil in just one episode. Finally, Lana (Sarah Paulsen) and her cohorts Kit (Evan Peters) and Grace (Lizzie Brochere) are still looking to run away, but they’re always stopped just short.
Credit where credit is due, Asylum is juggling lots of different plot arcs all at once. Obviously, they all suffer in some ways, but this season of American Horror Story is much better at staying on-task. The nor’easter threatens to break up the security of the asylum just as Sister Mary Eunice, influenced by the devil, attempts to break up the security of those running it. She targets Sister Jude and Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), two of the most fragile people running the asylum, and accomplishes her task – Sister Jude takes up drinking again while Dr. Arden becomes involved in an investigation based on a prostitute’s accusations.
We can’t forget some of the lingering plot themes, either, like the strange device implanted in Kit after the alien attack or the creatures Sister Mary Eunice is tasked with feeding outside. During the storm, Lana, Kit, Grace, and Shelley run free and make it outside, only to be forced back into the asylum when they encounter grotesque monsters. Shelley’s fate isn’t as lucky as the others; Dr. Arden finds her, blames her for the corruption of Sister Mary Eunice, and begins his work on her.
Then there’s the incorporation of Anne Frank into the mix. The story behind her makes sense; she faked her death as a martyr for those to sympathize with after the Nazi atrocities. She recognizes Arden as a Nazi himself who used to experiment on girls in Auschwitz, bringing it to the attention of Sister Jude. Corruption is an obvious theme of this series, and there’s more behind the asylum than even Sister Jude knows.
Lana also attempts to overcome her lesbian qualities with the help of Dr. Thredson; Kit tries to confess his own “actions” as well. There are some legitimate disturbing moments, especially the treatment for curing gayness and the experiments on Shelley. Asylum may not be coherent at times, but at least it does know how to weave entertaining events together.
And isn’t that most important here? It’s quite apparent that the show is taking whatever it sees fit to scare the viewer and throwing it at them, but now the ante has increased a bit. These aren’t the regular scares of regular television but morbid, off-kilter ones. It’s working fairly well as a series that doesn’t care much about the why of its events but of the how; things are complex and they aren’t explained well, but there’s always a glimmer of hope that American Horror Story will get its point across in time.
If that means that I’m being forced to sit through a ton of events that don’t make much sense but are very entertaining, so be it. I’m at that point now where I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the show doesn’t have to be literary or have good writing; it’s just got to be fun, and these two episodes are certainly that. It’ll be up to later episodes to prove the worth of the events that happen in these early stages of the season.