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


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


  • Anonymous

    Wait, was the last scene from the season premiere, just from a different angle? I don’t remember that far back and I’m getting a sinking feeling that it wasn’t. Was the whole season just made up by Lana in one of her books?

    Please, God, someone tell me I’m wrong.

    • michael scott

      I was wondering the same thing while watching that scene. I just looked over the first episode again, and both scenes are the same up until after the point where Sister Jude says, “You’re out of your depth, Ms. Lana Banana. You want a story? Write this down.” On episode one, after saying, “Write this down,” Sister Jude describes Kit being taken into the asylum in a voiceover as Lana is scene watching Kit being taken in by the orderlies. The next time we see Lana she’s having dinner with her girlfriend, and the next scene with her again is when she sneaks back into the asylum. In the finale after the “Lana banana” line we go straight into the talk about ambition as they go down the stairwell. Lana then proceeds to leave the asylum. Not exactly sure what the writer were going for, but like you I think that perhaps the entire story could have been fabricated by Lana.

      • michael scott

        So I think I jumped the gun a bit because I just realized I’m wrong. Lana wasn’t leaving the asylum but was being lead out by Jude to see Kit coming end. So this was just a scene that wasn’t shown before in the first episode. The writer of this article said the theme for this season was insanity, but this final scene proves that the themes was ambition. Jude and her ambition to leave her old life, and change these troubled souls. The Monseigneur and his ambition for advancement in the church. Lana and her ambition to write a huge story. Dr. Arden and his ambition to create a better human race through science. Etc.

  • Anonymous2

    Idk… I didn’t really care for these last few episodes and I think it caused the season to go downhill a little bit at the end. The way they handled Sister Jude’s end was incredible, but these last 2 and a half episodes just felt way too disjointed from the first 10 episodes of the season.

    The insanity theme. Its a good idea and I think they handled it well these episodes with Jude. In these last few episodes, they tried doing more realistic horror. I have no doubt that facilities really were like the post-Church Briarcliff back in the day, from the overcrowding and the filth to the outright neglect of patients. I’m also willing to wager that the staff somewhere got away with experimenting on patients. They didn’t have any rights, they couldn’t stand up for themselves, and things like electroshock treatment certainly happened. Its definitely disturbing for its grittyness. Lana’s expose was the creepiest aspect of this episode.

    The problem I have is that when the perpetrators of some of these crimes are a Satan possessed Nun and a Nazi scientist with erectile dysfunction who has cannibalistic radiated mutants he created wandering outside the Asylum , the whole thing becomes so over the top and out there. I absolutely loved those storylines, but the sheer zanyness of it all overshadowed what I think they were trying to do with the more realistic “imprisoned against my will and suffering abuse” theme. It makes these last 2 feel out of place with where this show was going for most of its run.

    It wouldn’t be as bad if they didn’t brush so many plotlines under the rug. Not once did we see any ramifications on the Asylum from the huge change of leadership when Arden and Mary Eunice left. Its particularly grating for us never to get a reaction out of Jude, who suffered so miserably because of both of them. Or even from her tension with Thredson, which got thrown aside once he captured Lana. Did he really care about the abuse at Briarcliff? I’d think it was a way to earn Lana’s trust, but why did he bother butting heads with Jude over issues that Lana wasn’t even aware of or around to hear? They never fleshed this out. They never did anything with Arden’s Nazi past or the weird photos the prostitute found. Was he murdering and torturing women? I don’t know because they abandoned the plot element. The mutants plot seemed to go nowhere, despite many teases over the course of the first 9 episodes. They tied in some of Arden’s actions here to take down Howard, but there still seemed to be so much related to him that was left underdeveloped, which is weird considering all the build up and focus he got the first 5 episodes.

    The 2012 stuff. I’m so disappointed by it. I was interested in the first few eps of seeing the dots connected with how Briarcliff got run down and abandoned, but we find out here that its condition really had nothing to do whatsoever with most of what we saw over the course of the season. The teaser at the beginning here was cool – two young people murdered by a crack head is dark and even realistic, and McDermott was great in it- but the three copycats from earlier seemed completely pointless and weren’t even seen here. How did Johnny, a normal person, overwhelm and kill two men, one of whom was armed with a gun? How did he string their bodies around Briarcliff? I would have liked to see more of his rampage. I didn’t really care at all for the 2012 stuff until we got to Dylan McDermott, whose acting in addition to the flash back and forth w/ Thredson and Lana in #11 gave me some hope, but his death here seemed like a very anticlimactic finish to that storyline as well.

    I won’t even go in depth with the aliens, which seemed to be there purely for wtf moments. It probably makes sense that they didn’t fully explain them since their involvement in things was really only because of the coincidence of Kit being accused of being Bloodyface, but it still seemed very out of place. I thought it would go somewhere cool and become more of a focus when Arden saw them, but that also ended up not happening.

    This was a good, not great, finale, but I think the season went off the rails once they killed all 3 big bads in the span of about a quarter of an episode. Starting with “Spilt Milk”, the pacing was way to quick to try to blow through all of these plot elements and a lot of other things got tossed aside. Sister Jude’s storyline was strong throughout, but the storyline overall was very disjointed.

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