I’ve always had a macabre fascination with asylums. I’m not sure why, but they’ve always held a dark appeal to me. That said, it comes as no surprise that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” was a winner for me.
The second season in this anthology series documents the efforts of reporter Lana Winters as she tries to get the inside scoop on Briarcliff, an institution said to be holding a horrendous serial killer. Lana gets in over her head, though, and ends up trapped inside Briarcliff as a patient, confronted with the darkest corners of humanity. She works tirelessly to escape the institution and expose its disturbing practices, but she is never sure who she can trust or who is an enemy.
This season has a lot of other story threads, too. There’s an alleged alien attack, a possessed nun and even zombie-esque figures. Again, there’s a lot. Some might think it’s too much, but I found the different elements to be expertly woven together, developed and resolved. They don’t sound like they could possibly form a cohesive narrative, but these storylines collided to bring a level of intensity that kept my eyes and my mind fully engaged.
Throughout Lana’s tribulations and triumphs at Briarcliff, we meet a slew of interesting characters. They’ve all been sentenced to Briarcliff (whether as patients or staff) for various reasons, but, for the most part, they exceed the bounds of their mental illnesses. Some characters have traumatic pasts but dreams for the future. Some characters are good at heart but misunderstood. And some characters wear a good-natured smile while harboring a sinister mind. They are a complicated bunch, which makes this season all the more fascinating. Even more so is the way many of them have grown by the end of the season, morphing into characters we never could have predicted in the beginning that, somehow, make sense.
What I find especially admirable about “American Horror Story” is that, yes, this is a sensationalized horror show, designed for entertainment, and yet Murphy and Falchuk always incorporate important social issues. “Asylum” deals, obviously, with mental illnesses, but also sexuality, gender and even Nazism. These elements are discussed in a way that feels natural to the story, rather than didactic, which is an impressive feat all its own.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” is gritty and convoluted and captivating all at once. This season is an excellent addition to the series that fully captures the horrors of reality.