American Horror Story: Asylum Review Archive

Reviews by Nathan Smith

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×01 “WELCOME TO BRIARCLIFF”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Tim Minear | Directed by Bradley Buecker

How could I not love a show like American Horror Story?

Think about it. It’s a season long anthology built around the conceit that 13 episodes equal one story. I like the first season story revolving around the Harmon family moving into a house that has a history longer than time. It’s just so that said history is a broken bloody one that took the lives of the family and spawned a whole hell of a lot of evil. It was an everything but the kitchen sink kind of storytelling and while it was gripping, it was absolutely clear from the get-go that topping the heights and lows of season one would be a tall order. After the season ended, it was speculation that they were going to move on to a whole different location and that it would a different kind of evil taking hold of a whole new set of characters. And when they revealed it was going to be an asylum, the possibilties increased a thousand fold.

The premiere written by ace television scribe Tim Minear instantly drew me in. I soaked up the vibe, the music, the clothes, it washed over me in a way I can’t explain. It feels like a horror movie awash in melodramatic overtones. If it weren’t for the more modern sounding dialogue, I would’ve believed that it was a show trapped in a different era. They really hammer home the realities of the 60′s from race relations (although it’s dropped pretty quickly) to the almost witch hunt-ish quality of being an upstanding citizen (teacher) as well as being a homosexual. It’s not something dwelled upon too long but they mention it enough to make a point. I do have to also make a point to say that the architecture for Briarcliff Asylum is amazing and pretty awe inspiring. It’s reminscent of Arkham Asylum in it’s gothic ambiance. There’s a whole lot going on in the premiere, as well. It’s balancing serial killers, sexual deviants, creatures lurking in the nearby, and devout nuns. Taking a breath, folks. We’re moving on.

Jessica Lange continues to have great fun as Sister Jude, who runs the asylum with a fierce, coldhearted grip. She’s reminiscent of Nurse Ratched in One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Her mentality is perhaps more terrifying than the killer Bloody-Face who lurks within the walls of Briarcliff Asylum. She has a dark machination to her role and is even allowed to ooze a sinister sexuality that other actresses her age couldn’t even dream of pulling off. Lange is part of a great ensemble of a backing cast. There’s Chloe Sevigny as the resident asylum nymphomaniac. There’s Joseph Fiennes as the monsignor of the asylum and James Cromwell as the mysterious mad scientist with some very dark secrets. Most compelling is Evan Peters, who has a drastically different role from his season one, American Horror Story role, Tate Langdon. His story will be the most compelling as well, as we are begging to see his transition from simple gas station jockey to the notorious killer Bloody-Face. That scene where all hell breaks loose in his house as he’s bounced around his home by some unknown force, blinded by searing lights and deafened by the infamous camera noise from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was a standout set piece. Even Adam Levine, from Maroon 5 turns in decent work alongside Jenna Dewan-Tatum in the “wraparound” segments during the premiere.

That aforementioned “wraparound” was the only segment that gave me pause, because it isn’t as gripping and supenseful as the 60′s era stuff. I didn’t like the whole flashing back and forth, even though Minear does a great job with that. See his work on Angel, for example. It’s great horror sure, almost like a creepy campfire tale, but when all the stuff in the asylum outshines the opening of the episode, you’re not doing so great. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but I’m compelled by Kit Walker. I’m compelled by the poor news reporter that finds herself wrongfully incarcerated by Sister Jude at the end of the episode. Although, the moment that close the episode, with that terrifying image of Bloody-Face in the darkness gave me bad, bad dreams. I also didn’t like Lily Rabe’s Sister Eunice as she only seemed to exist merely to be terrified of Sister Jude. Maybe she’ll have something more to do later on, but everyone can’t have stories going on all around. It would just be too much. My only other real complaint is would they really allow a psychopath roam freely amongst the other not-so dangerous patients I also continue to love the hell out of the opening credits. The horrifying imagery coupled with Charlie Clouser’s now iconic score really sets the fantastic tone for what’s to come.

I’m pleased as hell with the season two premiere. I’m very excited to see where the show will go from here and I look forward to what Tim Minear and company have in store. This season, is shaping up to be a damn good horror story from the get-go.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×02 “TRICKS AND TREATS”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by James Wong | Directed by Bradley Buecker

Last season of American Horror Story was kind of a simple yet implausible conceit. I mean that it’s was hard to believe that the Harmon family would sitck around for so long in a haunted house and subject themselves to such dangers that lie within. But, once we shift locations and time periods in this new season, it makes it a more plausible story. After all, if you’re trapped inside the walls of an asylum, it’s a prison, hell it’s a tomb. You’re powerless. You have nowhere to go.

First things, I guess Adam Levine is no more on the show. He seemed to meet the business end of Bloody-Face’s icepick during the cold open in the episode. Unlike last week’s episode, we didn’t bounce back and forth with the past and present, which is a good thing because I would start to worry just how long they can drag out a simple girl being chased by a killer in an asylum. Over 13 episodes, I think credibilty would start to become strained. However, I think if they continue the trend they established in this episode, the storyline won’t be as strained as it could’ve ended up being. the ideas of standalone episodes running concurrent with the overlying season arc can really beef it up and keep audiences invested. The storyline with the exorcism is the real backbone of the episode. It allows you to do a fun little mini scary movie while simultaneously moving the story of Sister Jude and the inmates along.

The introduction of Zachary Quinto’s character, Doctor Oliver Thredson continued to propel Kit’s storyline. I like that he is set up as the sane counterpart to Sister Jude fierce religious stance. He’s trying to thred in some modern medicine because as we see Jude still uses electroshock therapy to get the reporter to forget everything she’s seen as well as her wrongful incarceration. Thredson gets thrown into the exorcism plot as a man of medicine.

The script by longtime genre writer, James Wong hits all the beats of a horror film. The terrifying opening where we realize that Bloody-Face is still on the loose and poor Kit Walker is imprisoned and taking all the heat for him. All the exorcism stuff is great and allows for a brief visual homage to The Exorcist. They handle it as realistically as they can given the circumstance. The bizarre language that the demon has is quite creepy, and at least it wasn’t intially dismissed as mental illness as it would have on another show. The vibes I ultimately got from the scenes where the demon is cackling and taunting Sister Jude were very much in the vein of Tales from the Crypt. I also liked the musical cue from John Carpenter’s The Thing, towards the end of the episode.

The episode allowed for some nice character shading throughout. We learned about Chloe Sevigny’s nymphomaniac Shelly, and how she allowed herself to be committed after she allowed herself to be taken over by her crippling sexuality. We also learned about Doctor Arden quite a bit too and we learned that he has a psychosexual, almost DePalma esque obsession with Sister Eunice. Although Sister Eunice doesn’t get much to do, I can only imagine she’ll be changing very soon, as she was possessed by the exorcised demon at the episode’s end. It also allowed us to see just why Sister Jude is quite the icy monster, because of indiscretions in her past. It helps to kind of sketch her out a little more but we still need to either warm to her or loathe her. Right now, I find myself in the middle ground on her.

I wasn’t too pleased with news reporter Lana’s motivations at the end of the episode during the blackout. Yes, I get that she’s upset that she was incarcerated by her lover, but that was only done because she was blackmailed. And yes, I get that you can’t really trust the guy accused of being the notorious Bloody-Face but still, that was messed up when she called the guards down on the escaping prisoners. I mean, she knows what it’s like to be wrongly imprisoned so that felt wrong for her to do, although within the character and it established her motivations. I did like that scene at the end of the episode when Sister Jude coldly forces Lana to watch Grace and Kit get caned. It’s a dark punishment and fits with Jude’s character. I love that Kit steps in and gets caned for Grace. It endears him to us and right now, he’s the most sympathetic character to me so far.

I’m loving this so far and I’m loving this tale straight of the 70′s and look forward to Minear and company terrifying us further.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×03 “NOR’EASTER”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Jennifer Salt | Directed by Michael Uppendahl

When I first heard mention of what a nor’easter was, it was in a story by Stephen King. And let me tell you something, it’s rather fitting that a nor’easter would just so happen to hit and terrorize the inmates and the staff at Briarcliff. For those not in the know, a nor’easter is a particularly bad storm. It swirls and attacks bringing so much fury with it and I guess it’s fitting that it should attack at such a turbulent time in the lives of those behind the walls.

They continue to treat Sister Jude as this mirage of a woman. It’s made that she’s clearly she’s affected by the car accident and manslaughter of that innocent girl nearly fifteen years ago. Her struggles with the demons of alcohol and the very real demon circling her inside the walls plays for great, quiet tension. Jessica Lange does great work with the role as it is, and I hope they continually seek to sketch out Sister Jude beyond her god-fearing and quite fearful persona. There is ample room for her to grow and as they move along weekly it seems that they are content with letting her do just that. I also love that they’ve given Lily Rabe’s Sisier Mary Eunice something to do beside cowering in fear of Sister Jude, and with this demon possessing her it allows for her to mine this fierce and fiery territory of a woman in charge and knowing exactly what she can do to make those feel uncomfortable around her. The scene where she kills the hispanic woman with the scissors to the throat was quite horrific and the dispatching of the corpse to be eaten by the strange creatures in the woods continued to ploy the mystery element of just what those things are, while keeping them in the shadows long enough to peak our curiousity.

They also managed to come up with a very logical reason to keep the imprisoned patients locked up. Of course, they would get attacked by the creatures but did they also expect to get far in that massive of a storm. If they managed to get clear of the woods, they’d probably be in just as much danger, just not the ripped to shreds kind. It’s nice that they didn’t get the brunt of Jude’s corporal punishment this week, it felt like every episode thus far, they were getting caned.

What are we to make of Doctor Thredson? Last week, he was shown to be the sane counterpart to Jude, the man of science versus woman of faith. He went and checked on Lana’s girlfriend whom we saw (or at least it’s suggested) meet her end at the hands of Bloody Face. They leave what he found at the house quite cryptic but through suggestion Lana realizes that something is very clearly up. At least she lays off of Kit but she couldn’t have known he was innocent. I’m also not sure what to make of the quite sick Doctor Arden. He was shown last week to have a sick attachment to Mary Eunice, and he feels a lurching sickness when she comes on to him rather strongely. He takes his cruelty out on poor Shelly, by going all “Boxing Helena” on her and cutting off her legs. He’s a sick bird for sure, but there’s a kind of need to peek behind the curtain and see just how this deranged individual ticks.

I don’t love the robotic machine, or what have you that Arden removed from Kit in the premiere. It’s just a little too outlandish as well as whatever aliens have to do with it. It can be a little too much for one show and there is a fine story here without delving into a Twilight Zone-esque realm in a show that’s grounded in reality. I’m also still not over the moon with the present day set scenes. Last week, it seemed like Adam Levine’s Leo was pretty much dead already as he was acting turgid from the amputation and whatnot. But, now he has the energy to knock his attacker down and save the girl. At least, until they confusingly show that the Bloody Face is actually two different teenagers roaming around. They shoot the couple dead and leave us scratching our heads. Then, the real Bloody Face shows up. maybe? It’s way too confusing when it doesn’t need to be. I worried about the longevity of these opening scenes and now they’ve added a weird kink to the proceedings. Not sure what is happening and I hope they take it to a better place and don’t fumble the landing for their sakes.

Other than the aforementioned problems, I’m very happy thus far and unless they just stop putting all this energy into the show, it’ll be fantastic to see where the season ends up.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×04 “I AM ANNE FRANK (PART ONE)”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Jessica Sharzer | Directed by Michael Uppendahl

It was around this time last season that American Horror Story pulled off a two-part episode centered around Halloween. It was a twisty affair that upped a lot of the ante and set the course for the path that the show would head to at the end of the season. Well, this season they’ve set up another two-parter and boy, the first half is a damn doozy. It was an episode that managed to use everyone involved, even if they’re in a cursory manner. It’s a little easy for some characters to get lost in the dust amidst all the goings on, but here everyone had something going and was able to contribute to the arc of the season overall. It also shook everything up in the single best way possible.

The episode is all about identity. It’s about hiding that which lies beneath. Everyone is either trying to change or discover something about themselves. Everyone involved in the story proper, save for Kit and Grace, were all tied to the appearance of a new inmate who claims to have survived Auschwitz. Also, she claims to be Anne Frank. She tells a rather gripping story about her struggles to survive and also subsequently outs our crazed Doctor Arden as a Nazi war criminal. They leave just enough mystery to her so that like everyone else in Briarcliff, we feel uncertain as to whom she really is. When she confronts Arden at the end of the episode, and he calls her out as a liar, it makes us question everything we’d previously thought about the character. She certainly has an air of mystery about her and her fate is undetermined at the end of the episode is up in the air.

Arden continues to cement himself as the villain of the season, with the discovery of his Nazi memorabillia and his attempted murder of the call girl. The police are starting to snoop and even if he has a secret accomplice in the Monsignor, I’m not certain he’ll make it out of this spiderweb so easily, but he’s easily the spookiest baddie yet that doesn’t have human skin wrapped around his head. Sister Jude may be trying to take down the villainous Arden but she still has her moments of evil, what with her forcing sterilization onto Kit and Grace for their innocent-ish fling in the kitchen. It makes Jude out to be a monster, but a broken monster and I’m hoping her redemption takes her beyond her evil facade cloaked beneath her nun’s habit. She’s after Arden with a fiery passion and it makes for some damn fine suspense.

I was happy to see that they’re attempting to do a nice love story with the aforementioned Kit and Grace storyline. They’re giving her a backgorund story because she’s been quite the mysterious figure since we were introduced to her in the premiere. Of course, it would be a sinister backstory but that’s not the point, Kit accepts her and that gives him vindication in his feelings for what he thinks he’s done, or being trained to think so. I want to point out that Lizzie Brochere’s American accent is rather fantastic, even as it slips ever so gently during some emotional scenes. The scene where she murders her mother and father were pretty damned gory and shows that American Horror Story, never, ever skimps on the blood. I like that she’s owned up to everything even as her hand was forced when Kit called her out on it after being presented with the evidence by perpetual ‘devil on the shoulder,’ Sister Mary Eunice.

