Well, here we go. Ryan Murphy's dark caravan returned under the cover of darkness last night to set up its elaborate tents of untold horror. That's right, TV's craziest carnival is back and this time it's arguably even weirder, grimmer, and more unpleasant than its first season! Which is a compliment? I think?
American Horror Story: Asylum brings us all new characters, a new building, a new decade, and a new color scheme (charcoal!). But whereas Season 1 had mostly to do with spectral horrors, it's already clear that Asylum is more concerned with tangible monstrosities. Look, I need to be real with you guys. Can I be real for a second? You may recall that I did not love Season 1's premiere episode. As a lifelong horror fan, I recognized all of the elements and tropes Ryan Murphy was attempting to stitch together into a coherent narrative, but from its frenetic editing to the clashing story elements, it just didn't come together for me. I was straight-up baffled by a lot of it, to be honest. That being said, it left me interested and that interest never waned throughout the show's first season. In fact, it grew and blossomed into intense enjoyment and slight obsession. Boy did I end up loving how things turned out. Sure, AHS: Original Recipe hit a few bum notes with me (showing us the school shooting; the unnecessarily hateful gay couple), but when it ended I declared it a triumph. That's why I'm experiencing a bit of déja vu with this, the premiere of American Horror Story: Asylum: I didn't love it, but I am INTERESTED.
Assuming that "Welcome to Briarcliff" was less a complete episode of television and more like the overture to an insane 12-hour movie that may eventually cohere into an entertaining story, let's just appreciate the madness we've witnessed so far. Mind if I photo-recap this thing? I feel like photo-recapping this thing. Let's do it!
First of all, this ain't no joke, and it applies even to this recap:
Anyway, the story opened in the present day. Two horny newlyweds (Adam Levine, plus the lady who shares a bed with Channing Tatum in real life) were snapping photos of each other in front of an abandoned building while making sexy talk and the whole scene was filmed with Instagram filters:
At this point we got a bit of an info dump (via the main lady reading Wikipedia on her iPhone): The Briarcliff used to be a tuberculosis ward where 46,000 people died but it was eventually acquired by the Catholic church and turned into an insane asylum. Also at one point there was a slasher killer named Bloody Face who once lived here. (Honestly, if you need to know more about this place, go watch that documentary Cropsy since that seemed to be the main thing Ryan Murphy was
ripping off paying homage to in this segment.)
Anyway, after the world's least sexy pair of haunted house nymphos interrupted their electroshock-chair quickie to investigate a mysterious sound, it should go without saying that they eventually wound up in front of an ironclad door, where she started doing sex to his crotchal area as he stuck a camera phone through the slot, only to get his arm ripped off by some unseen force. All that should go without saying.
Whoops! And that is how Adam Levine got his arm ripped off in the modern-day insane asylum.
So then the main story kicked in, and it began in 1964 in what I think was upstate New York, but I'm not sure because I was educated in the California public school system and the whole upper right part of our country's map is a mess and a mystery to me. All I know is, Evan Peters (who in Season 1 played Tate, a character I hated but every troubled teenager on Tumblr LOVED SO MUCH) now plays the new lead character Kit, a decent, hard-working gas station attendant with a Kennedy accent.
Right off the bat: Better haircut, better personality. Kit >>>> Tate. Unfortunately Kit's friends were NOT very cool.
Yeah, it's 1964, remember, and that fact would come into play A LOT during this episode inasmuch as it explained why the characters tended to behave monstrously toward one another. (I actually loved that: Sure, this show has aliens, forest monsters, and much worse, but the sheer fact of being alive in 1964 was presented as the ultimate horror.)
Kit had to endure his friends' violent racism because he himself was secretly married to a woman of color. Ugh, 1964. If these two hotties had to keep it on the down-low it was definitely a terrible era. (Fun fact, Kit's wife was played by Britne Oldford from MTV's Skins. Remember THAT disaster? She was basically the only thing about that show that wasn't awful, so I was very happy to see her here!)
Just gonna put this here:
So anyway, after some pre-dinner booty, Kit's reverie was interrupted by a BRIGHT LIGHT in the yard. After running outside with a shotgun to scare away potential racists, he had a Fire in the Sky UFO moment and ran back inside.
