Bloody Face, the dagger-toothed, reptilian serial killer makes his first on-screen appearance in 1964, appearing in the home of school teacher Wendy (Clea Duvall) – who was blackmailed by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) into committing her lesbian lover Lana (Sarah Paulson) to the thoroughly medieval Briarcliff last week – while simultaneously stalking down Theresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) through the decaying contemporary Briarcliff in 2012.
Those of us expecting more alien and human terrors – frights anchored in science – are given a rude awakening when terrified parents turn in their son Jed (Devon Graye), who ripped a bull apart with his bare hands and has been speaking in tongues, and his clearly supernatural exorcism makes good on The Exorcist spider walk in the opening credits and the promotional material, and the shocking conclusion suggests there’s going to be a lot more of this to come.
It’s pretty blockbuster stuff – all people being flung across rooms, crucifixes rattling and bulging veins – but as always it’s the human element that makes American Horror Story such compulsive, must-see TV.
Though billed first on the credits, Star Trek and Heroes favourite Zachary Quinto makes his debut here as measured state psychiatrist, Dr Oliver Thredson. Sent to evaluate Kit (Evan Peters), he’s appalled by the conditions at Briarcliff, and being a progressive man of science, immediately slams down the gauntlet to Sister Jude and Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), but instead winds up involved in the exorcism. Thredson’s potential lifeline of rationalism to our poor, beleaguered POV characters – Lana, Kit and the seemingly-sane-but-probably-not Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) – immediately severed when he has to pit his newfangled Sixties liberalism and groovy ideas about psychology against a dickhead from the pit.
Jed, in full Pazuzu mode, taunts Sister Jude with her past as a nightclub singer and lush who killed a girl while drink driving, and ‘Tricks And Treats’ represents the beginning of a softening process for the harpy in the habit as the show’s real villains make themselves known. Jude implores Dr Aden (James Cromwell) to subject Lana to electro-shock therapy to help her forget all the evidence of malpractice that the incarcerated reporter will take back to her editor – but is visibly shaken to be involved in the actual operation. This season’s Jessica Lange is not last year’s calculating Constance – she’s making up for something with all her bluster and venom, and it doesn’t take much for the cracks to being to show.
Dr Aden’s home life is explored, and it’s pretty gristly as a prostitute he lures home and then has dress as a nun finds his collection of gruesome trophies from previous encounters. On the face of it an obvious clue that Arden is Bloody Face, but seeing this so soon suggests he’s definitely not.
Some critics have bleated through their tear-clouded eyes that “American Horror Story: Asylum doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be,” but the confusion is much closer to home. Showrunners Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy know exactly American Horror Story: Asylum is supposed to be – it’s we, the viewers, who don’t, and we should be more than excited to find out how this world of devils, slashers, secret experiments, anal probes and UFOs is sewn together.