AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM Finale Recap – “Madness Ends” Plus a Look Back on Season Two and a Look Ahead to Season Three

     January 23, 2013

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Tonight’s episode of FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum not only wrapped up our favorite characters’ arcs, it concluded the show’s entire second season.  Things were tied in a neat little bow with massive character deaths done in the most tasteless possible way…for the most part.  After the jump, we’ll talk about how Ryan Murphy and the creative team of AHS:A explored and resolved the theme of insanity, who will return next year and just where the show might be headed for season three.

American Horror Story: Asylum stars Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe, along with newcomers Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes, Chloe Sevigny, Lizzie Brochere and Clea Duvall.  Hit the jump for the recap and review of tonight’s finale, “Madness Ends” and a look back at the second season.

jessica-lange-american-horror-story-asylum[You have entered spoiler territory.  Turn back now or commit yourself to the insanity.]

Well, we’ve made it twelve episodes and managed to whittle the crazy web of plotlines down to the three major arcs.  Since the theme of season two is insanity, it’s very fitting that the final episode was titled, “Madness Ends.”  We see how these mental maladies took their final tolls on Cardinal Timothy Howard, Sister Jude, Kit, Lana and Johnny in the finale.  Let’s take a look at how the madness ended for each of our characters, starting with Jude.

Season two was another great run of performances from Lange.  Asylum took her character from the alcoholic siren and hit-and-run perpetrator in Judy Martin, to the stern no-nonsense overseer of Briarcliff Asylum in Sister Jude, to the frazzled and broken woman who has lost her faith as well as her sanity and has become lost in the system as Betty Drake.  Judy felt that she had no control over her own life, but becoming Sister Jude put her in charge of others and, by extension, herself.  However, her strength threatened the plans of other power players in the asylum and led to her eventual downfall.

The finale features two sequences in which our most heroic characters rescue Jude from the deplorable conditions of the state-run Briarcliff: one is fabricated, one is true.  Lana’s depiction of saving Jude from a solitary cell was a bit too on the nose at first, but worked much better once it was exposed as just another one of Lana’s twists on the truth.  Kit’s liberation of Jude, however, was very touching.  Bringing the aging and mentally unstable woman out of the facility and into his home to be with his family was the opposite of what so many people do today.  It was essential to show Jude going through detox because it was a process she’d attempted when joining the Church and yet continued to struggle with sobriety throughout her life.  In the end, it was a family that Jude needed.  While the alien-hybrid children aspect of this story was unnecessary, it was nice to see Jude interact with the little ones, especially since they calmed her at the end of her days…along with the help of the Woman in Black.  Jude, at least, is finally at peace.

american-horror-story-asylum-evan-petersPeters also played his part well this season, but his role  didn’t have as many twists and turns (or gimp suits) as it did in season one.  Most of Kit’s time was spent being hauled around the asylum or reacting to the latest social injustice, either inside or out of Briarcliff.  His experience with the alien abduction was another exploration of the theme of insanity, one where your mind is constantly in conflict between what you know you experienced and what you don’t believe exists. That being said, the whole alien abduction thing could have been cut out of Asylum and I wouldn’t have missed it.  The nature of insanity could have been explored in a much more realistic fashion without the flashiness of aliens and even serial killers…but then it wouldn’t be American Horror Story.

Kit’s arc was an interesting one because it portrayed a man who was given a choice as to whether or not he would be labeled insane.  He honestly wrestled with that decision, because one answer would mean lifelong incarceration in the asylum at the cost of staying true to himself, while the other would mean death because of a lie.  At the end of the day, Kit went through quite a few traumatic experiences (alien abduction, disappearance of his wife, incarcerated under suspicion of being a serial murder, crazy Nazi experimentation, etc, etc), but kept relatively sane throughout the show.  At the end of it all, Kit took his horrible experiences and put them behind him, deciding to focus his energy on healing instead.  His rescue of Jude and care for his special children leave Kit as the most positive character in season two. (I’m just going to pretend Kit wasn’t re-abducted at the end.) Even as the pancreatic cancer ate him from inside, Lana Winters was consumed by something just as damaging.

american-horror-story-sarah-paulsonHow about Sarah Paulson this season?  It was hard to know what we could expect from her since we only saw her in a handful of scenes in season one, but she has shined throughout Asylum.  Not only do we get to see Lana roll through the entire spectrum of human emotions, but we get to see Paulson channel her best Jessica Lange as an aging celebrity under the watchful and ever-present eye of the media.  Lana built her career and her fame using the media as a tool, starting as a bright-eyed reporter who was then subjected to the most unimaginable tortures at the hands of Dr. Thredson.

