American Horror Story: Asylum Season Review

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Having had some time to digest the disappointing finale, it’s still somewhat difficult to pinpoint my feelings about this season of American Horror Story: Asylum as a whole. But there are a few ways to look at it.

Plot. If you dissect the plot of this story, there’s nothing very linear about it. If you read my reviews all season, you know that my biggest problem is with the alien abductions. The sci-fi aspect was not necessary at all, and it always felt out of place in this series. There were enough terrifying aspects of Briarcliff, and the alien storyline added absolutely nothing. I’m actually pleased that there was never any explanation for it offered, even though it felt like the writers kind of just gave up on it. Because as a viewer, I had given up on that storyline before it even began.  My other issue with the plot is the fact that they had such captivating and complicated antagonists in both the possessed Mary Eunice and Dr. Arden, and they ended up not making any impact on the overall story. Such little impact that they were killed off before the season even ended. They had a Nazi mad scientist doing human experiments, and an innocent nun possessed by the devil and going on a dangerous power trip, two well-developed characters, and hardly managed to utilize them to better the overall plot. I know that in the end the focus was on Dr. Threadson, an incredible villain, Monseigneur Timothy, and the evils of the asylum itself, but I couldn’t help but feel like something was seriously missing from the last few episodes. Overall, I dislike that the anticipation they built for certain things (Dr. Arden’s creatures in the woods, Shelley’s fate, the aliens, basically the entire show…) made every storyline’s wrap up feel anti-climactic. So if you look solely at the plot, this season was basically a failure. That’s how I felt immediately after the finale. But after thinking about the whole season more carefully, I’m going to choose to look at it a different way.

Acting. If you look at this season as sort of an acting exhibition, it just may be the best show on television. Evan Peters, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Zachary Quinto, and especially the three leading ladies Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, and the perfection that is Jessica Lange. These are all amazing actors having the time of their lives. They were all incredible at portraying these larger than life characters and making them feel real. Jessica Lange essentially created her character’s personality, and Ryan Murphy just let her go with it. Which I think is probably an actor’s dream, and it shone through every week that she was doing exactly what she wanted to be doing. Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe both outdid themselves, taking on larger roles this season than last and never faltering. I cannot praise the acting in this season enough. And based solely on the acting, it’s impossible to say that this was not a wildly successful season.

Despite the sloppy plot lines, there is something to be said for the writing of this show. There really were fascinating episodes, and American Horror Story uses unique scare tactics unlike any I’ve seen before. Even in my least favorite episodes (discounting the finale) there was always so much suspense. Did the chemistry among the cast members make up for weak dialogue? Yes. In my opinion, the strength of the actors and their amazing dynamics, especially Sarah Paulson and Zachary Quinto, carried this show. The way it was shot was downright beautiful at times, and the music choices were always unsettlingly perfect. The opening credits even gave me chills every week.

I think that one of the things that made this season sort of inferior to the first wasn’t even its own fault. When the first season began, we didn’t know it would be an anthology series. So every week I found myself wondering how they would keep it going for more than one season, and I was in awe of the ambition of the writers. Obviously it was only one season, but that element of surprise was gone in its second season.

My advice to Ryan Murphy for next season? Go back to the basics of horror, drop the sci-fi, and continue to let these fantastic actors enjoy themselves. My advice to viewers? If you’re looking for a well thought out rational show where loose ends get neatly tied up and you walk away every week thinking, “Oh, I understood that,” then look elsewhere. If you don’t mind a slightly preposterous storyline now and then, and can deal with some ridiculous dialogue all disguised by brilliant actors and captivating characters (even if they don’t end up mattering all that much) then tune in. Despite all my annoyances, American Horror Story is still very much worth watching, and I’ll be looking forward to what next season’s chapter in this anthology will be…if somewhat tentatively.

I’m relieved that this season is over, and that we’ll be getting a new location and new characters. It was somewhat exhausting at times, downright disappointing in the final episode, but I think that overall if you look at it with the right perspective, the good outweighed the horror at Briarcliff. Grade: B-

By: Meghan Coan

 

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