The next thing we know, it's a bright, sunshiney day and Sarah Paulson is driving her convertible up to the gates of Briarcliff Manor, now in its heyday. She introduces herself to the guard as Lana Winters (the "a" in Lana is flat, rhyming with Hannah) and says she's with the Gazette working on a story. Oh dear, the Gazette has lost so many reporters who've gone snooping for stories in places like these. But she's let on in anyway and starts roaming the grounds. She's started from behind by cried of "Play with me!" coming from Pepper, a microcephalic who is very obviously supposed to resemble Schlitzie from Tod Browning's Freaks, complete with the knothead ponytail and unibrow and girlish dress. Pepper is also the latest of Ryan Murphy's developmentally disabled characters which he likes to trot out, make fun of for a bit (because, you know, everybody should be mocked equally) and then show that they can be just as mean and awful and human as the rest of us. It's all a part of Murphy's black-hearted little worldview that, while I get it on an intellectual level, it's still sometimes hard to enjoy. Anyway, Pepper hands Lana a flower and is then scolded by Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe, who played the dead mother ghost in Season 1) to leave the nice lady alone. Lana says she was just being friendly and harmless, but Sister Eunice informs her that Pepper is not, indeed, harmless. She drowned her sister's baby and sliced its ears off. See! Just as terrible as the rest of us! Welcome to Briarcliff, Lana.
Sister Eunice takes Lana on a tour of Briarcliff, including the spiral staircase that seems to exist only so crazy people in hospital gowns can shuffle up and down like zombies ("Sister Jude calls this her Stairway to Heaven"). Speaking of Sister Jude (Jessica Lange, obvs), she's in her office, in the process of shaving the head of Chloë Sevigny, whose character is officially named Shelley the Nymphomaniac, so we can all have a bit of fun with that. Sister Jude is not happy that Sister Eunice has barged in here and exposed her harsh disciplines to a reporter like this, but she sends Shelley out to the common area to show the other patients her "newfound immaculacy." "You think I'm full of shame and regret for what I've done now, Sister?" Shelley rails. "You could shave me bald as a cue ball and I'd still be the hottest tamale in this joint!" Oh man, is Chloë Sevigny ever perfect for Murphy's brand of on-the-nose monologuing. Jessica Lange, it should be noted, is serving up a hard-bitten New England accent, reminiscent of Meryl Streep's work with the Bronx accent in Doubt. Alone with Lana, it's contentious from the start, with Lana naturally inquiring about what Shelley did that necessitated this particular form of discipline and Sister Jude deflecting all questions. She thought Lana was here to write a story about their bakery. Because apparently, in addition to housing the criminally insane, the Briarcliff nuns also make a mean molasses bread. I can't WAIT for the episode when something truly gruesome gets baked into a pie.