Another character forcing people to either find out who they are or forces them to confront the feelings within is Doctor Thredson. He hasn’t had much of an part to play since his introduction in the second episode. Zachary Quinto plays Therdson as a quizzical enigma with his big glasses and swirls of cigarette smoke. He pretty much engrains it into Kit’s head that he’s Bloody Face. His behavior was rather aggresive and a little confrontational. He’s a little suspect at this point and even more so, when he helps Lana go through her “aversion therapy” to curb her homosexuality. Her therapy was borderline was rapey and honestly, I felt quite uncomfortable. He works his way under their nails and even with his promises of getting Lana out at the end of their week, seems like false certainties.

There was no apperance of any modern day excursions in Briarcliff. The episode moved along so breezily that it would’ve served as a big fat distraction to the greasepaint melodrama in the 60′s. Even, with that minor complaint this was honestly, this episode was one of the best of the season so far. It was a nice gamechanger and I’m very excited to see where they take everyone from her, and if anyone will make it out alive. Especially poor mutated Shelly. She’s not fairing so well as an experiment of Arden’s.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×05 “I AM ANNE FRANK (PART TWO)”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Brad Falchuk | Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Things just got a hell of a lot more interesting around these parts.

There were multiple storylines zig-zagging around each other this week, each story weaving in and out of one other with the ease of a greased wheel. Each strands intertwined like a pretty nifty spiderweb, all piggybacking onto one another, either giving us details of people that we’ve known for quite some time, or people we’ve just met. Secrets getting exposed seems to be the modus operandi of the latter half of the two parter. Anyone else was left broken or irreversibly changed by the hour’s end.

First, the woman we knew as Anne Frank last week, is now revealed as someone quite the opposite. She’s really a woman suffering from post-partum depression. I found this storyline to be  very eerie, and quite off-settling. We see through very nifty, creepily done flashbacks (almost done like an old seventies melodrama) that she’s really a woman named Charlotte and has a doting husband. However, there’s an open-ended resolution to the proceedings. She’s made out to be a woman under duress, however at the end of the episode when she’s dismantling her wall of Nazi paraphernalia, there is someone who looks remarkably like Doctor Arden. Yes, they made it rather convienient that Arden would live and not die, by sheer force of Charlotte/Anne not killing him when she had the chance. But, they really have you going and thinking that Arden might actually be innocent of the crimes (at least his Nazi crimes), but with all the ‘Boys from Brazil’ esque experiments he’s been conducting, and that damning photograph of Arden with Hitler, he’s clearly not as innocent as he, well he isn’t innocent. I mean, seeing just what he’s done to poor Shelly, whom we only catch a glimpse of this week and seeing him lobotomize that poor girl, is just another peg of why we should hate him so much.

Tied to that, we had Sister Jude continued her passionate crusade against the evil, venomous Doctor Arden by getting the awesome Mark Margolis – Nazi hunter to help her seek out information on the aforementioned doctor. But, she’s getting blasted over by the wretched man, because while she was away, he was shot by the accusing patient. Personally, I thought it was great how they shook up everything by having Jude resign with dignity rather than letting Despicable Arden steamroll her out. Jessica Lange’s speech before she leaves the hospital was a great moment, and a great performance for her in general. She’s a pro at this kind of thing. The camera pushes in on her, and she just lets loose. Damn, fine work there. Now, even though she called off the Nazi hunter, I have a feeling this isn’t the we’ll see of him. Otherwise, it’s a wasted cameo. I look forward to seeing Jude go through her dark, broken phase and at least they have found a way to change the character up in a way that feels like something powerful could come of it.

I was upset with the barbaric way they handled Grace’s storyline this week. First, there was that ancient sterilization that Jude forced upon her, and the way that she was treated beforehand was just mean-spirited. I just plain felt bad for her. Then, we see that she was visited by aliens of some sort, and they revealed that Kit’s wife is alive. Personally, this is not my favorite story arc, as I feel it’s too out of reality for the show. Aliens were only handled well on The X-Files, but here I just want ghosts and demons.

Last week, it seemed that Doctor Thredson was a little suspect but he seemed like he honestly wanted to be a great help to Lana. And after sneaking her out, and hiding her away at his home for a brief spell, it seemed more and more that he was a White Hat, ready and willing to do the right thing. Except, maybe it isn’t so. First, we should’ve felt a little off when he did his sick rapey aversion therapy, then basically coerscing Kit into confessing to the murders, we and he know that were committed by another person. Anyone with furniture made from human accoutrement, seems like big old bad news. And guess what? He is.  And now Lana is trapped in his pristine torture chamber. Zachary Quinto has a deranged clinical prescence as Thredson and now he’ll be able to play to his other abilities now that everyone knows that he’s the infamous Bloody-Face. The bigger question now being, is he still the present day killer roaming Briarcliff and responsible for attacking our recently MIA couple. Or is there something much more insidious going on in the foreground and we’re not seeing it yet? With Kit taking the heat for him, he’s surely got nothing to worry about.

Yet.

I’m very excited about seeing what happens to everyone as we move along this season, The characters (most of them) are sympathetic enough to invest us and others are maligning enough to hope they get their just desserts. Great continuation of a great season.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×06 “ORIGINS OF MONSTROSITY”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Ryan Murphy | Directed by David Semel

Earlier this season, I suggested that with the element of an insane asylum as a background, they could mine different types of standalone stories interspersed among the ongoing story arcs. It’s a fertile idea for storytelling, and while this week it wasn’t played up as big, as the exorcism for instance, it still gave it the creepy angle that this season has had in spades over last season.

Nature versus nurture is the theme of this week’s episode, or as it’s seen right there in the title, the origins of the monster. The nature aspect has to come from the budding serial killer girl “left by her mother.” She’s pretty innocent but it’s so very clear something is wrong when she clearly recites exactly whom the killer is she’s blaming for her crimes. Even the devilish Sister Mary Eunice sees something in the creepy girl, and calls her out on her lies. It isn’t made abundently clear by episode’s end due to strange editing of her second part in the episode, but she’s clearly an odd bird and definitely on the road to being a Bloody-Face of her own.

