Monstrosity:   3 stars
Dark Cousin:  4.5 stars

I continue to be impressed at how much has happened in this season at only a little over its halfway point. To think that when Asylum started back in October, Sister Mary wasn’t possessed, Shelley wasn’t a demon, Grace was alive, Lana was a wide-eyed reporter with a living girlfriend, Sister Jude still worked at Briarcliff, Joseph Fiennes was still in episodes (but barely still), Zachary Quinto wasn’t another Sylar-esque serial killer yet, and I was waiting desperately for the always-welcome Frances Conroy to appear. Like the end of the premiere, Lana has ended up back in captivity at Briarcliff, but almost every other element has completely been spun on its head, and we stil have quite a ways to go. The rapidly increasing pace has always worked well for American Horror Story and its mini-series format as well, and it’s very likely that the show will hardly resemble its current state in three weeks from now.

And yet as quick and exciting as the show has been, The Origin of Monstrosity was a major speed bump that was going to inevitably be slow after the two-part Anne Frank story, but one that still dropped to an unnecessarily origin-focused hour that highlighted further insights into Arden, Mary and Bloodyface. All of what transpired felt mainly tertiary, and in a run time three times as long as it should have been. The fact that Oliver Thredson not only craves a mother’s touch (boringggg) and was watching Lana long before Briarcliff (color-by-numbers serial killer story) not only failed to be interesting, but it also proved to disappoint; a more original take on a serial killer story could have truly elevated the Bloodyface saga into new and more refreshing territory. But alas, and hopefully there will be enough other supernatural happenings to keep the story’s blood pumping in exchange for this mediocre shading.

Dark Cousin, on the other hand, was a much more lively and rather touching hour. A new figure has been brought into the mix: an angel of death of sorts who presents an interesting angle into the show’s take on death. By asking if the potential victim is willing to give themselves into the void of death, the characters are given an active choice on a subconscious or delirious level, which is explored nicely with a variety of subjects. Between people like Sister Jude, who has flirted with death for years now and talks to the Angel like an old friend, or Grace, new to death but welcoming it as freedom in a world where there is anything but, the Angel proved to be an effective study at the way different people react, respond, and relate to the idea of their own eventual death.

It was also a treat to see the Angel talk to Sister Mary’s demon. We not only saw the true Mary emerge for a fight for the first time since her possession, but the demon’s banter with the Angel suggested that we may soon be privy to warfare of these avatars of good and evil, one with enough stakes to potentially be the building blocks to the finale. One can only hope Arden comes into contact with the Angel soon enough, partially because it would be intriguing to see his academically-based mind deal with his own mortality, and partially because it could be the most bizarre Six Feet Under reunion yet. And from an art direction’s standpoint, the design used with Frances Conroy’s character was something inspired. The quick sound as the wings swoop out was chilling enough on its own, but many of her scenes looked like something out of a Caravaggio painting, particularly her looming over Grace’s peacefully dying body.

The only real misstep of this episode was a push to get Lana back into Briarcliff. While keeping her in captivity of Bloodyface for several more weeks straight may have grown weary, and while the asylum may oddly be the place where she is safest temporarily, the process of getting her there felt like such a plot point for the sake of plot points. Coincidences in fiction are more welcomed when the situations for our protagonists worsen, but running into Ethan from Lost, who just so happened to be preparing to kill himself (and even sooner possibly when triggered by Lana’s situation)? It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s a disservice to the narrative. If getting Lana back to the asylum was so germaine to the plot for next week that it makes me forget about the messy way in which it had to happen, I’ll be a bit more satisfied. If not, I’ll still be grumbling about it.

Crazy Horror Conspiracy of the Week: The Angel and the Demon are eventually going to change forms yet again, get sent to an Island thousands of years ago, and will be henceforth known as Jacob (sort of) and the Man in Black (also sort of).

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This article was first posted on December 3, 2012