"American Horror Story: Asylum" -- "I Am Anne Frank, Pt. 1"
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the "I Am Anne Frank, Part 2" episode of "American Horror Story: Asylum." Please stop reading if you don't want to know what happens.
Last week's episode of "AHS," "I Am Anne Frank, Part 1," featured the usual "AHS" complement of disturbing imagery and plotting: Kit and Grace get busted for having sex in the kitchen; Lana undergoes aversion therapy for her "illness" that involves touching a stranger and throwing up a lot; and Dr. Arden's experiments on Shelley take a gruesome turn.
But the centerpiece of "I Am Anne Frank, Part 1" is…Anne Frank. Franka Potente ("Run Lola Run," the "Bourne" films) guest-stars as a disheveled but determined patient who insists that she's the famous diarist -- and that she recognizes Dr. Arden from Auschwitz, where he went by the name Hans Gruper and performed Mengele-esque experiments on female prisoners.
The idea walks that patented "AHS" drunken tightrope between daring and outright bizarre, and Twitter responded accordingly. Some reacted to the out-there-ness of the plot with jokes; fashion/TV bloggers Tom and Lorenzo tweeted, "The nausea factor was pretty damn high this week. But hey, Anne Frank with a gun!," while @dedle2 punned, "Anne Frank on American Horror Story? I did Nazi that coming…" and BuzzSugar dubbed the actress "Anne Franka Potente."
Others just couldn't get into it -- the "Vanity Fair" account noted a bafflement peak with, "Briarcliff welcomes Anne Frank. The level of 'seriously?' hits an all-time high." And it verged on offending a few, as @caseymaura objected, "... You can't just toss Anne Frank anywhere ya damn please," and @trii_sara_topss described herself as "actually really mad at their Anne Frank thing," though she didn't elaborate on why.
Again, we will warn you about spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
"I Am Anne Frank, Part 2" will clarify a lot of things even if it doesn't win over skeptics -- but Franka Potente still thinks it's "kind of a cool thing to think about." When Yahoo! TV spoke to her last week, she talked about giving herself up to the idea that Anne Frank did survive: "What if she is Anne Frank? What would she be like? You know, in this setting, in this different time, at this different age -- Anne Frank died when she was sixteen. What would she be like, all these years later?"
Potente knew from the beginning that she'd be playing Anne Frank. At her initial meeting with show creator Ryan Murphy, he told her right away he had a great part for her, and "he was so excited about it: 'What if Anne Frank came into this asylum, and what if she didn't die, and what if blah blah blah.'" Potente was a fan of the show from its first season, so she agreed without having even seen a script: "I was like, 'Wow, this is crazy -- sure!'"
To keep spoilers at bay, showrunners gave Potente's character various aliases on the set -- so many that, when she got her first call sheet, she had to call the producers to find out which one was hers. Of course, the titles of the episodes wound up giving a lot away, and she laughed that she was "sworn to so much secrecy, and you call it 'I Am Anne Frank'? Okay."
But she's not Anne Frank, in the end. She's a woman named Charlotte who's suffering from postpartum psychosis, neglecting her colicky baby and concerned husband to build an obsessive scrapbook wall about Arden/Gruper's war crimes -- and it's not until Charlotte's husband arrives at Briarcliff to claim her that you realize just how much credence you've given a story that's obviously impossible. How did Potente choose to play a character who's obviously delusional, but has to convince the audience that maybe, just maybe, she's telling the truth? "The thing that comes with insanity, or possible insanity, of course the person doesn't look at themselves saying, 'Oh my God, I'm insane. I'm not really Anne Frank, but I'm pretending to be.' I wanted this girl to be very convinced that she was Anne Frank." And Potente wanted the audience to come with her on this trip. "I want them to believe, or at least I invite them to believe for a second, to make room for the possibility that I am Anne Frank."
Potente added that "you don't have to do much" on "AHS" as far as acting insane, generally, because the environment the show has created does a lot of the work for you: "It's creepy, and there's aliens, and creatures, and all these things … the music, the way it's edited, there's so much going on. If I thought of ways to act crazy, like if I create the eye twitch, stuff like that, it would be really annoying, because it's overloading what's already there." Not to mention the "amazing extras," whom Potente credited for helping to create that oppressive Briarcliff atmosphere. "If they weren't paying attention, if they weren't doing their thing even if they're not on camera, you feel that," she said.
But "AHS" has its serious challenges for actors. It's decided -- by Arden, who is a sadist anyway and whom Anne/Charlotte has shot in the leg -- that the best treatment for Anne/Charlotte's condition is a transorbital lobotomy. The procedure is difficult to watch, even though the audience knows it's fake, because it involves an icepick and a mallet, and Potente didn't love it either. "I'm kinda nearsighted, so anything that goes on around my eyeballs, I'm not a huge fan of," she said, adding that she can't even deal with the eyelash curler in the makeup trailer. But James Cromwell, who plays Arden, "had proven to be a very reliable, wonderful man" who helped her feel okay in the scene, even though she's strapped to a gurney with a pointy object near her eye.
If you've ever watched TV before, you might be forgiven for thinking that someone, anyone will surely save Anne/Charlotte before the lobotomy gets underway -- Sister Jude, who seems to believe her accusations against Arden, or maybe Shelley, crawling out for vengeance. Alas, it's allowed to proceed: another tricky moment for Potente as an actor, for a couple of reasons. First, it's just tough to play a lobotomy patient: "It's such a hard thing, even if you read the medical information, to really wrap your head around it, like, 'Wait a minute, so they remove or numb parts of the brain and parts of your soul -- your personality, your beliefs, your emotions are really really gone?'"
Second, it becomes clear that, while she may not remember it, Charlotte is probably right about Arden. Does she know that on some level? Did the lobotomy really erase everything? "I had wanted it to be that there was almost like a whiff, like a smell of memory" left, Potente said, but she wasn't sure how to play it. "I kind of just wanted to be really blank, and just play someone who is in limbo, between faint memories of something that's undefined, and the present that doesn't seem to make sense either."
By the end of "I Am Anne Frank, Part 2," you might still think there's a chance Charlotte really is Anne Frank -- that doubt, that "whiff," may linger. Or you might think the entire plot is just too absurd, even for "AHS." But as Potente observed, "That's the awesomeness of telling stories."
Watch a recap of "I Am Anne Frank, Part 1" right here:
'American Horror Story' airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX.