American Horror Story: Asylum Review
Well, the second season of FX’s hit American Horror Story is officially over. After the first season of American Horror Story, I had such high hopes for Asylum. Unfortunately, I set my expectations too high, because this season just fell flat.
The series tried to do way too much in one story. I hoped the writers would pull it all together to make a cohesive story. Alas, each of the story arcs were interesting concepts on their own, but they didn’t hold together well, and each of them sort of resolved themselves with a quiet whisper. If Asylum had focused on a few of the ideas and developed them, this season could have been so great, but if you put too many ingredients into a stew, it just becomes a big mess, and none of the flavors can stand out.
Let’s take a look at each of the story lines Asylum tried to develop (obviously, spoilers ahead):
1. Bloody Face
The season opened in the present day with Adam Levine and his horror-crazed wife on their honeymoon, visiting the most haunted places in the world. They visit run down Briarcliff Asylum, where serial killer Bloodyface made his name. Adam Levine gets his arm cut off by a man wearing a mask made out of human skin and dies. (So much for his being one of the first names listed in the Asylum trailers.) Then we’re transported back to the 1960′s when the actual story takes place.
I was intrigued by the beginning: a serial killer around for decades, possibly invincible. At first, Bloodyface’s identity is a mystery; surely it isn’t Kit Walker (Evan Peters), as the police suspect. Then we learn that Bloodyface is actually Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto), the seemingly concerned psychiatrist who has been helping Lana (Sarah Paulson), an ambitious reporter who’s locked up for sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.
Dr. Thredson helps Lana escape Briarcliff only to trap her in his basement because she reminds him of his mom who abandoned him. The psychiatry behind his killing is a little cliche, but it works. [Editor's Note: I thought his motivations were highly appropriate for the time period, though the message didn't seem to come across. So it's still weak.] After Lana escapes, however, she winds up back at Briarcliff in a frustrating circle that gets old fast. She finds out she’s pregnant with Bloodyface’s child; she fights with Dr. Thredson some more to kill time on the show until she kills him by shooting him in the face, and Bloodyface is out of the picture suddenly and abruptly.
So Bloodyface is killable. Lana has her son and gives him away, so he can grow up to be Dylan McDermott, who is the present day Bloodyface. So…Bloodyface is just a family business. Bloodyface Jr. goes on a rampage to kill his mother, and right when he gets his chance in the big season finale, Lana talks him into remorse by telling him she’s a part of him, bla bla bla. He cries about all the horrible things he’s done, and she shoots him in the face. Ah, like father like son: big plans, only to get shot down suddenly and abruptly.
The alien story is one of the more interesting plots. In the first episode, we meet Kit Walker, who’s married to Alma. When she gets abducted in a sequence of bright lights and shadowy movements that could induce seizures, everyone assumes Kit murdered her. He’s put in Briarcliff, where he meets Grace, and they have a fling. Eventually, Grace gets shot and killed, but when they try to dispose of her body, the aliens abduct her as well, because the aliens are interested in Kit for some reason. Later she returns very pregnant and very pleased.
After Dr. Thredson is outed as Bloodyface, Kit is released from Briarcliff, and he takes Grace with him. They go back to his house, where they find Alma, magically returned and with a baby of her own. Time flies forward very confusingly, and now the kids are older and the three adults are living in polygamous harmony. Except Alma is scared the aliens are going to return, while Grace cannot wait to see them again. Their differing opinions leads to Alma axing Grace (literally) and then going to Briarcliff where she dies. In the season finale, Lana reports that Kit got pancreatic cancer after his children grew up to be a big deal lawyer and a neurosurgeon. He disappeared, being picked up by his alien admirers. Apparently, the aliens were just making genius human children. Not that much of a horror story really.
[Editor's Note: Ok, couple of things here: 1) What the F aliens? Weird sense of humor much? Now I'm not discounting the merits of being a law professor and neuro surgeon, but all this "They will be great" nonsense had me expecting one to be president and the other discovering the cure for cancer. Let down. 2) There's no mention of Kit's second (third? does Grace count?) wife when he dies. It's totally left out there. 3) Kit's son is the same kid who was in Paranormal Activity 4 as the creepy demon kid Robbie, Brady Allen. Fun fact. Ok, I'm done...]