Nurture takes it place when it comes to Oliver Thredson. The biggest get of the episode was learning, in very tiny detail, Bloody-Face/Oliver Thredson’s past. We learn that he was an abandoned child, whom fathered a De Palma-esque obsession with skin, supplanting the touch of the mother who never was to be. It’s a story as old as time, but Zachary Quinto plays the role well above the cliche it could’ve been, and it’s actually handled with a muted prescence in the overall story versus something just being squashed and thrown aside. They didn’t handle too much about Kit’s arrest last week, but with Kit putting two and two together, it seems Thredson could be in trouble IF someone out there would hear him out. It took a very, almost incestous twist at the episode’s end when he began to treat poor captured victim Lana as his surrogate mother. Cooking for her, and doting on her. It screams Nip-Tuck in the slightest, especially given the script credited to that series’ creator Ryan Murphy but and takes it to the craziest possible angle when Thredson begins to breastfeed from Lana as the episode closes. As for Bloody-Face’s present day escapades, which have been largely absent since the third episode, we see the police getting called to Briarcliff, after recieving a call from the maestro himself. The only things that leave me pausing, are a) Were there three Bloody-Face clones, or just two? I only remember the two who shot the newlyweds which leads into b) How indestructible is Leo’s wife? She’s still got enough in her to fight and struggle against the real Bloody-Face. This present day stuff hasn’t been my cup of tea so I hope the payoff is worth the build-up.

I’m a little happy that they gave the Monsignor a little bit more to do this week than usual. He’s usually resigned to waiting in the wings, and it’s a damn shame that they’d waste the fine talents of Joseph Fiennes. But, they allowed for a little digging into the reasons why he would allow the scumbaggy Arden to work in the background and do his experiments. Of course, he thought Arden was doing good, don’t they all? But as it is, he has his hand forced by Arden and fires Jude at the not-so-good doctor’s behest. Here’s the thing, were the experiments really something he thought were good? Did he just allow for these things to go down, sight unseen? It seems fishy but hey, when you sign up for the ride, you take the ride. This sub-plot also allows for the good Monsignor to put poor Shelly out of her misery. It seems like a big waste for an actor like Chloe Sevigny, when you take into account what little part she actually played in the whole thing.

Sister Jude gets the short shrift this week it would seem, but at least she’s now aware of several things. First, the Nazi hunter clues her in that “Anne Frank” wasn’t fibbing, she was straight up telling the truth. When Jude offered Arden a drink, I thought she could’ve been poisoning him but I had all but forgotten about the fingerprint acquistion. But, her means to an end, ends up dead when a rather gung-ho Mary Eunice stabs the hunter and steals all the incriminating evidence to save Arden’s hide for another day. At least Jude knows that a nun is behind it all and that should make for some very interesting turns coming up.

This week was a lot more fast-paced than most last week, and it felt moreso like season one than any of the other episodes this particular season. Maybe that’s due to Ryan Murphy’s presence. But, halfway through this season, they’re tightening the screws and clashing everything together in a big old pot of crazy. And it’s damn tasty too.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×07 “DARK COUSIN”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Tim Minear | Directed by Michael Rymer

The Angel of Death has found it’s way to Briarcliff. Think about it. It’s definitely the perfect home to roost in. The place is home to a whole cadre of violent and twisted beings, and there’s the inmates too. The place has seen many a gruesome death as the season has gone on and on, and of course someone would show up to ferry the souls to the Elysian Fields or wherever they may rest.

I had many problems with ‘Dark Cousin’ overall, but at least there was a bright spot in the episode that saved it for me from being an outright wheel spinning dud that always pops up mid-season. The first of my problems starts with Lana and Doctor Thredson, if there’s a place to start; there it is. When we last left them, he was treating her like she was his mother and she reciprocated, quite possibly out of pure survivalist instinct. But now, he’s screwing her, maybe it’s consensual, as consensual as forced captivity sex could be. Look, I buy that she would escape after what, ONE episode but that she escaped only to put right back into Briarcliff screams lack of planning in terms of her plot this episode. Zachary Quinto barely gets anything to do other than rape his captive and get beaten up. We learned about Thredson last week, and now he barely opens his mouth. It’s shoddy. Having her trapped against her will at Briarcliff, especially since we’ve mined that story for the first five episodes. I also thought it was a wasted scene with her hitchhiker. Of course the guy who picked her up would be a woman hater. Of course.

Secondly, they wasted all things with Kit and Grace. They have feelings for each other, very strong ones. That’s great. But, to have Kit escape from custody to save a girl he barely knows, is not so smart. If he’s trying to get to her to ask about his not-so dead wife, that makes more sense. It isn’t clearly established in the episode. It’s frustrating that Grace is near death in the episode and then miraculously recovers when Arden actually saves her life. Side note here: If Arden didn’t do her hysterectomy, then who did? I honestly thought he did. But, they only reunited Kit and Grace, only to have her killed by the trigger happy guard. It felt wasted and I just had no emotion when a weighty character died. That’s a shame.

Then, there was all of the stuff with the dark angel. They keep talking about her being summoned, first by the guy who slashes his wrists on the meat slicer. Then, by Grace when she’s close to death. They never mention who summoned her, or the context of it. It’s dismissed as quickly as it was brought up. They even throw in some hokum about the words written on the wall in blood, but again something that’s dropped so very quickly. I like that she was a symbol of death, even if they don’t say it, they call her a dark angel. Seeing her move in and out of the storyline gave it a sense of synchronicity. She seemed to either give people the push they need to move on, or allows them to accept their deaths. I like Frances Conroy, and still say she did damn fine work as the angel. The part I do like, and wish we had more of was seeing the angel and Sister Mary Eunice square off. If there’s story there, I wish we would’ve seen it.

It was a better handled subplot in the later half of the episode however. I pretty much loved anything involving Sister Jude as of late. I really loathed that chracter originally but now they’ve started shading her in more and more colors. She’s growing into a diverse character and I relish that. It’s quite nice to see her story and get filled in on the events surrounding her hit and run accident. Tim Minear always does good flashback stuff and seeing Jude as a washed-out and washed up singer showed us much more than we’ve been given as of late. But every episode as of late, Jessica Lange has been digging in deeper into her role as Jude. It seems she’s really latched on to who Jude is and that’s partially because of the writing and all because of her acting. I really loved her scene reuniting her with Frances Conroy when she delivers her story about being hit with syphilis from her fiancee or later when she attempts to confront the parents of the little girl she thought she killed. Damn fine work there, and I loved the fiery tension coming from all sides. That scene felt so very real to me.

I’ve got to mention something briefly here. I’m excited by Sister Mary Eunice running the asylum. With that demon poking around in her cage, she’s bound to make some very, very bad things happen in the interim. And I really loather Arden so seeing her slam him across the room, felt like sweet baby James victory.

So, I loved one third of the episode, and that’s not to say that the episode was horrible. It just felt off, like a bad week in an otherwise good month. I hope they bounce back, the season has been good enough so far.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×08 “UNHOLY NIGHT”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by James Wong | Directed by Michael Lehmann

Santa Claus is such a jolly, jovial character that it’s just an inherent given that the old bearded man can be an evil, evil bastard. Look at “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, or “Rare Exports.” Just definitive takes on a character as old as time. There’s always a fulfilling need to take a cracked look at quite possibly the wonkiest character in history, even as late as Dwight Schrute’s crazed Germanic anti-Claus, Belsnickle. And now we add Ian McShane’s disgustingly perverted Santa Claus to the shelf.  So, because like last year, “American Horror Story” did a holiday episode, then a Halloween episode, it’s fitting that they celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with a grim, grimy Santa Claus for the ages.

