Saturday, February 2, 2013

American Horror Story: Asylum - Season Two Review

I was an avid fan of FX's American Horror Story during its first season, and I was incredibly intrigued by the anthology premise where many of the same actors would return for a second season, except playing different characters in an entirely different story.  Well, season two -- which focused primarily on a 1960's mental asylum -- has now come to a close.  Since many of you may not yet be caught up, click the link below for my spoilery thoughts on the season as a whole.

Continue reading "American Horror Story:  Asylum - Season Two Review"....

It's tough to compare this season to the first.  I've gathered through Internet discussion that most people preferred season one, and I think at least part of that is because things were a little more clear cut as far as who the "good guys" are and who the "bad guys" are.  Many of the characters did questionable things -- Ben was a pathological liar who cheated on his wife.  Moira slept with a married man.  And the list goes on -- but overall we wanted to root for the central family and we were glad that they got their happy ending.  Things were a little less obvious in season two.

Creator Ryan Murphy described Lana as the ultimate heroine and survivor.  Jessica Lange described her character, Sister Jude, in the same manner.  Many fans disagreed, as they were unable to forgive the less than moral actions the former made at the end of the season, and the latter made at the beginning of the season.  My critique isn't nearly as harsh.  Much like in season one, I appreciated the story of redemption from darkness.  Certain individuals did bad things and tried to make amends.  I think Jude and Lana both fal into that category.  Other characters, such as Dr. Arden, Dr. Thredson, and Monsignor Howard continued to lie and do not good, and suffered the consequences.  So let's take this character by character, story arc by story arc.

By the end of the season, Sister Jude stood out as my favorite character.  Even at the beginning of the season, I differentiated between her and Dr. Arden because she truly believed she was doing the right thing.  To me, Dr. Arden was evil.  Jude was just misguided.  The only truly diabolical thing she did was manipulate Wendy in order to commit Lana into the institution.  Everything else -- the abuse, the toughness -- was under the belief that she was making these people better.

The manner in which her story turned around was poetic.  Because she realized the system she supported was corrupt, she was forced into that very institution.  She was forced to endure the abuse that she had unleashed against many others.  And despite her resistance, she finally broke down.  In the end, she was rescued by an unlikely source, and finally found the peace I personally thought she deserved.  She was remorseful (while others within that corrupt system were not) -- keep in mind that one of her last actions when she still had her sanity was to ensure that Lana got out of the institution.  While I think we were intended to root for Lana at the end, Jude was the one I was emotionally invested in.  I was really pleased that she got that happy ending.

That isn't to say I disliked Lana.  I really enjoyed her story arc as well.  I'm actually really glad I never checked out during the actual season, because there was A LOT of negativity towards her.  Like virtually every character, she needed to have her moral ups and downs.  Her descent to become a fame whore (pardon the language) was a plot necessity.  Of course, nothing she did was unforgivable, though.  She legitimately did try to rescue Jude, but she was incorrectly led to believe that she had committed suicide. By the time she had learned the truth, she was so entrenched in her success that it was no longer a priority.  And in that regard, I liked how her focus went from taking down Briarcliff to telling the story of her endeavor with Bloodyface.

In the end, though, she did try to make up for what she had done.  Although filming her reunion with Kit was cold, she did ultimately opt to talk with him in private.  And she did seem to care about what had happened to Jude and everybody else they had encountered in Briarcliff.  And while her actions were slightly self-serving (because she knew who was in attendance), she did come clean about many of the things she had lied about.

For what it's worth, I also loved the end scene with Lana and Bloodyface Jr.  I thought it was great how she knew he was still in the room when she began to pour herself a drink (and pouring herself a drink while a vengeful person with a gun was in the room was a great allusion to her encounter with the original Bloodyface) as she calmly told him that he can come out.  And I loved how she kept her cool throughout the entire ordeal.  And her ultimate decision to kill her son acted as a great way to end her story and the season as a whole.

The up and downs of all of the characters, in my view, are what made this season so interesting.  Kit was introduced as the probable Bloodyface killer, yet he was the one character who never once seemed to commit a moral misdeed.  He never hurt anybody undeserving.  He was constantly trying to help others.  And, in the end, he was the one who selflessly freed the person who had repeatedly abused him.  Sister Mary went from a meek and innocent girl to a possessed powerhouse.  While Dr. Arden's evil intentions were a constant, he did bounce around from being confident and strong, and weak and easily manipulated.  And perhaps no character, in this regard, was more interesting than Dr. Thredson.  He went from the assumed voice of reason to being the ultimate evil mastermind -- arranging for Kit to confess to murders he didn't commit and assisting Lana in escaping so that he could be her next victim.

There was one person I miscalculated, though, and that's Monsignor Howard.  I didn't quite know how to read him.  He was clearly corrupt on a certain level -- he seemed to be using Sister Jude (aware of how she felt) while also being aware of Dr. Arden's experiments -- but I didn't know where he would fall once the battle lines were drawn following the Christmas episode.  I thought for sure we would see the Monsignor band together with a now-committed Sister Jude to take down the establishment that they helped build, now empowered by a possessed Sister Mary and Dr. Arden.  That did happen, but it was short lived.  Once Sister Mary was killed and Dr. Arden took his life, the Monsignor found himself back in power, and it was at that point that we realized that he was no better than the devil he had just killed.  While I suppose Sister Jude was supposed to represent the righteous side of religion, I guess the Monsignor was used to expose the corrupt side.

My only real complaint about the season was that it was a bit all over the place.  Season one focused on a murder house that was haunted by ghosts.  I got that and it was easy to follow.  Meanwhile, season two had alien abductions, human experiments that resulted in monsters, and demonic possessions.  In the end, only one of those stories really mattered or worked (the demonic possession).  All of the others either went no where (the human experiments) or really only raised more confusion and questions than it was worth (the alien abductions).  Honestly, if those two aspects were removed entirely, would it have even impacted the season as a whole?  I mean, we never did find out what was so special with Kit....or what happened to Grace and Alma....and what the aliens' intentions even were.  I really think they spread themselves too thin and that the season would have been stronger had they just focused on the devil possession.  Besides which, alien abductions and human experiments didn't even fit with the premise of a religious mental asylum.  The possession part did.

Overall, I certainly recommend this series.  It's different from season one (which I think more people might enjoy), but I don't think it's any worse.  Perhaps more polarizing, though.  To those of you who watched:  What did you think?

No comments: