The driving force of fear in most (if not all) horror movies is death. Victims generally run as fast from it as the killers chasing them to deliver it. Sometimes, a victim will resign themselves to it, but, more often, they will fight, even if they die trying. Hell, Final Destination created a franchise confirming there is no way to cheat death, it will find you and kill you creatively. So it’s natural on a show that centers around horror take the time to explore death and it’s themes, and this episode introduces us to the Dark Angel, sweetly played by Frances Conroy, who I hope will visit again as she is amazing, and her baby-tinged voice is heartbreaking and soothing at the same time.
The people who run into Death include Miles, a Briarcliff patient who summons her, and she gives him the literal kiss of death after a suicide attempt. Her presence rattles Sister Mary Eunice, with whom her demon is her “cousin” who can see her. We watch as the real soul of the nun is tortured inside, pushed back and begging Death for release. This was exquisitely done by Lily Rabe, who balances a subtly in her demonic possession and her tweaking of the innocence she inhabits and villifies. (I’m rooting for an Emmy nomination for her this year). In any event, the Emmy winner last year has Death on her agenda.
Sister Jude is familiar with our Angel, having courted her, as we learn, when her husband left her after giving her syphilis, then the drinking, then the car accident, until she embraced her higher calling. After Death takes Mr. Goodman, and Sister Mary Eunice tortures Sister Jude with clippings of the hit and run, bloody smeared everywhere, and leaving her a razor for her best way out of everything. Sister Jude has such a vivid contemplation of suicide that I’m not sure if it is her spirit or her body that joins the Angel in the diner booth. Turns out, she is still alive and well, and ready for Death, again, but wants to make reparations to the parents of the little girl she ran over, and there is a relief of those 15 years of torture as we all learn that Missy didn’t die that night; she is alive, grownup, a nurse, with a child. This leads to one of the best performances by Jessica Lange, as she struggles to absorb her absolution, her questions of faith, her meaning, her alcoholism, her journey, in fragmented wisps of choked words as she realizes that that she deserves life, the shackles of guilt now unlocked. This was the best part of the episode and, possibly, the season, for me.
We learn poor Grace’s fate, Arden being blamed for a botched hysterectomy that the Aliens who abducted Alma conducted. Twice she meets with the Angel, but is only kissed (and killed) in the last few moments, taking a bullet for an escaped Kit, who came back to Briarcliff to save her. Maybe the insanity of going back there will keep him there – is it safer for him to stay than an ensured death penalty? Considering he’s holding a slicer that he plunged into the gut of one of Arden’s experimental creatures that followed Kit in through the secret passageway , his insistence he’s not a killer holds less water now. I’m still rooting for him, and for his freedom, but I’m not sure anyone will escape unscathed.
I did root for Lana so much, but she had to endure degrees of torture. She is a fighter, so of course she fights against death, but not before Thredson has sex with her, his mother figure, and understanding that it does nothing for him, the psychiatrist in him deconstructing how twisted it is that he violate his surrogate. Although Lana courts with Death when she comes to visit, she resists, determined to live, and to escape. Thredson promises to end it quickly for Lana, as a favor, but she rallies and manages to almost kill him (she should have) and escapes, running to a car that picks her up. The driver is, unfortunately, crazy and angry at women, ranting against Lana and his wife before shooting himself in the head as the car veers off. Death sits in the backseat for this (literally) and when Lana wakes up next she is being nursed for…at Briarcliff. She comes Full Circle to Hell, again, but is it a better place from whence she came? I wanted her to win, but I wasn’t too surprised. The reasons for her to be at Briarcliff have become necessary, just as the inevitable confrontation with Thredson, since no one will believe her as a patient in an asylum. Maybe, like the kids in the Final Destination movies, it’s better to just embrace Death when it comes for you, because it can be a lot worse running from it.