‘Unholy Night’ was a big step-up from last week’s wildly uneven episode of American Horror Story: Asylum. It managed to balance all of the stories being juggled without it feeling forced or overstuffed (pardon the holiday acumen) in a way that worked. That’s not to say that things weren’t mixed up in the story. They did brush over some things so quickly that it didn’t feel like even the remotest iota of emotion was thought about. Parts worked, and parts didn’t. Usually, it’s fifty/fifty most of the time when it comes to a show like this where horror and drama are intermingling. I’d say this week it was more ninety/ten if my drift is able to be caught. On that most graceful note, let’s start with the minorly bad.

First, as I stated earlier, I was very excited to see a scary Santa Claus and in the cold opening it seemed like it was going to go there. However, it didn’t. It wasn’t mined for all it’s terror. It was like a “Nip/Tuck” filtered Santa Claus. Instead of fear and horror, he was all rape and carnage. That’s not to say that McShane didn’t give his all as a doom-filling Claus. He gnashed the scenery with his teeth as he is want to do. I thought it could’ve been scarier, that’s all.

Last week, at the very end of the episode when Grace was killed by trigger happy prison guard, it felt rushed as hell. Like they wanted to wipe her out and move on. And sadly, they still treated her like a gigantic footnote. She was filled with such exposition and then all of sudden, right before she’s about to eventually spill the beans about what’s happening with Kit’s ex-wife they drop her. I liked that character. She even a little romance with Kit. It was a little warmth in such a grim show. But, when we see her getting dumped off by Arden at episode’s end, she disappears into the same bright light that Kit’s wife disappeared into. This is very compelling stuff but it came a little too late. Even Kit whom inadvertently got her killed was pretty much swept over for the most part. Well, except for the stuff involving Lana. That stuff worked because he has as much to get from vengeance on Thredson as she does. Well, minus the rape and torture. They’ve managed to try and give these scenes an air of unpredictability. Do I love the idea of them keeping him hostage in the asylum? Of course. It gives it a sense of urgency, a sense of vibrancy.

Now, Arden also surprised me in a way that I thought he couldn’t. I found him to be a despicable monster, as he’s written to be. After all, he conspired to have Frank the guard killed as he was. It was especially on show in the scene with newly minted Sister Mary Eunice, the devilish nun running Briarcliff. Causally tossing aside horrible epithets regarding the “jewess,” he still provided some dark exposition about his time in the death camps. I thought it was business as usual. At least until, he had a rather convincing scene with Sister Jude in the church. His speech about seeing the bright light on that poor sweet girl, rang true. It was so believable and I fell for his bullshit just as she did. When he conspires to set her up to get her comeuppance with our old mean, Mister Claus it was a pretty suspensful scene. Of course, they kill off McShane’s Claus. He couldn’t be lingering around for long and they take him out the same way they take out poor Frank the guard.

Actually, Jude wasn’t hanging around too much in this episode although she rose up with her usual piss and vinegar that she’s full of. She’s got this re-affirmed God fearing complex that she’s going to use to usurp control and take back Briarcliff. I do enjoy the grim Christmas decorations that Mary Eunice forces the patients to use, all their medical implements. It gave it a glommy feel. I look forward to see their battle ensue and they slightly squabble in her office. They each hold their own dark secrets and the coming war is very welcome.

I’d hoped that with a James Wong script they could’ve done better, but this week they were still scrambling to pick up the pieces that last week bashed up. It was a good episode, but a few minor bugs bogged it down. I think next week will bring it full circle.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×09 “THE COAT HANGER”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Jennifer Salt | Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

“The Coat Hanger” fixed almost all of my major issues that I’d had for the past few episodes. They mixed and incorporated the two biggest things that worked so very well. It retained some of the emotional impact, while still allowing us to loathe the characters we’ve loathed all this time. But, the best past of the season thus far, is that they’ve changed our opinions, shed some light if you will on a character that has been mired in misery since day one. But, when I learned of the episode’s title in advance, I had wondered why it was called “The Coat Hanger.”

Sometimes you take those episode titles so very seriously.

I hadn’t really thought about what the title could mean, until after the big reveal of Lana being pregnant with Oliver “Bloody-Face” Thredson’s baby. I mean, they had intercourse a few episodes back but I never took too much thought roll into it. But, hey it happened and it changes the dichotomy of everything that will happen from here on out.  First, it shows that Mary Eunice has no sympathy for Lana in her time of need. In fact, she seems to be more vicious towards her, although she hasn’t shown to be as cruel as Jude was. Eunice is not cruel like Jude, that’s just a side tangent. I like that Lana has this violent passion to kill Thredson, and beforehand, at least she got a confession out of him. Should she kill him even if she got a recording of him confessing to his crimes? No, she shouldn’t. It would just be foolish.

And you can’t help but get chills from Zachary Quinto’s descriptions of the women he’s killed as the monster he is. Even moreso, his pleading with Lana to not give their child away, and when he learns that Lana terminated it (with the aforementioned coat hanger) his reaction that she was a monster, is not warranted. Does he know who he actually is? This isn’t meant to be bogged down into politics at all. It was pretty dark. It’s even more chilling that Thredson is on the loose in the asylum somewhere, and he definitely has an axe to grind. At least this storyline gave us some serious momentum in the present day arc. We finally meet the modern day Bloody Face, the son of the unholy union of Lana and Oliver. Dylan Mcdermott had a strange performance shown out this week. Just bizarre. He did go through the regular stages of serial killer 101. However, I loved that they’ve began to move things forward. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes from here. The whole picking up dad’s reins and continuing the family business is exciting to me.

Let’s just hope that when Kit foolishly hid his exonerating evidence in the worst place possible, it won’t come back and bite him. He narrowly avoided getting caught by old evil, cantankerous Doctor Arden and subsequently proceeds to experiment on Kit, by killing him to bait out those awful aliens. I was never a fan of the aliens so I wish they would just drop this storyline altogether. However, they did bring back Grace, who is definitely pregnant with Kit’s child. Or so I think. I’m not sure if she lost it when she had her operation. Also, Kit cannot make us his mind. Does he love his wife, or does he love Grace? He flip-flops so violently, it’s a wonder his neck doesn’t break. And does Arden care for Grace, is that why he’s experimenting on Kit, or is it just for curiousity’s sake? I’m hoping they’ll clear it up.

The real treat as the season goes on, is that they continue to treat Sister Jude as this destructive woman, that they see fit to destroy. It’s great work, and Jessica Lange does damn fine work. With all the sane people trapped by the corrupt and violent, it gives it a whole inmates running the asylum vibe. That Jude is stripped of her credentials and reduced to being a regular woman gives her a rocky, thunderous future. I’m hoping that they’ll really elaborate on her promises to Lana to help her escape. And at least she destroyed that damned .45 record. Now, I thought that Sister Jude had killed Lee aka Rapey Santa Claus. The gaping stab wound in his neck would’ve told me otherwise. I was wrong, however. They utilized the talented Ian McShane again, and he continues his greasy performance.

