[Editorial] A Look Back At “American Horror Story: Asylum”!

cast-of-american-horror-story-asylum

This year’s season of American Horror Story has finally arrived at an ending, and what a wild ride it’s been. Unlike season one, which often felt like it was being written by a deeply stupid child, American Horror Story: Asylum offered a more thought-out story with the added weight of minor themes and emotional resonance, as though it had been written by a deeply stupid teenager. It was a better show. Maybe a less accidentally entertaining show, but a better show all the same.

Now all we can do is shift through the bones of American Horror Story: Asylum and see what we turn up. Warning: None of this will make sense to those who have not seen the show, and only 30% will make sense to those who have.

Welcome to Briarcliff:

Right off the bat Asylum let us know we were back in American Horror Story land, a place where you don’t realize how insane events are until you hear yourself describing them to your dentist the next day. For instance, the big opening this time involved Maroon 5′s Adam Levine having his arm hacked off while receiving fellatio from one of Megan Fox’s clone army members. This show is a gift.

Almost immediately after this we’re thrown into tons of plots. Similar to the first season of American Horror Story, Asylum can’t be troubled to focus on just one horror type: It wants to host as many as possible. We get aliens, a mad scientist, obviously some institutional horror (electric shock therapy, yo!), a serial killer, as well as lots and lots of crazy religious gags running throughout.

But we also get social commentary to go with it. Wrongfully imprisoned reporter Lana is a lesbian. Kit and his doomed wife Alma live in a secret racially mixed marriage. Sister Jude must struggle against patriarchal rule. It’s all pretty heavy handed, but at least it’s there for more than mere titillation.

Tricks and Treats:

Things settled down significantly with episode two. Though this is where the show introduces one of its longest running stories, the possession of Sister Mary Eunice by either satan or some lesser imp or demon.

One of the bigger shocks offered by “Tricks and Treats” had nothing to do with American Horror Story‘s frequent dirty dances with bad taste, but rather the fact that the show intended to stick around this present tense story starring Adam Levine and his girlfriend. Granted, it featured Bloody Face, so it stands to reason the show would want us to learn why there’s a Bloody Face in our times when the show takes place in the 1960s, but it stills seems like an artificial extension of episode one’s shocking opening.

Let’s talk about Bloody Face, while we’re on the subject. Clearly meant to stand in for last year’s Rubber Man, the conceptually disappointing and uninspired Bloody Face doesn’t offer much to anyone who has never heard of or seen Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He’s a serial killer who wears a face made of human skin. That’s nothing compared to a ghost who inexplicably wears an S&M outfit and rapes people.

Nor’easter:

“Nor’easter” was another minor episode, but a much better minor episode than “Tricks and Treats.” The episode focuses largely around a massive storm and Sister Jude’s exhibition of Sign of the Cross, during which something like 100 patients escape, though the three we really care about all end up right back where they were.

This was the week we discovered how evil a character James Cromwell’s Dr. Arden would provide. First he tries to rape Shelly, then when she laughs at his little wiener, he cuts off her legs. On a show like this, it’s not impossible that we could eventually find ourselves with sympathies for the bullying Sister Jude. But this Dr. Arden guy is rotten to the core. Thank God. Without him we’d never have an insane asylum protected by a league of cannibal mutants. And then where would be as a species?

Sister Jude’s alcoholism makes a return a lot earlier than I remembered. This show moves through stories so quickly, it’s hard to remember how far back some of these plots went.

I Am Anne Frank, Pt. 1:

Here it is, the first really great episode of American Horror Story: Asylum, which is funny because it’s largely a digression. Franka Potente shows up at Briarcliff claiming to be Anne Frank. It seems pretty crazy but then she fingers Dr. Arden as a Nazi war criminal, and she’s actually right.

Meanwhile, in what is far and away my favorite scene of the season, Sylar attempts to un-gay Lana via a low grade Clockwork Orange that involves tons of vomit, sexy pinup girls, and one hot male inmate’s “tumescence.”

We’re not really swimming in plot here, but “I Am Anne Frank, Pt. 1″ does inspire viewers to throw up their hands and cry: “I have no idea what’s going on but I love it,” which is the only reason to watch this horribly awesome show.

I Am Anne Frank, Pt. 2:

This is why I love American Horror Story, whether or not the mystery regarding Who Is Bloody Face? intrigues us hardly matters because, love it or not, they’re going to wrap it all up with remarkable haste. Spock was Bloody Face. There. Now we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Still don’t know about the damn aliens, though.

