What a way to come back! American Horror Story came back from its hiatus by hitting the ground running, giving us updates on Lana and the new Briarcliff Psychiatrist, Dr. “Bloody Face” Thredson, Kit, Grace and their new baby. We also saw the departure of Sister Mary Eunice (and presumably the devil inside of her). Most importantly, we got a musical number. Following a session of electroconvulsive therapy, Judy Martin (AKA Sister Jude) had a hallucination of herself and the rest of the patients singing “The Name Game.” It might have been the weirdest thing this show has ever done, and it’s a good excuse to talk about hallucinations.
Hallucinations are nothing more than your mind perceiving something without something being there. You might see something or smell something that’s not actually there, the very definition of your mind playing tricks on you. While they are commonly associated with severe mental illness like schizophrenia, (with the image of the person talking to themselves) hallucinations are actually common occurrences. A report from the Stanford University in 1999 found that over 13,000 people had a hallucination over the previous three years. Hearing someone call your name when no one is or waking up in bed only to find out you’re still asleep are common types of hallucinations, as are events caused by drug use. Some psychologists believe that out-of-body experiences and lucid dreaming are types of hallucinations. Others think the category should also include earworms, the songs that get stuck in your head.
Hallucinations are even common in pop culture, though we haven’t seen too many of them in American Horror Story (or have we?). Hallucinations are often used as shorthand for how drugs make a character feel. The first one that popped into my head was the pink elephants from Dumbo, but Izzy’s hallucination of her dead boyfriend Denny on Grey’s Anatomy might be more well-known. Perhaps the baby crawling on the ceiling in Trainspotting is a better reference. The ancient myths are full of the Gods appearing to mortals and speaking to them, which may be how ancient people interpreted hallucinations. Voices out of nowhere are a confusing concept even today, so I only imagine how confusing they must have been centuries ago. People in dangerous situations have reported a calm voice helping them through the crisis, like Jos Simpson reported in Touching the Void. Pre-eminent neurologist Oliver Sacks newly published book Hallucinations includes his own experiences (here’s a great excerpt from the book: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/166057-oliver-sacks-hallucinations/).
I’m surprised there haven’t been more hallucinations on the show. They’re often used in horror or thriller movies as the twist ending (which is why I currently think this whole season of American Horror Story is happening in someone’s head, probably Kit). The reveal is a big surprise, taking into account all of the things that haven’t made sense in the narrative up to this point. I find those reveals to be cheap, but cheap thrills are the name of the game for this show. The idea that a hallucination signals something is wrong with a person is another one of those myths about mental health that won’t die, even though the fact that most people have them is a pretty interesting idea to explore. We’ll see if there are any more hallucinations to come, though I doubt any others will be as much fun as Jude’s was. Have you ever had a hallucination?