At this point he got stuck on the ceiling and then blacked out. We, on the other hand, got some quick flashes of aliens with inappropriate mouth shapes:
Aaaahhhh!! Aliens! Already I was way into this season.
Then we switched locations. Here's how the Briarcliff Asylum looked back in 1964:
It looked very coral! So here we followed an enterprising young lady reporter named Lana (Sarah Paulson, who played Billie the Lifetime psychic during S1) as she attempted to, I don't know, investigate whatever?
Oh, Pepper. Pepper might be the fall's newest breakout star, y'all! Also, she's a murderer.
A nun named Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe, who played that flapper-lookin', baby stealing ghost in S1) met Lana and took her through the asylum.
It definitely looked like a good place for people to go and heal, you know? Like, this was totally a place to go and just chill. Recuperate. Get a new lease on life.
When we first met the head boss lady, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange, a walking masterpiece), she was shaving Chlöe Sevigny's head for real, so we knew this lady was serious.
Although Chlöe Sevigny was only credited as a "special guest star," her Shelley character was one of the best things about the whole episode. A clinical nymphomaniac, all her lines were dirty and/or helpful. Often both! Good character, obviously.
So yeah, then Lana pretended to interview Sister Jude about the asylum's famous bakery (which, LOL) only to immediately reveal she was there for some harder-hitting scoops. Especially with regard to the newest incoming inmate, a man allegedly behind the Bloody Face slashings of late. Sister Jude was NOT happy about Lana's duplicity.
Oh and yeah, spoiler alert, guess who was being pinned with the Bloody Face rap?
Poor Kit! There are bad weeks and then there are bad weeks. Alien abduction, wife getting murdered and skinned alive, false imprisonment, showing your butt on national television.
Congratulations, Evan Peters! You've just scored a whole new subgenre of Tumblrs! But yeah, you guys, please stop looking at Evan Peters' butt for a second and try to remember that this whole thing was traumatizing for Kit!
After a fire-hose shower and a de-lousing, Kit was strapped to a bed and given a condescending lecture by Sister Jude.
He attempted to explain that he hadn't been a slasher killer, only an alien abductee.
For her part, Sister Jude remained a wonderful representative of the Catholic church, espousing the greatness of the Lord while also lying, beating, and being totally racist and hateful toward her patients. Just trying to make the Baby Jesus proud, you know?
Fortunately Kit's experience at the asylum wasn't without highlights. For instance he met a saucer-eyed French girl named Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) who not only seemed kind, but also claimed to not be insane at all. So, that's credibility right there. Anyway, even this nice moment didn't prevent Kit from getting into a fistfight in the world's worst common room. Solitary confinement it was!
Then we met Dr. Arden (James Cromwell, who played Marcy the Realtor in S1) who seemed to be the asylum's resident mad scientist. The main thing about him was that he and Sister Jude despised each other, and her power over the facility ended at his doorstep. He was clearly doing his own thing, and it clearly involved feeding the patients to some unseen monstrosity, as in this near-subliminal image that flashed while he was denying everything:
So yeah, it was an interesting dynamic in that Sister Jude was clearly a villain, but Dr. Arden was probably an even bigger villain that she hated.
So in another big 1964 moment, we learned that Lana had a "roommate" (Clea Duvall, currently in theaters playing Argo in Argo) whom she enjoyed kissing on the mouth whenever the shades were drawn.
Here's a twist I did not expect: Sister Jude had some human flaws, and even an inner life full of wants and needs! For example, though she was a pious servant of the Lord and His mama, she still enjoyed everyday sensualities like wearing red unmentionables and weirdly putting on perfume and also frying bacon and gazing lustfully at her dreamy monsignor (Joseph Fiennes/Shakespeare).
As it turned out, the main man behind this asylum (and Sister Jude's diocese) had designs on becoming New York's Archbishop and after that the Pope! And in order to do those things he wanted to generate headlines (I guess) by turning Briarcliff into the world's most headline-grabbing asylum (or whatever). And that included allowing the in-house mad scientist to work his magic and create whatever headline-grabbing monstrosity he could (possibly). I don't know, this scene was more about subtext: Sister Jude would have literally done anything for a single shirtless hug from this guy.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, you guys. This was just a fantasy sequence. Stop undressing Jessica Lange with your eyes! Come on, get real. Never gonna happen. This isn't Red Shoe Diaries, fellas. Relax. Take a cold shower already.