Poor poor Shelley. Legless and covered with syphilitic tumors, somehow Shelly ends up in an elementary schoolyard, poised and ready to ruin a good handful of childhoods.

We also had Grace’s alien abduction and impregnation, which would be the centerpiece of any other show, yet feels like an afterthought on this one.

The Origins of Monstrosity:

So many origins! Bloody Face, Doctor Arden, Sister Mary Eunice, even some dumb little girl who shows up here and never matters again. This was an episode filled with dramatic monologues I can barely remember because I was complaining about it on Twitter at the time.

The only great thing to come out of this episode is Monsignor Timothy Howard’s magic rosary beads, which have both strangulation uses and a fast whipping action against enemies.

Dark Cousin:

As if there wasn’t enough going on, the Angel of Death shows up this week. Apparently, this is how death works on American Horror Story: If you’re about to die, an old lady will approach you and ask if you’re ready to die. If you say no, you get to live. Hypothetically, one could gain immortality merely be repeatedly denying her. If you say yes, she has a wing erection and kisses you, thus shuffling you off this mortal coil.

The best part about this is if you’re feeling suicidal, you can just call her up, as Sister Jude does over and over again. She never fails to appear when called, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to accept her kiss. You can change your mind at anytime. In other words, it must really suck to be the Angel of Death.

Speaking of Sister Jude, this is where we find that the little girl she ran over in a drunken stupor didn’t actually die. Which means this whole plot line can finally matter to the show as little as it matters to us.

As far as crazy stuff that seems normal yet sounds really strange when you tell your mom about the show later goes: Kit stabs a cannibal mutant with a massive dough hook. Its guts spill out all over the place. I shouldn’t have to sell you on how awesome it was.

Unholy Night:

Another digressive episode! This one starring Ian McShane! Sounds like Christmas to me!

Ian McShane really screws things up this episode. In a good way, I mean. In an effort to assassinate Sister Jude in a manner most befitting a high ranking Batman villain, Sister Mary Eunice unleashes Briarcliff’s most Christmas-obsessed lunatic and locks both he and Sister Jude in a room together. Amazingly enough, the altercate ends with Jude kicking his ass.

As for everything else, this is where American Horror Story: Asylum starts running out of gas and feeling more like a fume-inspired dream where you just accept stuff that doesn’t make sense, such as Spock’s return to Briarcliff to nab Lana as if the massive events between them were not all that big a deal. She and Kit get the drop on him but fail to finish the job. Did that even just happen? Who knows? This is American Horror Story.

The Coat Hanger:

In a scene that truly baffles the mind, Lana stands over a tied up Skylar and threatens to kill his unborn child by jabbing a wire coat hanger into her vagina. She takes her undies off and everything. Bowlegged and ready, she means business. I love this show.

The Al Swearengen one-shot turns out to be more of a two-parter, as the crazy bastard manages to crucify Monsignor Timothy Howard. And… well that’s about it, really.

There is one more thing: Arden talks Kit into letting him almost die as a way to bait the aliens to show up, instead of doing that, it just brings back the pinhead girl who is now really smart thanks to the aliens (?) and a fully pregnant and living Grace. Jeez.

The Name Game:

Even if you don’t watch American Horror Story: Asylum, surely you heard about this episode’s big musical number, a perfect representation of why we all watch this show each week despite its being provably horrible by nearly every measurement we have for such things.

This big moment kind of overshadows the fact that this was actually the last episode of American Horror Story: Asylum as we know it. With both the beautiful death of Sister Mary Eunice and the inexplicable suicide of Dr. Arden, everything changed this week. After this point it’s all epilogue. Lots and lots and lots of epilogue.

Spilt Milk:

Lana FINALLY kills Threadson, and it fails to matter much. Kit and Grace get to leave Briarcliff, and it fails to matter much. Jude is still stuck in Briarcliff, and it fails to matter much. The only thing that matters to me is that great bit where Bloody Face Jr. drinks milk from his BBW prostitute, and I’m not 100% sure that was supposed to matter much.

Continuum:

American Horror Story‘s take on Sister Wives ends with one chopping the the other up with an axe. Jude is crazy, and Lana’s grown into a fame whore. Next!

Madness Ends:

I cried so much I died of dehydration.

In Summation:

I hate to fault a show for improving, but that’s the kind of backwards thinking American Horror Story inspires. This was a better show, and a less exciting one as a result. Furthermore, the idea of ending a show three episodes early and wallowing in epilogue for nearly a month is an idea that intrigues me so much that I want to forgive the attempt. But I can’t. Because it was boring.

