I was incredibly skeptical about the second season of this show. The first season, even though I loved the over all premise, left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth since it ended in an emo teen meltdown. Fortunately, the folks at Fox really know how to market American Horror Story. The commercials and ads for Asylum looked so cool, and the new setting seemed quite promising to me a year ago, whenever I first saw them. Despite hearing some reviews that season two of this show was a bit convoluted, I found that was actually pretty happy with how the story came together. Season two of American Horror Story does have a lot of conflicting horrors under one roof, but somehow manages to pull them off. The writers of this show even manage the balancing act, and include a few nods to classic films like A Clockwork Orange.
For starters, I loved the new additions to the cast. I’ve always thought that James Cromwell would make an amazing evil character, contrary to his sunny disposition as the famer in Babe. (and, what a great, attention demanding nose he has!) I also thought Chloe Sevigny was pretty good, even though I don’t normally like her, and I was thrilled to see a few episodes with the fantastic Ian McShane. The casting was also perfect on the part of the returning members of the troupe. Jessica Lange is really remarkable as Sister Jude. That character goes through a complete transformation, more than once, and Lange’s delivery nails it at every turn. In season one, I hated Evan Peters’ character, but this new persona worked very well for him, and it’s interesting to see how he’s developed as a young actor. Peters’ character Kit is actually fairly lovable, as his emotions come across in a very real way. Of course, Zachary Quinto (spoiler alert!) is great at playing not-so-lovable psychopaths, and that’s just where they put him in this season. Totally convincing, he was great fun to watch. The only character I didn’t like at all was Dylan McDermott’s. Through no fault of the actor, this guy just seemed totally forced and over the top. I don’t want to reveal who he is, but suffice it to say that McDermott’s character is one of those people that you look at and think “nobody on Earth acts like that,” and then you’re thankful that he has a number of limited scenes. Had Asylum given Frances Conroy a bit more screen time, I’m sure she would have picked up McDermott’s slack.
Really though, this season came up against a huge challenge. They nearly bit off more than they could chew by incorporating so many different types of horror figures into the script. We have alien abductions, experiments of an ex-Nazi surgeon, demonic possession, a misogynistic murderer named Bloodyface, and the general terror that comes with being in an asylum in the 1960’s. All of these stories could have been elaborated on and developed into an entire season on their own, and a lesser show probably would have gone that route. American Horror Story took on all of these plot elements at once, and they did a surprisingly good job juggling them. What’s most amazing is that the pacing of the show is relatively steady, and all of these loose ends are tied up in just thirteen episodes. With the exception of the plot line about a woman who may or may not have been the Anne Frank, there weren’t any episodes that I felt were a total waste. And even that goofy departure was made up for with the erotic confusion of Dr. Arden and his love for the perfect innocence of Sister Mary Eunice, who steals the sexy red negligee of Sister Jude to wear under her nun’s habit. Otherwise, I am sort of torn about the last two episodes. The season could have easily concluded without them, because most of the major conflicts were already solved by the end of episode eleven. Instead, the show goes on for two more episodes, showing us what happened to Kit after he left the asylum, how the career of wrongfully committed news reporter Lana Winters prospers over forty years, and what became of an unexpected character during that time. Some of these plot extensions got a little unnecessary and convoluted. There was a moment when the years got really mixed up, as the plot attempted to progress decades in a single cut take. Despite this confusion, and a bit of silliness as well, I still sort of enjoyed the dénouement of the final episode. Asylum offered closure, which the first season totally fell short on.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about American Horror Story: Asylum was this makeup transformation. Holy pinhead!