Step inside a madhouse of horror and experience the chilling new incarnation of TV’s most daringly provocative series. The sins of the past haunt the present at the notorious Briarcliff home for the criminally insane, ruled with an iron fist by Sister Jude. Forbidden desire and terrifying evil lurk around every corner…from alien abduction to demonic possession to a skin-wearing psychopath known as Bloody Face.
Back after a much reported successful run, the series “American Horror Story” returns with season 2 titled: “American Horror Story: Asylum”. Those who are new to the series or coming into the show immediately after the first season should know that the filmmakers handle this series differently than the usual trend.
As each season is not only a new season, but a completely different premise and storyline. Some actors return in various roles portraying character completely different than the last. Other times, we may get a whole new crop of actors added to the mix combined with a few of the veterans. Viewers who are looking for a linear style offering might get thrown for a loop. In the scheme of things, it really does keep things fresh and inventive. Season 2 as indicated by its title is centered in an asylum.
The asylum is called the Briarcliff Mental Institution, set in year 1964. The series begins with a young couple who decide to pay a visit to the “now” old and abandoned location for a thrill run. This “present and past cutting” is part of the show’s design, but is intended to mostly occur in the past. Even with era skipping, the technique is done extremely well as a cut might pan from an existing hallway right back into the present (a nice visual touch per the shows creators).
The theme here is the meat of the series which is centered around the doctors and patients occupying the asylum at the time. Briarcliff is run by the rather hard hitting Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and assisted by Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe). Sister Jude answers to Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) who is the location’s founder. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) also resides within maintaining a laboratory with the intent of continuing his studies on disease and the human mind. His scientific approach is questionable right from the start slowly revealing itself to be diabolical, sadistic and cruel.
Sister Jude acts as the location’s enforcer maintaining order with less sadistic but still very questionable tactics that include punishing patients per caning who get out of line. Jude does come with a load of baggage herself revealed as the show unfolds. Sister Mary Eunice who at first is very afraid, condescended upon, and naive also makes a transformation during the show’s run.
As this very subplot-filled series transforms into what its true intention is to be, I couldn’t help thinking that the writers decided to throw just about everything (and the kitchen sink) into its plot makeup. Without giving too much away I can tell you that the show takes on the subjects of a serial killer, aliens, Satan, Nazis, zombies, Death (the entity), monsters and of course the asylum residents. It’s quite alot crammed into one time period and storyline, but at the same time it sets itself apart as an original attempt mash-up of ideas. The idea of the “devil” entering into the mix was quite unexpected while still feeling appropriate for the mix of ideas that make up this universe-centric TV show.
What is especially stunning here is the eclectic cast which features some of the top talents around providing a base of dramatic roles. It was clear from the start that Emmy and Oscar winning actress Jessica Lange would be providing this season’s focal character role which only set high standards for the rest to follow in. Lange is clearly a perfect choice for her role often breaking into highly dramatic segments that surely should earn her accolades among her peers.
As I said, coming off of Lange’s lead is Sarah Paulson who plays a lesbian journalist intent on infiltrating the dubious activities of Briarcliff, Zachary Quinto who plays visiting Psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (also providing the series some serious twists), actress Clea Duvall as Wendy, and Chloë Sevigny as one of the patients Shelly. Sevigny takes on in her usual manner) some highly sexual segments that culminates into some shocking extreme horror usually saved for cinema. James Cromwell, another high point for this series attaches to his role like natural. I was also surprised to see actress Franka Potente appearing in several episodes as Charlotte Brown claiming to be “the” Anne Frank. Kit Walker (Evan Peters), a series regular also provides a dynamic role that begins with his introduction as a noted serial called “Bloody Face”. Like everything in this universe…..there is more to come!
In short the cast list is worth checking into yourself. There is just too much good talent here to make for a bad experience. If anything, some viewers will turn away due to its highly adult and shocking content. But that’s what makes this series so delicious to genre fans…..a penchant for controversial content
If it wasn’t clear already, TV will never be the same…………
In regards to storylines, the base is set mostly around this single location. The location is perfect as a distressed eerie backdrop that feels like a character itself against the drama that occurs within. I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed that upon episode 4 it felt like the show could have ended and finalized if it were a film. The show does take off in new directions from this point making for what I’m calling the second act. More character back story provides basis for who, why and what makes up the characters of this story.
Zachary Quinto as Oliver Thredson also becomes a primary piece to the whole saga. His story picks up in the 2nd and 3rd act to the season which provides a perfect segue into the present.
As the show’s saga evolves over the course of 13 episodes, it tends to change its voice a few times. Let’s just say that the wicked perish and the corrupt get what they deserve. What viewers can appreciate though is the season’s ability to come full circle and wrap all its dirty edges. I felt several times that the show could have ended at any point, but carried forth to extend out another facet to its lineage. The base which sometimes finds itself flipping between timelines does so that it can revolve the past and the present under one tidy little horror epic. Briarcliff itself becomes an echo of what it once was after so many year of housing evil leaving off where the season began.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” is dynamic as hell. The content is brutal at times only being elevated by the excellent acting performances within. Proof of this arrives in form of seventeen Prime time Emmy Award nominations that reaffirm what greatness this series tends to mold itself around. Surely a product for horror fans, but more importantly its just really greatly produced and written TV.