Bring on the new craziness next year. Supposedly it will be a more romantic season that’s also a little lighter and funnier than Asylum was. That sounds awful. I can’t wait.

 
  • Kristofer

    God I hated this season!

    Season 1 was so evolutionary and inspiring and fresh! Season 2 to me just came off as a complete copy and unoriginal. And I hated every single character! Can’t believe Lana lived! The one person I wanted dead!

    Season 3 sounds much more amazing though!

  • djblack1313

    i thought this season had some amazing moments but was overall an unsatisfying cluster fuck. i don’t hate it but i’m glad it’s over. season 1 was amazing. BRING ON SEASON 3!!!

    • Zombie-Killa

      I agree. Season one was just incredible, and I STILL watch on DVD every now and then. Season 2 started out with some promise, but man did things descend into a massive mess of shit towards the end. Sitting through the last three or four episodes felt like a chore, and the convoluted plot twists almost gave me a headache. But Ian McShane was AWESOME as Santa.

      And yeah, bring on season 3!!!

  • Evan Saathoff

    I’m actually a little worried about season three’s supposed lighter tone.

  • wildgator25

    Thank you! Thank you! I thought this story was heading into the territory of AHS fanboyism but thank goodness you actually saw the show the same way I and others I discuss the show with did.

    It’s great that we have shows like AHS and The Walking Dead to begin with. I am not knocking AHS in general because we could be stuck with another iteration of Crime Drama or shit like 666 Park Avenue (which I refused to watch and apparently I was not the only one). But, the truth is the truth. The last 3 episodes of this show were absolutely lame and really gave me question to the validity of the next season. I hope I am wrong and Season 3 turns out the be the best so far!

  • wildgator25

    *out to be*

  • huntermc

    Season two was definitely an unfocused mess, like they threw about a dozen different horror movies in a blender and slapped together whatever came out. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, but I would have liked it better if it hadn’t been so all over the place.

  • Nothing333

    I wouldn’t call this season a mess. It was very focused in its themes. Insanity, damaged motherhood, religion vs science and the perversion of both. It provided standout style with exceptional cinematography, inspired musical choice along with the depth of numerous metaphors. The acting was top notch as well. This show is ahead of its time, I’m sure down the road we will look back and all realize how great this season was.

  • DarrelDreadful

    I guess I stand alone by saying I loved this season, even the last couple of episodes. I think people liked the first season so much is because it was fresh and unexpected. For me I love this show as a whole, but for Season 1 I only recall loving Constance and certain moments of the show that really got me hooked. But this season I was so much more into the story. I liked that they touched on Aliens a little bit because of the time period and circumstances. It made sense to me. I didn’t expect Bloody Face to be a main focal point but then again Rubber Man had the same treatment, so that made sense too. I didn’t care for Lana at first, I actually hated her, but then I grew to like the depth that was given to her and I loved her by the final episode. I thought Mary/Devil story was great but not given full potential. But I definitely enjoyed this season’s finale more than last season’s. I agree, a lot went on this season but I never got confused and never lost interest. I love this show and cant wait for Season 3.

  • hawkward

    I don’t understand why everyone is bashing on this season, the story was REALLY more clever than the first season. The Rivalries between religion and science, the more deep stories, i didnt hate any character on this season, i loved everyone, even if they were bad or good, i had feelings for them, i mean ”oh! that character was awsome, i cant believe he died” Not like the ghost bitch obsessed with Ben, i loved first season, but the season 2 was a lot more brilliant, all characters evolved in a drastic way. The season final was, for me, perfect. It was beautiful, the show took a totaly other turn, after the season final i felt human while in the beginning of the show i was craving for blood.

  • weresmurf

    “Lana stands over a tied up Skylar”

    Awwwww fuck Walter Whites gonna go all Heisenberg on her…

    You mean SYLAR right? ;)

    • GhettoWerewolf

      Lol

  • GhettoWerewolf

    Evan, I agree with pretty much everything you said. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I had high hopes for this season after having seen the first season (I didn’t hate it, but thought it could have been much better), but then I saw the first few episodes and was pretty excited over-all, with the exception of a few minor things. As Asylum progressed I found myself disliking the show more and more, and when the final episode arrived, I must honestly say that I heaved a sigh of relief. I still don’t believe it to be an outright terrible show, I would quickly choose to watch it over most things that come on tv, but I just really wish that the writers would slow down and not attempt to tackle so much at one time.
    On a side note, Unholy Night was, hands down, my favorite episode of this entire season.

