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American Horror Story: Asylum – Episode 2.13 – "Madness Ends"

On its own, “Madness Ends” is a great episode of television, but as a conclusion to American Horror Story‘s second volume, I’m not sure it really gives a proper ending to anyone, aside from Lana.  The series’ anthological structure allows it to kill off most of its primary characters 2 or 3 episodes before the season finale, which is exactly what both Murder House and Asylum have done.  Unfortunately, it is that very structure that seems to inhibit Ryan Murphy and company from creating full arcs for characters like Sister Mary Eunice, Dr. Arden, or Monsignor Howard.  The former two were killed off in episode 10 for unknown reasons other than to shock the audience, considering much of the conflict of the season had depended on them.  However, by (quite unfairly) cutting their stories short, it would ostensibly allow for a tighter focus on characters like Lana, Kit and Jude, each of whom had been put on the backburner.  This tighter focus is exactly what they did, but there were also characters such as the aforementioned Monsignor, Oliver Threadson, Alma, Grace, and Pepper to deal with.  For the most part, each of these characters was interesting, yet it seems like the writers didn’t think so.  Over the last few episodes, Lana shoots Threadson rather unceremoniously, Pepper dies offscreen, Grace gets axed in the back by Alma, who quickly dies at Briarcliff, and Monsignor Howard commits suicide in a bathtub, despite the writers giving no indication that he would ever do such a thing. He was nailed to a cross for Christ’s sake! (pun intended) These things feel significant on the page but the way each of these scenes is directed makes them feel so inconsequential that it becomes difficult to feel anything when they die.

     From the beginning, it really felt like this season was Sister Jude’s story to tell, but in the last few episodes her screentime severely decreased as she descended into genuine madness.  I was worried 20 minutes into the episode that we wouldn’t get a satisfying ending to her story, but the middle portion struck a chord that was surprisingly emotional.  Kit springs her from Briarcliff and she finds purpose through playing with his kids, which gives her a much-needed dose of happiness.  Her final moments where she accepts the kiss from the Angel of Death is a beautiful conclusion to her character, not only story-wise but compositionally.  Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon uses a single spotlight on the bed with an entirely black background, creating a striking stage-like effect.  I’ll miss Jessica Lange’s performance as the wonderfully complex Sister Jude; even when the show’s writing failed her, she elevated the material to a captivating level.  

     As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never been much invested in Kit’s storyline, so seeing him happy before dying of cancer was good but not entirely compelling.  Similarly, the aliens never panned out as a genuine storyline, so I’m not surprised that there were no answers given in the finale.  I suppose an argument could be made that aliens were feared yet mostly unknown in the ’60s, but that just feels like a copout.  More of Ryan Murphy throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.  In this case I would advise him never to use aliens again.

     Anyways, Murder House‘s season finale was mostly straight drama with hints of horror, but it surprised me how not horror Asylum‘s finale was.  Perhaps the most horrific scene was Lana’s exposé on Briarcliff.  The documentary footage was strikingly realistic, with naked inmates and decaying filth providing a stark contrast to the relative cleanliness presented earlier in the season.  And speaking of Lana, this was undoubtedly her episode, and Sarah Paulson nailed every scene, from 1964 to 2013.  I had taken issue with her rather sudden personality switch into an egotistical diva in “Continuum” but here it feels right.  As she reveals details about her storied life in a Barbara Walters-style interview, she comes across as a woman content with the fact that she has made a living off the exploits of insane men.  She has all but put her experience at Briarcliff behind her, except for her child, Johnny, who manages to become a crew member for Lana’s interview (by killing those who stood in his way).  Dylan McDermott’s acting hasn’t gotten much better from season 1, but he carries his own against steely-eyed Paulson.  Their final confrontation is completely under Lana’s control, and when she turns the gun on him and shoots him dead, it’s a satisfying climactic moment.  But there’s one more scene left.  We flash back to Briarcliff with Sister Jude essentially explaining to Lana the underlying theme of the season: “If you look in the face of evil, evil’s gonna look right back at you.”  As Lana smiles smugly, it’s clear that the amount of evil she would eventually suffer and conquer has made her some version of evil herself, especially when you consider her original desire to expose Bloody Face.  Her quest for fame through the glorification of serial killers was inherent in her from the start; maybe this negativity is what caused the universe to bring such horror upon her as a sick self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s an indirect type of evil, not one that comes to mind in a story filled with serial killers, aliens, Nazi doctors, and nuns possessed by the devil, but evil nonetheless.

     I think this was a better season than the first, despite the anticlimactic last few episodes.  The issues tackled felt more horrific, especially insanity and evil but what I found compelling was its stance on the church.  The corruption of the supposedly-Christian leaders, as depicted throughout the season was used as a fascinating dichotomy.  The series showed how certain people can hide their demons behind crosses and habits while believing in the hearts that their behavior was righteous.  Some may say its message about Christianity is hateful, but this season wasn’t interested in showing goodness through indoctrination into Christianity.  Rather, it showed that those who are downtrodden yet truly pure in spirit, like Jude, are the ones who find divine salvation.  This season did feel more horrific than the first, and I only hope the creators find different yet equally compelling approaches to horror in the third season.

Grade: B+
MVP: Sarah Paulson

Season Grade: B+
Season MVP: Jessica Lange


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