“We all are going to be together in the dark watching The Sign of the Cross. A movie filled with fire, sex and the death of Christians… what fun!”
Asylum is the second instalment of American Horror Story. Asylum is set at Briarcliff Manor, a long standing institution for the mentally ill. It follows the stories of the patients, nuns and staff that occupy it, and has frequent flashbacks to the past that tie into the present story. Being that Asylum was the second series of AHS, it was here that we realised that returning actors would be a theme (Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy and Jessica Lange all return). But, we were also got an entirely new story and set of characters, which made it an anthology series. This was later changed though when characters such as Pepper, Sister Mary Eunice and Dr Arden were featured in later series.
(Present day Briarcliff)
Briarcliff Mental Institution in rural Massachusetts in 1964: Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) maintain the institution that was founded by Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) to treat and house the mentally and criminally insane. Psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto), and scientist Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), treat the patients within the facility. The patients include lesbian journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), accused serial killer Kit Walker (Evan Peters), and alleged murderer Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré).
The season opens with a newlywed couple exploring a run-down and abandoned Briarcliff. Leo and Teresa are on a mission to do the deed in the creepiest places they can find and film it (smart move), unfortunately for them the grounds are home to Bloody Face. He pursues them throughout Briarcliff and Leo subsequently has his arm ripped off. Back in 1964 we’re introduced to Kit Walker, a simple gas station attendant. After rejecting a gangs offer to help them intimidate a black man for making a pass at a local white woman, the gang engages in racist mocking of his live-in “maid”. Kit then returns home to his wife, Alma (Britne Oldford), whose interracial marriage to him is a secret from the disapproving and deeply racist townsfolk. After a few scenes of normal married life, Kit’s life is suddenly thrown into chaos when his wife is taken by a beam of blinding light which smashes the windows and drowns out Kit and Alma’s screams. He’s accused of being the infamous serial killer Bloody Face, who’s maimed and murdered numerous women around town. He’s sedated and taken to Briarcliff to assess if he’s fit to stand trial.
As Kit enters Briarcliff we’re introduced to Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a reporter who’s investigating Briarcliff’s bakery as part of a story. It’s established that Lana Winters is in a relationship with the local schoolteacher Wendy Peyser (Clea DuVall.), when we see them getting high and eating dinner together in their home. After discovering Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) leaving raw meat in the woods, the two escape inside after hearing strange noises approaching them. Lana agrees to keep her secret safe in return for free reign of the Asylum to find Bloody Face. After sneaking around Briarcliff to find Bloody Face, Lana is knocked out by an unseen figure. After punishing Sister Mary Eunice for allowing Lana Winters into the asylum, she calls Wendy to inform her that she knows about their “unnatural” relationship and that Lana is being restrained for her trespassing and will be treated at the asylum for her “disorder”.
Among Kit Walker and Lana Winter’s stories are a multitude of other tales filled with demon possession, alien abductions, Nazis and an Angel of Death. As usual American Horror Story has too many different aspects for me to call attention to them all in great detail.
After Murder House being as satisfying as it is and so popular, Asylum had to help solidify that AHS can create other favourable stories, and in my opinion it does. It has some really great elements and is definitely one of the best series but as I said it has a lot going on. Such is the way with every season of American Horror Story is that there’s too much happening at once, and that clouds the main stories. Asylum is set in the 60’s, a time where mental healthcare wasn’t great (that’s putting it lightly). It was a time where electro shock therapy for homosexuality was the norm and those parts of Asylum fascinated me, I was enthralled by Lana Winters fate and her treatments and was entertained by Sister Jude’s illogical notion that mental illness was simply the mark of a sinner.
I enjoyed a great many things about Asylum, such as a certain characters slow demon possession, a slow downfall and eventual admittance of a major player at Briarcliff as well as that special Christmas episode, where we’re introduced to a character (who lost his mind one Christmas and went on a killing spree dressed as Santa Claus) being released from solitary confinement to enjoy the holidays as he sees fit. Finally, Dr Thredson’s story with the involvement of Lana was gripping with a satisfying end.
American Horror Story sometimes makes little sense, but then you remember Ryan Murphy is making it and that answers your questions. So, when you’re watching a horror series and there’s a musical dream sequence? You know why.
Asylum is the most cohesive series and fits all its many pieces together nicely, but with one major flaw: the aliens. The impression you get is that you’re being lead to a big conclusion, but you’re not. They don’t explain why, it’s just left a big mystery when it takes up a lot of focus during the season.
Overall, I unquestionably loved this series. I loved the character development, and it followed Murder House very well but it didn’t need a lot of extra side stories jammed in. The main characters were enough to carry it through.
American Horror Story - Asylum