  • Sick_skwerl

    Don’t get me wrong, I LIKED this season, but what the hell? The first season might not have been as ambitious, but at least you walked away with a concise story. Season two has so many unanswered questions that it feels like they ran out of time and just killed off and/or tried to just ignore plot lines- would have been cool to learn about the experimental subjects, or what the hell was up with the aliens and kit’s half-alien kids? I mean give us something besides some suicides, a disappearance, and a tough-guy Lana. Too much ambition with too little pay off.

  • Palkotaz

    I personally enjoyed both season 1 and 2. Sure it may not always be a perfect show, but god damn it as a horror fan I get a little gitty when so many genres can co-exist in one universe. It had demons, aliens, serial killers, mad scientists, madness, mutant freaks of nature, it had the works baby! and It kept my interest and I can’t wait for season 3. Oh and if they touch on some Lovecraft mythos next season, or even have any Twin Peaks actors/actresses star/guest star I will have a serious fan boner going on.

  • Mr.Mirage

    Season 1, a brilliant take on the haunted house notion, kept approaching the shark tank, but knew how to avoid any pitfall. Season 2 was an over-the-top piece of crazy, fitting into its own asylum, but I swear every single time it starting acting like Fonzie on a motorcycle, it didn’t turn away gracefully (like in S1) but just charged on and then jerked away.

    And I have to say it… seriously? Dude…. no, the suicide at the end of The Name Game is perfect. He had just been shown as collapsing under the weight of his own actions, and the only thing that would save him is Sister Mary Eunice, who cannot help him and the demon just … snubs him, as if he were *cough* the third man in a triangle.

    I have watched the ending of that episode, starting with the delicate way Arden cares for the body until the credits over and over and over… brilliantly shot.

    Also, of course, is the title of that episode, the song and dance number that, in itself, should have been the death knell for me. A song and dance number in anything other than a musical is Airborne Over The Shark Tank moment for me, and yet, once again, it stops at the perfect moment, and we are shown the magnificence that is Jessica Lange and her tormented character.

    Watching AHS:A was like watching House Of 1,000 Corpses. Obviously not for everyone.

  • MyScaryHalloween

    Season 2 by was a superior effort and one of the best shows on TV. This season was a perplexing mix of both sophisticated themes and subversive pandering. For every scene of arm ripping (exciting action scene), there was a scene of contemplative religious or social commentary (for the more heady viewer). It’s meant to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers, not just the hardcore junkies.

    Hence, the kitchen sink mentality of throwing everything in, and letting the audience cherry pick their favorite moments. Horror runs a very wide gamut and everyone thinks their flavor is the best. However, I don’t think this a “hardcore” horror show as the advertising/media suggests, but that’s a network marketing issue. They’ve got to lure the viewers in. I think of it more as a dark thriller/drama with some elements of horror.

    The performances and production values elevate it beyond typical genre fare. Sister Jude starts as a despised character and ends with us crying at her deathbed. That is some amazing arc. And the show looks great – better than many movies in fact.

    And yes, the writing is somewhat haphazard and forces you to connect dots, some of which as set aside or tied together only by motif. I’ve relied on the Doc Jensen recaps (on EW.com) as a viewer’s guide to walk me some of the more subtle actions and dialogue, of which there is much. Each episode requires at least one additional viewing to fully see the greater picture. Even the Anne Frank episode addressed the themes of identity (are we who we think we are or what others tell us we are?) that Sister Jude, Lana, and even Sister Eunice face, and the outcome of the Anne Frank episode foreshadowed Sister Jude’s fate (unthinkable at that time in the season).

    There’s more to American Horror Story than the surface and to truly appreciate it, you have to commit to digging deeper than face value. Although it can be enjoyed on that level as well.

  • Justen

    I liked this season a lot more than the first because it was more psychologically horrifying, and it explored some pretty interesting topics (especially in relation to the time period). But for some reason this show just always lacks that special something. There’s always plot holes, not enough information to fill in the story and give it weight, too many fucking characters to keep up with, care about, and be emotionally invested in, and it seems like a lot of what goes on is just done for shock value. The one thing that carried this season the whole was was Lange’s and Paulson’s performances. I mean, they killed it! Those are two incredibly talented women. But the season itself was good, I suppose. I don’t like the last few ‘epilogue-gy’ episodes – it completely took me out of the story and was confusing. The show is a little ratchet, but it’s something for us horror fans to indulge in on television. I hope season 3 is better.