The problem I have with them using Lee as a witness is that he’s a deranged killer. Does his testimony hold water? I get Arden and the monsignor, but not a deranged man. Even if he pulls off his highfalutin “I’m a changed man” act. And given that he would have a grudge against Jude would lead me to believe they would definitely not let him testify. And if you were a monsignor, would you allow yourself to be unarmed around a serial killer. For a baptismal? It’s just too easy, but I love the gruesome tableau that Lee leaves for the staffers to find. Seeing Joseph Fiennes crucified was something I’d thought I’d never see, but hey, you’ll never know. And I love the reappearance of Frances Conroy as the Angel of Death. That was a great angle I’m glad they brought back.

Well, it’s improving with every week, after some deadly dips. They’re adding new elements and shaking up the old. It keeps it fresh and baby, it keeps it deranged as hell. Sadly, it breaks until January 2nd, and then new episodes will return.

That’s a long cold wait.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×10 “THE NAME GAME”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Jessica Sharzer | Directed by Michael Lehmann

Unpredictability is the lifeblood of a long running series. It’s the thing that thrill-seeking audiences thrive for, week in and week out. After all, isn’t that what television is good for? The Vampire Diaries practically plays every single card in the deck that way. It’s good television, unless that aforementioned unpredictability is done with a willy-nilly aplomb. If the writers are just throwing strands of story at the wall like an artist who doesn’t know how to paint, then it’s just bad business storytelling. And unfortunately, there is that sense of throwing things in the pot to try and cook a good meal. Some of it goes down smooth, the other part just feels rotten right from jump street.

Speaking of the unpredictable, what is going on with Judy Martin’s (formerly Sister Jude) musical moment singing the epitomized classic ‘The Name Game.’ It’s an excessive, strange moment further punctuated by all the inmates singing along in a deranged chorus of Lynchian prospectives. Sure, who doesn’t love Jessica Lange singing to her hearts content. It’s quite the strange scene in a series full of strange. To continue the Lynch parallels, “It’s weird on top.” It’s pitch perfect when compared to Ryan Murphy’s other Godzilla esque series, “Glee.” It’s as if Murphy and company booted up the wrong script and wrote a “Glee” number in the middle of a show full of horror and the weird. It’s a dark turn for her to be lobotimized although fitting considering her to be a monsterous force in the early goings on in the season. However, given her goings for redemption as of late, it really isn’t just desserts. It’s cruel and unjust, simply put, it’s the world of Briarcliff.

I really don’t like the alien storyline. I mean, it is just dreck every time it pops up. And sadly, it’s where the story seems to be rooting a lot of its emotions into. The return of Grace was handled quite nicely, if she hadn’t died two episodes prior. If the season was longer, it would work. In a thirteen episode season, it feels like a blink and you’ll miss event. I like that Arden was the one to really get involved in the whole thing. He’s always spouting off his half-brained cracked experiments and now, he’s holding an even more massive secret than the one involving his heritage. I didn’t like the return of the “pin-head.” It felt clumsy, like we need a quick exposition dump and then she disappears almost instantly after words. However, they did give her a little more shading than she was initially given when we first met her on the show, in the premiere (she was wrongly accused of the murder of an infant). But, it all feels silly when you really look at the show and how grounded all the other elements are in the grandest scheme of things.

Also, they briefly brought back Doc Thredson to glower and gloom his way through menacing Lana, Kit and even Grace’s newborn child. He’s a dark guy, obviously and this ain’t certainly winning him brownie points amongst the congregation so to speak. However, I need more in order to understand Thredson’s sickness other than his simplistic background as a killer with mommy issues.

Now, they thankfully redeemed the Monsignor after his silly shenanigans committing Jude even if he had his arm twisted by a possessed woman, a Nazi war criminal and a mass murderer/rapist. Boy, that sounds like a loaded gun, eh? But, with him getting the important information in learning that Sister Mary Eunice is in fact possessed by a demon, he reforms his act and cleans it up right away. The more unpredictable, was that when he attemptted his exorcism, he was seduced into sleeping with Mary Eunice. That was the Murphy influence shining through at it’s sharpest. The best part is in the cold light of day, when he himself fesses up and tells Jude, no, comforts her that she was right. Even in her rattled cage mind she sees it. And when she sees through the fog, and tells him to kill her, it started to grow dark. And boy, in that beautifully shot sequence, he does. He throws her over the rails and she plummets to her death, it was a quietly De Palma esque moment in a wildly drawn episode.

Now, I understand Arden losing whatever marbles he had rattling around in his sack after first learning of Mary Eunice’s tryst with the Monsignor. It crescendoed at first with the executions of his pet subjects roaming the woods, and then after her prospective death. I half expected her to rise from the grave, after all the demonic spirits roaming this world aren’t exactly keen to just waltz away. But, when Arden popped Mary Eunice’s body in the crematorium chute and then hopped on her and rode his way with her to the fiery inferno ready to by exorcised by the fire. It was again the unpredictabilty that catches you off guard. Do I expect James Cromwell or Lily Rabe to exit the show quietly? Nope. they’ll be kicking around soon enough I’m sure. The dead don’t stay dead in this world.

Unpredictabilty has a way of increasing interest in a show. It revitalizes it, and shocks it back to life. Let’s hope they keep it up in the last run of the season. They’ll hook it in if so.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×11 “SPILT MILK”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Brad Falchuk | Directed by  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Most times, you’ve just got to take these episode titles literally. With a title like ‘Spilt Milk,’ on a show like this one, you knew you were in for some shocking shenanigans. And man, I don’t think everyone will look at Dylan McDermott the same way again. It’s just such a strange tangent for the show but seemingly fits right in to the whole season overall. Strange fetishes are the bread and butter of any Ryan Murphy series (see Nip/Tuck) so why not take it to that next level and have Dylan McDermott as a mommy shattered breastfeeding serial killer. Sounds strange? Not really. It actually begins the shedding of light with what’s going on with the new, engrained Bloody Face of the modern times. And while we didn’t spend a lot of time with McDermott and his breastmilk paramour, it’s slowly unfurling in front of us, little bits at a time.

‘Spilt Milk’ might be my favorite episode of the series. The director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon shoots the episode with a strong vibrancy. It’s full of Gothic shadows, like in the scene where Kit confronts the Monsignor or even in the last scene with Lana and Thredson. It’s quite the beautiful episode, and even benefits from the snippets of the haunting Philip Glass score from ’Candyman.’ It just flat-out rocks. Period. It’s an operatic episode, that feels like the last third of a film. Or the last few chapters of a book, and the book is getting ready to shut its doors. It’s just this sense of finality rolling through, if I hadn’t known there were two morer episodes coming I could’ve sworn to you that this was the finale. And aside from the little loose ends they’ve set up, it could’ve worked. Last week, they killed off Doctor Arden and his looney tunes experiments with Nazi genome soldiers or whatever he was doing. They killed off Sister Mary Eunice as well. It feels like things are winding down, and yet winding up in the strongest way. It’s as the show had wised up, and started to dismantle the show bit by bit, stripping away all the annoying parts, and leaving behind the strongest stuff. Besides, the alien stuff. But, more on that in a moment.