So in addition to getting bossed around by Sister Jude, Sister Mary Eunice was also getting bossed around by Dr. Arthur, and in this scene he ordered her to go leave a bucket full of body parts out in some forest clearing where the sounds of monsters could be heard approaching. We saw nothing, but it was clear these things were REAL and not just Sigourney Weaver in a cloak. (Though those things DO sound similar.) After dumping the human gizzards and bolting back inside, Sister Eunice was intercepted by a snooping Lana, who blackmailed Sister Eunice into giving her a tour of the facility in the middle of the night for some reason. Just getting the scoop!
Meanwhile Dr. Arthur wanted to run experiments on Kit's brain because of how much evil must've been inside his "cute blonde melon." Haha, Dr. Arthur, you big flirt.
So yeah, this particular check-up did not look very fun. Very Clockwork Orangey. Also it reminded Kit mostly of how annoying his saucer-ride had been.
He did not have a good time, but he did have a GOO time. Because goo. Also alien busyfingers. Guys, I think Kit may have gotten buttsexed by an alien.
So then the doctor pulled out of Kit what was clearly an alien microchip. But it was kinda big, suggesting that even aliens had crappy technology in 1964.
And then LOLOLOL the chip grew legs and ran away! WTF x infinity?? Ryan Murphy you crazy for that one.
Meanwhile Lana was still snoopin' around. Shelley took a break from mouth-sexin' an orderly and directed her to the solitary confinement areas so that Lana could, I don't know, be a reporter?
But then a monster hand reached out and slammed her head against the door! (P.S. I think this is the same door that Adam Levine lost his arm to earlier, but I'm not sure, I'm not Sherlock.)
The next day Sister Jude eventually found out that Sister Eunice had helped Lana explore the facility and she was TICKED.
But since Sister Eunice had super low self-esteem, she just cut to the chase, brought Sister Jude her whippin' rod (the biggest one she could find in Sister Jude's whippin' rod closet) and even pulled down her unmentionables for Sister Jude's convenience.
But apparently Sister Jude gets annoyed when a bare-ass whippin' isn't HER idea, so she was like, "No way, girl." Oh well.
So then, a particularly horrible moment for Lana (and 1964, and US AS HUMANS): Sister Jude coerced Lana's ladyfriend into having Lana committed to the facility, in exchange for not outing her to her town.
Man, this was pretty hard to watch. Sister Jude didn't even really make that much sense: First she said the girlfriend couldn't visit Lana because she had no legal standing. Then she said that the girlfriend DID have legal standing to have her committed? I didn't get it. But Lana did:
Uh oh, Lana! But look at the bright side: If your memory is decent, you can REALLY get the inside scoop now. She can bust this whole story wide open like a lady Geraldo. (Which, no joke, he DID do to a particularly nightmarish mental health facility in Long Island. I'm not kidding, go watch Cropsy!)
As for the monster pit where Lana conked her head, Sister Jude came to check it out only to find Dr. Archer scrubbing and Febrezing the EFF out of it. Where'd that monster go, Doc? Sister Jude was now officially on the warpath and these two titans of awful looked to be headed for a clash!
Anyway, the episode then ended back in the modern day: Mrs. Channing Tatum was scrambling through the facility's hallways trying to find an exit for her poor, one-armed The Voice judge, and accidentally came face-to-face with the man of the hour!
AAAHHHH!! Bloody Face, you've over-exfoliated!!! No but seriously, this guy looked terrible. It's probably just a mask that the killer is wearing, but don't tell me it doesn't smell terrible. I think we're dealing with a lunatic here, guys. That's my theory.
So hey, I'm not trying to tell you this was a perfect hour of television. For one thing, it was edited like a Michael Bay film on Adderall. Relax, editors! Absolutely no atmosphere or tension can be developed when there's a cut every 1.5 seconds and half the shots are Dutch angles. When it comes to how this thing is filmed, I'd prefer more Shining and less Saw II, thank you. Slow it down. Creep us out. You can do it. But yeah, this WAS a great appetizer for a meal I really want to eat. Consider my ticket purchased!
... Which actors are better in Season 2 than Season 1?
... Who exactly is the main character, anyway?
... Would you rather be abducted by aliens or wrongfully accused of mass murder?