Episode Title: “The Name Game”

Writer: Jessica Sharzer

Director: Michael Lehmann

Previously on “American Horror Story: Asylum”:

Episode 2.09 'The Coat Hanger'


“American Horror Story: Asylum” is a little unstable itself, isn’t it? The problem with this series, at least the second season, is the inconsistent level of quality and narrative drive. It’ll pad whole episodes with relatively meaningless asides with sociopathic children or homicidal Santas, and then blow its load with an enormously eventful hour of television where every single subplot moves like a freight train. “The Name Game” is one of those latter episodes. It’s such a manic experience that it’s a little hard to keep up, but doing so is a treasure trove. If you, like me, are bigger fans of the ongoing storylines and mysteries than the episodic “psycho of the week” installments, “The Name Game” might be one of your favorite episodes so far.

When we left off, Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) had just discovered Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) pregnant, overseen by Pepper (Naomi Grossman), a microcephalic inmate who has now been gifted by the aliens – assuming of course that they are aliens – with increased speech and intelligence. Pepper has been put in charge of protecting Grace, and coerces Dr. Arden into saving her unborn child, instead of doing his usual “start cutting and see what happens” shtick, by telling him the aliens mock his scientific methods, and that if anything happens to Grace he’ll be the only one there to take the fall.

From there, “The Name Game” wanders all over the place from plot point to plot point. Covering it in chronological order would be erratic and confusing. Covering it one subplot at a time is probably going to be erratic and confusing, since they’re all going to cross over into each other. What isn’t erratic and confusing is the episode itself, which deftly balances these ongoing subplots as they interweave between each other. Not that “The Name Game” is a work of pure genius – it’s still blunt storytelling and, in an extended dance number, at least a little ridiculous – but it does manage to tell a series of convoluted tales without letting any get lost in the shuffle, and without overloading any one segment with event while other parts of the episode go wanting for substantive content, something the series has been guilty of before.

Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto), aka the serial killer “Bloody Face,” has been freed from captivity by Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), and lo and behold, she’s actually given him a full-time position at Briarcliff. He tells Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) that she’ll be safe so long as she’s carrying his child, and then maybe for a year after that so she can breastfeed the newborn. Kit Walker (Evan Peters) on the other hand, is only safe so long as he knows where the recording of Thredson’s confession is being hidden. Thredson goes to Dr. Arden’s office looking for sodium pentothal (truth serum, kiddies), where he finds Grace going into labor, with Pepper acting as a midwife. He brings Grace and Pepper to his office, introduces them to Kit – who has no idea what the hell is going on – and uses them as leverage to get the location of the recording from Kit. But Lana has already moved the recording and hidden it elsewhere. The game continues.

Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) gets in hot water with Sister Mary Eunice who finds a cucumber in Jude’s quarters, presumably for “diddling” purposes. This earns Sister Jude a trip to the electroshock therapy room, where Sister Mary Eunice doubles the recommended voltage. Sister Jude, now dazed and barely capable of speaking, returns to the recreational room, where Sister Mary Eunice has installment a jukebox full of pop tunes. This leads to a long, long, long dance number featuring the entire cast to the tune of “The Name Game.” This sequence has, as near as I can tell, no real purpose beyond injecting some much-needed levity into “American Horror Story: Asylum,” and revealing that the cast might actually be having some fun here, even though their characters are each suffering intense emotional and physical abuse at every turn.

Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), meanwhile, has been visited by the angel of death, Shachath (Frances Conroy), who revealed that the devil inside Sister Mary Eunice. He tries, rather briefly, to exorcise the demon, but Sister Mary Eunice rapes him for his troubles. His vows of celibacy broken – and he kinda liked it too – he goes to a barely functional Sister Jude for guidance. He apologizes for never listening to her (and as well he should), and she finally speaks up, telling him to kill Sister Mary Eunice, who taunts him for thinking he could go through with it. But when the Monsignor rejects her offer to help him become pope, he tosses her off the third floor of Briarcliff. Shachath comes for her as well, and supposedly takes both Sister Mary Eunice and the demon inside her to the afterlife.

Dr. Arden, distraught over Sister Mary Eunice’s fornication with Monsignor Howard, and having already executed the mutated beasts living in the woods outside Briarcliff, volunteers to cremate her remains. He straps her into the furnace, and then piles on himself. The episode ends with the door to the furnace shutting behind them, presumably incinerating them both. That’s assuming, of course, that death has any meaning in “American Horror Story: Asylum,” since it sure as hell didn’t matter to Grace, who’s back on the show despite being really quite killed a few episodes ago.

It’s a humdinger of a storyline, “The Name Game,” and the pot sure is boiling over with pulpy storylines reaching some kind of apex. But “American Horror Story: Asylum” has never been very good about maintaining a status quo. Assuming for a moment that Arden and Sister Mary Eunice are dead, the only real antagonist left for the show would be Dr. Arden. Could he rise through the ranks of Briarcliff so soon, taking charge with the Monsignor? Either way, now that the Monsignor knows that Sister Jude was telling the truth, and now that Sister Jude has told her Mother Superior that Lana was institutionalized under false pretenses, there’s nothing keeping her there either, except doubtless for Dr. Thredson himself. “The Name Game” concludes on an extremely dramatic cliffhanger, but unlike the very best cliffhangers, it leaves the fate of these storylines in doubt, instead of filling our heads with possibilities.

Then again, this is “American Horror Story: Asylum” we’re talking about. The next episode could very easily introduce hobbits and cyborgs into the series and we’d have no right to even bat an eye. It’s unclear where the series is going, but for this one episode at least, we do know it’s been a real treat.

Photo Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.