First, just when I thought that I couldn’t handle seeking smug Doctor Thredson strolling around Briarcliff anymore, they finally take him out. Again, something I thought wouldn’t happen until at least next week. And yet, in a suspenseful showdown in his shadowy home, Lana gets her revenge. And exonerates Kit. Thredson’s last gasp as he tells the grotesque story about how he defiled Wendy’s body (did they really bring Clea Duvall back, just to play a corpse getting raped by Zachary Quinto? Methinks yes) and the sirens yelling out in the distance, you feel a sense of triumph when she finally shoots him and shuts him down. Because Thredson had become annoying, and not to mention even more hated after threatening the life of Grace and Kit’s child. He was once almost painted as sympathetic, and yet after ‘Origins of Monstrosity,’ they threw it out the window.

I liked Lana’s little storyline after the fact. It felt like it’s own mini-movie. Her swooping fame coming in after she killed her monster, the monster that plagued the community. It was her moment of triumph after all the hell she had been put through by Jude or Thredson, and dammit you can’t help but feel happy for her. Her little moment of Joan Crawford-esque behavior as she leaves the snow dabbled mausoleum felt exactly like the horrific melodrama the show is going for. Except like all ups, there’s always the darkness inside that comes to light. Her callousness towards this child that she decided to keep and yet refuses to feed, stuck me as cold-hearted, even if it was a serial killer’s child. I was a bit surprised by the time jump, nine months ahead to zip the storyline along. But, it was a fitting end to her story, if they drop it there. She even got the expose shedding the light on all the asylum’s misdeeds.

They did a good thing by moving everything away from the asylum, except for the main storyline with the Monsignor and Jude, which has become this dark battle of corruption. I quite enjoy the whole expose angle that happens there, it is like something that happens as the book begins wrapping up if you will. When did the Monsignor become so corrupt after all? Was it when he lost his “innocence” after he was defiled by the Devil? It just seems like this really dark turn for a character with some sort of noble indignance. But, I didn’t for a second believe that Jude was dead, and as we see the tracking shot that leads into the dank recesses of the asylum we see the still beautiful Jessica Lange scrabbling in the darkness with all the rats. Surely, her catharsis will come but I still cannot think of a fitting end for her, a justified one at least.

I love that Kit managed to finally get out of the asylum, and even getting sway over those who have spent all season treating him like garbage. And his pull over the Monsignor to get Grace out was inspired and actually pretty damn smart. It’s about time good prevailed, eh? Now, onto the alien stuff. I’ve never enjoyed it, because everything regarding it has been half-baked or underconcocted. We’ve just never seen or heard anything that could really get us in a state of anticipation for this storyline to roll around. I do like the dreamlike sense that the scenes describing the alien stuff took on but it really doesn’t give you a sense of why we should care. Alma isn’t a character that matters to us, we only saw in the premiere and that was for five minutes or less. So, the matter of urgency that we get when we show up to Kit’s creepy house in the closing moments and see her sitting there on the bed with another baby, only serves to confuse rather than excite. There is a brief hope that when separated from all of the other storylines, that it may work. We’ll see I suppose.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×12 “CONTINUUM”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Ryan Murphy  | Directed by  Craig Zisk

‘Continuum’ continued the strong trajectory that American Horror Story has been on since it returned from its brief winter break. I don’t feel like it hit the heights of last week’s stunner, but it did nearly hit the mark. The structure of the episode gave it a linear feel, which felt strange when separated from the rather disjointed narrative that has permeated through the rest of the season. It had a laser-precision focus to it, telling the stories of our three leads rather than the all-encompassing world that they had been in which they were incarcerated in the cold, unforgiving world of Briarcliff. Now, that they’re out, the world is chewing them up. As dangerous as it was behind those walls, the world is going to chew them up.

We began with Kit, and while they skirted past the inevitable awkwardness that had to come up as a result of bringing your new paramour into a house you shared with your wife, and subsequently finding your wife there, it felt half-cooked but strong. The cold open to the episode was a big cheat. It felt scary when you thought that Kit was the one dealing blows with an axe, but revealing that it was Alma killing Grace, I call malarkey to that. It was a cheat, because Grace is a character we care for, and she was dispatched and dealt with as quickly as she was when she was taken out in ‘Dark Cousin.’ And we can’t feel for Alma because she was a non-character. She was someone spoken of, but never seen, we only really saw her in the premiere, and she was dispatched in short order. What I was more interested in was Grace’s obsession with the aliens, a plot that never got to even simmer. The shock of Grace getting killed was great, because while it was telegraphed in the open, we had forgotten about it. It was handled with more shock, and even though I’d seen it happen, it still caused a great lurch in my heart upon a second view. And it’s clear that they want to throw Alma away with the key in Briarcliff, and never ever speak of her again, because they only came up with reasons to never show her child to her. Sure, you can feel sad that she’ll never see her child again, but she did kill Grace and forever put Grace’s child out of her child’s life. It’s dark and cruel. And her reasons for killing her were just blunt and to the point. Really? The fear of the aliens coming back, or that Grace would want them to. It’s just a shoddy reason frankly. Like they needed an excuse to dispatch and this was the best way to do so. And even the police will refuse to help Kit, because the times being what they are, they’ll never help because of the monster of segregation.

Then, there’s Betty Drake, formerly known as Judy Martin. Her growing fear that the Angel of Death is constantly chasing her down, was essayed by seeing Frances Conroy as the monstrous prisoner. I didn’t enjoy the introduction of Conroy as the aforementioned prisoner. It felt strained. But, I did enjoy that little twist that time had moved on for Jude and she had been incarcerated for two years, maybe longer. Jessica Lange plays the hurt and rejection of the Monsignor well, even as she continually devotes her life to a man that has continually lied to her. Her sting of recognition with Kit after he tries in vain to get her to remember him was equally great, especially when she puts her hand on her shoulder where his hand once rested. It’s a quiet moment, but a beautiful one. Time changed for Jude in there, and it’s showing that Jude’s penance for all her deeds wll catch up to her if Kit and Lana don’t come back to save her.

Look at Lana Winters, for instance. Sure, she’s getting fame and accolades for her book (subtly, but no subtly named ‘Maniac.’) But, it’s a form of poisonous celebrity. She’s haunted by her past, and who wouldn’t be, she’s driven by the thrill of fame. Even in her book-reading, she has the gallows of Doc Thredson and her friend in arms, Wendy howling at her like most ghosts do, especially on this show. She know of her fraudulence and what it can get her. She wants to be the person knocking down doors, but is resigned to collecting the easy check for digging up the criminal past, and at least there is a throwaway reference to Lee Emerson, the dirty bad Santa Claus from ‘Unholy Night.’ I’m glad Kit calls her out, perhaps in vain to seek the justice she clamored for while institutionalized. If she was just blowing smoke, and demanding the freedom that she deserved, why wouldn’t she put a stop to this insatiable monster that nearly drove her down in the dumps?

