We’ve come to the end of the season of American Horror Story: Asylum and only three main characters remain. Who will survive the finale…and what will be left of them?
Let’s bitch it out…It’s been quite the experience watching American Horror Story this season. I imagine that many viewers will look back on the second season, they’ll identify 2×04 & 2×05 “I Am Anne Frank” Parts 1 & 2 as the highlight. This is when the show was at the height of its gonzo everything-but-the-kitchen-sink weirdness and the mysteries of Briarcliff were still mostly waiting to be discovered.
The last three episodes have been far more contemplative and (dare I say it) esoteric than expected in comparison to the earlier madness. At times these episodes have felt more like forty-three minute art films about murder and insanity. These “outside Briarcliff” episodes have significantly altered both the format of the show and, along with it, our viewing expectations. Did anyone anticipate that the finale would focus on the final showdown between Lana (Sarah Paulson) and her bastard son, Johnny aka Bloody Face Jr (a blank Dylan McDermott)? Sure. Did anyone think that that confrontation would follow a sit down, tell-all interview in which Lana reveals the mostly happy passing of fellow Briarcliff survivors, Kit (Evan Peters) and Jude (Jessica Lange)? Umm…no.
For me these last few episodes have been among the most interesting of the season. Although I would be reticent to call them the most successful episodes, it’s clear that the writers on the show took a legitimate interest in exploring these characters as opposed to simply creating a series of visually striking horror set-pieces (*cough S1 cough*). The result are real character-arcs for Lana, Kit and Jude and a broadening of the show beyond its titular horror banner. By the time we got to ‘Madness Ends’, AHS wasn’t a “horror” show anymore – it became a true drama.
When I prepared my list for the 2012 Bitch Awards, I waffled on whether or not to include American Horror Story: Asylum because I didn’t know if a) later episodes would hold up and b) the series was serious enough to merit inclusion. Almost immediately I dismissed the latter concern (debating the merit of high vs low entertainment has never held any interest for me. Examine the list of my favourite shows for proof). Ultimately the former concern proved immaterial as well as the final episodes proved to be incredibly well-constructed and highly enjoyable, just like the first half of the season that I enjoyed so much. I stand by my decision to slot AHS in at #5 on my list of Best TV of 2012.
- One of the sillier (but still enjoyable) aspects of the show has been following Lana Winters’ clothing evolution once she escaped from the institution. Thankfully the 1970s do not disappoint as she rocks the oversized glasses, fur coats and feathered Charlie’s Angels hair like a reporter/goddess
- The opening scene is highly representative of AHS good and bad qualities. The good: Bloody Face Jr strolls down memory lane (via audiotape!) in decrepit present-day Briarcliff, interacting with his parents, Lana and Thredson (Zachary Quinto). The bad: He then severs Adam Levine’s arm in a gory, unnecessary display seemingly included simply to placate gore hounds. Did we really need to see Levine and Channing Tatum’s wife oral-sex escapades and dismemberment again?
- Although the suicide of the Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) – now Cardinal Howard – provides narrative closure, I can’t say I cared to know what happened to him. When he showed up, I realized that I had forgotten all about him and then he was gone just as quickly. The Christ-like pose in the bathtub was also little too on-the-nose for me
- If we’re being honest, I don’t really feel like the “Alien” portion of the story paid off. Even though it made for some nice moments here, overall my impression is still “…and then the aliens show up (sigh)”
- Jude’s death scene contributes one final visually stunning set-piece: her deathbed magically tracks closer towards the camera before we cut to Frances Conroy’s Angel of Death (isolated against a black background) bending to kiss Jude in her halo-lit white bed. If nothing else, AHS has proven to be among the most cinematic of TV shows of the Fall season
- Another example of its cinematic diversity: the 70s-era grainy, flat look used for Lana’s documentary footage when she sneaks back into the institution for her expose. To the kids: yes, it looks like The Blair Witch Project. To the adults: look, it’s like a high-end home video!
- I know everyone likes to fall over themselves praising Jessica Lange – and she’s great – but can we finally throw Sarah Paulson some much-earned kudos? I’ve loved her since American Gothic, so it’s really exciting that she’s finally getting due recognition
- Finally, I will readily confess that the final scene confused me for a moment. When we flashback to 1964 – before the events of the premiere – I mistakenly misunderstood Lana’s line “You don’t have any idea what I’m capable of” to mean that she had fabricated the entire story and the show was actually only a story she used to make her name. Then I realized I was just an idiot and it served to bookend the tale and foreshadow Lana’s eventual victory over all of the terrible events to come. Regardless of your feelings on the finale, at least it didn’t end the way I thought it did. That ending would have been a total epic fail
- Lana (explaining in a very “meta” fashion who AHS is really about): “It’s not just my story, Kit. It’s yours. And hers [Jude]”
- Lana (to her interviewer, April): “Lies are like scars on your soul – they destroy you.”
- April (to Lana, about her interview): “Fantastic, unexpected and very moving” To me, this is also a suitable description of the finale
- Lana (to her son Johnny): “I don’t imagine at my age you’d be much interested in this skin.”
How did you feel about the finale? Did it satisfy your expectations? Did you like the deviation in format in these last few episodes? Were you satisfied that Lana came out victorious? And who would you like to see return for S3 besides the already-confirmed trio of Lange, Peters and Paulson? (The correct answer is Lily Rabe, btw). Hit the comments with your thoughts below.
American Horror Story: Asylum has finished its current run. A new cycle will debut in the fall of 2013 with a new subtitle, setting and cast of characters