3. Devil-Possessed Nuns
Another of the characters at Briarcliff, Sister Mary Eunice McKee, a sweet and innocent young nun, is possessed by the Devil early in the season. She had so much potential to do so many interesting things, and Lily Rabe does a marvelous job playing the dark role, [EN: Loved her loved her, loved her.] but it all amounts to naught. All the Devil really does is give a murderous child advice, seduce a priest, team up with Dr. Arden (next section), and get really excited about Lana’s baby, who, as mentioned before, goes out with a whisper.
Her big accomplishment is uprooting Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) from her post as head of Briarcliff, which is a shame, since I loved Sister Jude, the no-nonsense nun struggling to have authority in the patriarchal system. Sister Jude spends the first half of the season being smarter than everyone and has potential to be the heroine that stops the evil, but eventually the Devil wins and Sister Jude is institutionalized in her own asylum and eventually really goes crazy. Score One for the Devil – Granted, Jude had a relatively happy ending, spending her last six months with Kit and his kids in a happy family. Sister Mary Eunice was a joy to watch, but in the end, Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes), who feels guilty about a lot of things himself, pushes her over the stairs railing, and she dies…suddenly and abruptly. So much for the Devil… She was all talk.
[EN: 1) I don't think it was THE Devil that possessed Sister Mary Satan...er, Eunice. Just a demon claiming to be. It even had a name all it's own, though that too could have been a lie. This is all speculation however. 2) Presumably, the demon had bigger plans, as it did jump into Monsignor Howard at some point, presumably when he pushes her over the banister. Though, again, wasted plot thread as it's never capitalized on. Tsk tsk writers.]
Monsignor Howard, who had a passing role to play in everything except the aliens, also fades away. Lana explains in the finale that he became a powerful Cardinal and then killed himself in a bathtub seven years later out of guilt. Here I was hoping the Devil had gone into the Priest to do something, but alas.
4. Genetically Engineered Monsters
These could have been interesting. Dr Arden (James Cromwell), the leading physician at Briarcliff, experiments with some of the patients to create mutated humanoid creatures that are very zombie-like. Even the Devil is interested in them. Sadly, they don’t do much except scare Kit, Lana, and Grace back into Briarcliff that one time they try to escape, and one of the patients we get to know a bit is transformed into one and then is strangled by Monsignor Howard.
Before they can do anything interesting, Dr. Arden develops a conscience and shoots them all. I guess that’s to be expected with the Devil backing them. Dr. Arden also meets a sudden and abrupt end when he joins Sister Mary Eunice in the incinerator, feeling so guilty about his past as a Nazi and failing the innocent and beautiful Sister Mary Eunice that he just lets himself burn with her.
[EN: Ever heard of Nazi guilt? I didn't think so. Nuff said.]
5. The Angel of Death
The Angel of Death makes an appearance several times, kissing each dying character into oblivion. She exists as a character of mercy, carrying people away from their misery.
[EN: The Angel of Death seems to exist only to be a sort of thread to string the other characters together, and as a sort of mirror for which Sister Jude to see herself as she really is. In Jude and the AoD's meetings, it always seems to serve as a way for Jude to reflect on her life as a nun, or an entertainer or a drunk. And in the end, she comes to her and reflects Jude's own familial accomplishments during her time with Kit and his children, and how she has brought together all of her separate parts to become the woman that Kit and his children have come love and rely on. And with that, she contentedly embraces Death as the old friend she's become. Also of note is the mother/son parallel that's drawn between Jude and Kit in a sort of nod to last season.]
Each of the stories could have been extraordinary, but all together, they were too superficial and all ended too suddenly and abruptly. The finale episode wrapped up everything way too cleanly for my taste, with Lana telling a reporter everything that happened after Briarcliff, catching us up to the present day, so we can watch her face-off with her son. Everything wraps up cleanly, which is great for closure, but not necessarily for a horror story. I liked the first season for committing to killing everyone and trapping them in the house.
This season went soft; there were so many directions it could have gone, but instead they played it safe and gave everything clean, relatively happy conclusions. All the evil was killed – even the Devil! All the good guys had more or less nice endings – except for Grace and Alma, but they weren’t the MAIN good guys. There were just too many ingredients, and not enough development and mixing, almost as if each writer wanted to throw in their own idea, and no one really listened to each other or helped each other. Hopefully, the writers will be more in sync next season.
[EN: Speaking of next season, any thoughts? Clues were said to have been spread throughout the final episodes of this season, but I am personally at a loss. So, what do you think we have in store for season 3 of FX's roller coaster of a horror anthology? Let us know in the comments below! I do love a good rhyme...]
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