And I loved the last scene with John aka new Bloody-Face. His quest for vengeance as been one that has had strong potential, and it seems that in the finale, they’re going to let him satiate that craving. Even if Dylan McDermott says every line like he’s trying to force it out of him, he’s at least menacing. Partly, I think it’s the Ryan Murphy scripting. Whereas elsewhere in the episode, his dialogue is sneaky and subtle, here it’s used as a blunt force instrument. To be scary, you don’t have to be forceful, you know? But, seeing him trudge around and carry out whatever act he’s intent on doing gives us the thrill of suspense and for that I’m grateful.

There’s just the two of them left. They’ve really begun whittling it down and with the finale next week, you can expect carnage. It’s strange to think but maybe Briarcliff is this monster that needs to feed on its weakest and weariest. I mean, what better prey than those who have all but given up? And maybe once Kit and Lana leave they’ll have this emptiness in their respective lives. There is that thought about how they need the asylum, or the asylum needs them to thrive. Hasn’t it crumbled down since they’ve left and left Jude in the lurch? And its forcing them back, like Jack and Kate on “Lost,” because the asylum isn’t through with them just yet. It’s not strange to speak of Briarcliff as if it were a breathing thing, this living thing. And whether they go back to this place, this monolith that nearly killed them or worse, remains to be seen but it will be a struggle between light and darkness.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM – 2×13 “MADNESS ENDS”

Stars: Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Zachary Quinto, Clea DuVall, Sarah Paulson | Written by Tim Minear  | Directed by  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

‘Madness Ends’ was quite the fitting epilogue to this season of American Horror Story. It tied up all but one of the loose ends that’s been running through this season quite nicely, almost with a nice red bow on top. It really works in the context of approaching this last run of episodes as a novel. It was a better, tighter close to the season than the first season was and overall, I’d say I’d be much, much happier with “Asylum,” as a standalone film than the “Murder House” run. The scenes shifting through time as this haunting music plays, it’s clearly as a collision of writing, directing and music coming together to serve a general purpose of creating a mood that establishes greatness and permeates throughout the finale.

I wasn’t initially over the moon about the flashback elements, utilizing Lana’s television interview as a means of telling the tales about what happened after all was said and done. It felt too easy as a method of storytelling. But, when she reached Briarcliff and began her dark expose of the asylum, it felt right. It felt like a ghost story, revisiting this familiar territory which became this hollow, evil shell of what it once was, even if it was always an evil place. It was a great found-footage film, a throwback to all those ‘Geraldo’ – esque exposes that littered television in the seventies through the nineties. And I’m happy that Lana, crusader for all that is right in this world, finally shut Briarcliff down for good. I love the scenes between Kit and Lana as he tells the story of what he did in all the time that she was away, it had a tone of mistiness to it. I love the dark closure to Cardinal (formerly Monsignor) Howard’s life in Briarcliff. The man lied through his teeth even as he led his life of nobility. It all tied in nicer than it began.

I love that they continued Kit Walker’s path of good soul. He’s always been a good person throughout the “Asylum” run, and the finale reaffirms all of this. Kit visiting Jude in the institution over the course of the years, teaching her and trying to bring her back was a very strong, emotional point. They tied him into such a wacky storyline involving aliens and rushing through the deaths of Grace and Alma, it felt nice to just see his plot slow right on down and just breathe. But most importantly, it gave it all the important weight that it deserved. I like that they tied Kit and Jude together and made it touching and resonant. Because Kit needed to be the one to save Jude. He was always passionate towards the redemptive angle of people, after all he forgave Grace for her past deeds, and she murdered her family with an axe. But, he had a warmth in all of the darkness, and I was glad to see he took Jude under his wing and set about on the course to give her the forgivness that she needed.

Because Jude has given herself this painful penance over all the years, and even then only discovered that she didn’t in fact kill the little girl in the hit and run. So, to see her get put upon repeatedly over and over again, gave Jude’s final moments all the weight in the world. I loved the montage of her healing, slowly recovering from catatonia to vengeful Sister Jude to finally wisened Nana to these children. The scenes of her dancing in the house with Kit was fantastic but, that final scene where she lies in bed with the children, and tells them that they need to live their lives without regret was a great highlight for Jessica Lange. I’ve got to admit that it got a little dusty in the room. To see her finally accept the death she’s been running from all this time was heart-hardening. That scene with the Angel of Death was shot so beautifully, all the light in the room just dissapates and finally that kiss, shot so closely and intimate and tight. It was bliss in a bottle. Overall, I was happy with the way they ended ways with Jude, the proceedings were just perfect. It clicked like a piece in a really big jigsaw puzzle.

But, as much as I liked everything with Kit’s end, I didn’t love how it closed. It lacked the finality that the other characters recieved. The heartbreak of Kit dying from cancer is almost destroyed by the fact that they had to tie in the aliens storyline. There was a frustrating lack of closure with the why. They never explain why Kit is this special person that needs this halo of protection from the aliens. It’s a strand that goes nowhere just as equally as what the meaning of his children are. They say the children are special, they heal Jude seemingly and yet offer no reasons how. It’s like Walt from “Lost.” But furthermore, they take all the strength out of Kit’s end by having him disappear, abducted by the aliens. It was loose and had no closure. That was my only frustration.

The other strong part of Lana’s storyline involves the end of all things involving her Bloody-Face offspring. It provided a vicious closure to all things that we’ve seen involving the new Bloody-Face and his intent to kill his mother. It was dizzying when the episode began with Johnny breaking into Briarcliff, because the time structure can give it a bit of a ”where are we now” thought process. So, I like that they closed the little bits of loose end with the married couple in the season premiere. It created a bait and switch because I was under the assumption that one of Arden’s monsters ripped his arm off. So, hey that worked effectively. It’s a strand that no one would’ve thought to tie back to. Frankly, it worked for me.

I like that Lana telling the story of visiting Johnny when he was young and defending him from a bully. It was a nice moment considering how monsterous she had become. Which I guess is all the more point of the last scene. But I’m jumping ahead. I expected Lana and Johnny to have a breakthrough and become closer through the bond of blood. Which made Lana killing Johnny all the more unexpected. (And I suspect Dylan McDermott will die at the end of every season of “American Horror Story” that he appears in) It again ties in with her monsterous descent. Even in the last scene before the madness started, Jude discusses that evil is a thing, and it’s almost as if all of Thredson’s evil passed in to her. Her killing this child, even an evil one, was a pretty dark moment. It ended the season on a note befitting all that came before it.

And we had to hear “Dominque” one more time, didn’t we?

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