Lana, contrasted to Kit, is an example of someone who uses these awful experiences as motivation to succeed in life, but is eaten away by her memory of them.  Nowhere is this better exemplified than by her final showdown with Johnny, the child who literally fed from her and grew up to be a constant reminder of the horrors of Thredson.  While Lana could have finally given in and allowed Johnny to pull the trigger, she used her wits yet again and turned the gun on Johnny himself, thus eliminating her source of madness once and for all.  It also capped the insanity for Johnny who was just about to come to grips with his mommy issues before he…lost his head.

I can’t help but think that, somewhere, Lana is still haunted by the horrors in her life and will never find the sort of peace given to Jude and Kit.  I like to think that the final scene of the season suggests this, as Jude says to Lana: “Just remember, if you look in the face of evil, evil’s gonna look right back at you.”

“Madness Ends” was a solid and effortless conclusion to what has been, at times, a chaotic and frenetic show.  Mostly every arc was satisfactorily ended over the course of the season and the strongest stories survived right up until the end.  Insanity was sufficiently explored this season through a combination of excellent plotting, outstanding performances, novel camerawork and period-appropriate music.  Speaking of music: nice touch on ending with “Dominique,” because I knew that if I heard it one more time I’d literally go insane!

dylan-mcdermott-american-horror-story-asylumEpisode Rating: 9/10 bullets to the head.  Satisfying wrap up, but a little light on the surprises. 

Season Rating: 8/10 – I loved season one for its novelty, sexiness and over-the-top absurdity of its characters and plots.  Asylum attempted to dump all the crazy into the pot, but forgot to bring the fun along.  It sounds like Murphy has realized this and hopes to rectify that mistake in season three.

Speaking of season three!  Still no official confirmation on what the anthology title’s tagline will be or what theme we’re going to enjoy next year.  We’ve speculated that we’ll be visiting witches in some capacity and that might very well be true.  In a recent interview, Murphy did say that season three would have a powerful woman as its central icon, that certain actors would be returning and that the show would take place in different cities in different times.  Perhaps a Salem witch trial in Massachusetts with contemporary complications in Washington?  We’ll have to wait and see!  Thanks for following along with our recaps and stay tuned as we cover PaleyFest 2013 in March, where American Horror Story will close out the event and share some info on season three!

Quotes & Miscellanea:

  • “What are they teaching these kids in film school?” – Lana
  • “He’s become a Goddamn household name, like some Heath Ledger Hollywood villain!” – Lana on Bloody Face
  • “I want to put America in the asylum.” – Lana
  • “Lana banana.” – Jude
  • “I couldn’t shut the place down, I couldn’t lead them all outta there like Moses, but Jude, whatever she was, she didn’t belong there.” – Kit
  • “I don’t know if those last six months made up for a lifetime of horrors, but she sure seemed happy.” – Kit
  • “It’s 1971, you can do anything you want!” – Jude to Julia
  • “Kit Walker, you’re a lucky man.  You’d better not screw that up!” – Jude
  • “I dunno who she was talking about.” – Kit, referencing Jude seeing the Woman in Black. “I do.” – Lana
  • For all of his faults, I still had a hard time believing Cardinal Timothy Howard would take his own life since that’s one sin he can’t be cleansed of, though maybe that was the point.
  • Lana’s flashback to rescuing a young Johnny from a schoolyard bully had a dual effect: it made her feint during the final showdown with Johnny more believable, but it also painted the young Johnny as a victim of Lana’s abandonment.  Nice work in the gray areas here.
  • “Let’s get this over with shall we?” – Lana to Johnny
  • “My father loved me, I could hear it in his voice.  That’s when I started loving him and hating you!” – Johnny
  • “I just want him to be proud of me.  I can’t measure up.” – Johnny
  • “It’s not just him that’s in you, I’m a part of you, too.” – Lana to Johnny, a moment before she pulls the trigger.
  • “Just remember, if you look in the face of evil, evil’s gonna look right back at you.” – Jude to Lana

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