This has been one Hell of a second season. No matter what you feel about a show switching not only primary locations, but characters and decades, no one can deny that it takes nerves of steel. Imagine if Friends had randomly decided to switch the show to Chicago, in the 30’s, after the third season. Or, if The Walking Dead decided to make the show about ghosts, move everyone into Iceland, and have all new characters. Granted, they’d have to change the name of the show to The Floating Dead, or The Walking Dead: Spectral. My point is, it was a bold move, and so of course there will be naysayers.
A lot of fans don’t want to admit this, but we like our rigid confines. I certainly do. When Mulder was written off of The X-Files for those later seasons, I just stopped watching. So, I was naturally apprehensive about American Horror Story: Asylum. I enjoyed the idea of actors from the first season coming back, but I was very worried. I loved the first season of that show. What if the second season sucked?
And so, I started watching American Horror Story: Asylum. And, admittedly, when it first began, I liked it, but thought it was a bit disjointed. What, so we’re in the present, seeing on old asylum called Briarcliff, and then we cut to the 60’s, and a guy married to a black woman, and then aliens, he’s accused of murder, a journalist comes. And I still say Bloody Face is the worst name for a serial killer ever.
But, with the weeks, the show grew on me. I grew to love the characters, and even began to enjoy how many different plot elements with various horror tropes were thrown into the mix. I still had no idea how they were going to tie everything up, but I was along for the ride, no matter what.
Soon, things began to resolve themselves. The aliens, and the weird mutated creatures in the forest. The possessed nun, who switches from innocent to literally devilish, played by Lily Rabe was fun to watch. And the ex-nazi Dr. Arden, played by James Cromwell, was also intriguing. Most importantly, the identity of Bloody Face, and who was killing the Bloody Face imitators in the present day, at the run down Briaricliff, was the draw of the show. Zachary Quinto did an amazing job.
The season finale is, without question, my favorite episode of the entire season. Not only does it scare, but it manages a tough feat for things in the horror genre. It makes you feel a gambit of emotions. You smile, and you get sad when you see the last years of Sister Jude’s life. Or, as she is now in those final years, when she lives with Kit, Betty Drake. You see the joy this woman, brilliantly played by Jessica Lange, is capable of. Really, the character arc of Sister Jude, or Judy Martin, is the most astounding of any actor in the series. From antagonist, all the way round to protagonist. From heartless bitch, to sympathetic victim. Jude’s death was both moving, and haunting, as the angel with the black wings, (also performed brilliantly by Frances Conroy) finally comes after years of talking with Judy, to take her away.
Dylan Mcdermott as Bloody Face’s abandoned son, Johnny, given up for adoption by Lana (Sarah Paulson) gives a powerful performance in this final episode. By the end, he makes you feel bad for a serial killer who wears the skin of women on his face, and that’s a tough sell. Of course, Lana, played by Paulson also brings the thunder. We hear of her transition from novelist writing about Bloody Face, to investigative journalist, who finally goes back and exposes Briarcliff. In the end of the episode, she faces her abandoned son, and I won’t tell you what she does, but it is both haunting, and in a way, a mercy. Lana knows all too well what institutionalization can do to a person.
Really, there are many actors whose character arcs are dynamic. Everyone is constantly changing, and evolving for the better, or the worse. It is what made the first season so great, and what went on to make the second season great.
In the end, this season, and indeed American Horror Story as a show has exceeded my expectations time and time again. I look forward to seeing what they’re going to pull out of their bag of tricks for season 3.