January 3, 2014

American Horror Story: Asylum - My Review

Have you caught the second season of American Horror Story yet? It's on Netflix, so if you have a subscription you can watch it that way. I was almost about to just buy the season DVDs when it released, but I might end up doing that or purchasing the digital version of the third season so I'm not waiting so long to catch up.

I reviewed the first season of the series a while ago. I wasn't really sure what to make of it when I first started watching, but in the end I enjoyed it even though the last few episodes were a little soft and started to contradict earlier episodes.

The second season details the goings-on in Briarcliff Insane Asylum, and it is quite the active place. Of course it is fully of crazy people (no surprise there) and is run by a cruel nun known as Sister Jude (played most excellently by Jessica Lange) who has a penchant for corporal punishment to drive the devil out of her charges. Then there is the doctor on site who is performing some secretive, questionable experiments on the patients, even recruiting the incredibly naive Sister Mary Eunice to feed some of the creatures he has bio-engineered.

As if that weren't enough, there are also aliens who are studying one of the patients and a demon who jumps from a patient into Sister Mary. And then there is Bloodyface, the serial killer who has a thing for women's skin (like in The Silence of the Lambs). A small-time reporter, Lana Winters, who is determined to get into the asylum so she can interview the man accused of being Bloodyface. Things get interesting when the reporter is caught and turned into a patient of the asylum, learning about the many horrific things that go on inside, including that Sister Jude has a dark past she's trying to cover up.

Did I like Season 2? Without giving away any spoilers, I can say it was entertaining. Unfortunately, it suffered from the same problem as Season 1: the writers had trouble coming in with a strong finish. The last couple of episodes I found myself losing interest in the characters and what was going to happen to them. Some people have complained that the season was too random, incorporated too many paranormal themes, but I am random and study up on all sorts of paranormal subjects, so I found the rapid-fire of crazy paranormal stuff quite entertaining. But I was warned before starting the series that it was a mixture, so I guess for people just expecting a serial killer and a deranged doctor would be baffled by the sheer variety of subjects.

And now, for some thoughts anyone who hasn't watched the season should not read.

************************SPOILER ALERT***********************************

First off, the ending was weak, even though it showed that the people who were in the asylum were able to (for the most part) recover from the horrors. The show went from really dark and intense to almost this paradisaical theme that was completely off-tempo, and then for the end tried to go back to the dark and intense, which was just too manic for me. I was similarly disappointed with the complete lack of explanation about the aliens and what they wanted with Kit. His children were hinted at being special, yet there was no overt evidence of cool extraterrestrial abilities or anything beyond the ordinary, which I thought was a lost opportunity.

The modern-day cut scenes that were mostly in the cold starts at first were pretty weak and cheap at first, with the couple exploring the asylum and then being attacked. It was the usual slasher horror mechanisms that just didn't fit with the rest of the season. It wasn't until halfway or so through the season that those scenes had any relevance. Half of them were just of Lana and Bloodyface's son killing women, which added essentially nothing to the story other than to show that he tried to follow in his father's footsteps, which could have just been described instead of dedicating so much screen time to it -- so I felt like it was a cheap trick.

I also felt like Doctor Arden went out too easily. Sure, his beloved Sister Mary was dead, but the whole showdown with the aliens was pretty anticlimactic.

I will be surprised if Season 3 has a strong finish. At least in Season 2 there weren't glaring contradictions between the first few episodes and the ending, so that was an improvement.


Sharon Himsl said...

Oh you're kidding, Jessica Lange is in this series? I couldn't get past the bleeding eyes. And horror just plain creeps me out, but so interesting Lange is in this. A terrific actress.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never seen the show. Then again, there are very few shows I watch. Too busy.

Steven said...

Sharon, Jessica Lange was also in Season 1, playing a different character, and is in Season 3 playing yet another character. She is an excellent actress and alone is reason to check out the series!

Diane, I understand busy, which is why I've cut my live TV since I can't schedule life around shows.

VR Barkowski said...

I think manic is an excellent description, Steven. I'm a huge fan of non-linear story lines, but season 2 of AHS was a little extreme even for me. There were some fascinating themes introduced: good vs. evil, prejudice, emptiness of attaining a false dream, disillusionment, destruction of beauty, the dangers of ignorance, etc., but in the end they were all left hanging. It was an excellent reminder that a satisfying conclusion requires more than just tying up loose ends.

VR Barkowski

Steven said...

VR, I read so many non-linear, post-modern books in my college studies that I have grown a little used to them -- but they have to be carefully executed to truly work. There were some great themes in the series, but you're right that none were fully explored.