Episode Title: “Madness Ends”
Writer: Tim Minear
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Previously on “American Horror Story: Asylum”:
There’s only one thing to love about the season finale of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” and that’s the fact that this episode goes out of its way to remind you of a plot hole in the season opener. Well, not so much a “plot hole” as a narrative inconsistency. At the beginning of the season, two present-day tourists visited Briarcliff and read some information off of their cell phones about its history. “The most famous resident was a serial killer named…” one of them starts. The second concludes, “Bloody Face.”
As we all know by now, the Bloody Face never lived there, although he did work in the building for a brief period. Since his real identity is now common knowledge in the world of “American Horror Story,” these people were either reading off of a Wikepedia page in desperate need of editing, or the showrunners inserted intentionally misleading dialogue in episode one, hoping you wouldn’t notice, only to make a point of saying it again this week.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” started off so well, introducing a string of fascinating subplots that, to a one, all ended disappointingly. The mad science of Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) was disposed of, by Arden himself, unceremoniously before his quiet suicide. The struggle between good and evil within Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) was easily murdered out of her. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) went from vile overlord of Briarcliff to a martyred resident, which would have been fine if she didn’t spend episode after episode afterwards doing nothing but wallow in victimization. The aliens that had mysterious designs on Kit Walker (Evan Peters), well, they were aliens. And they had mysterious designs. Even their supposedly big, big plans for his children were explained away in this week’s episode with, “They got really good jobs.” Extra-terrestrials went to all that trouble just to breed a neurosurgeon and a lawyer?
And then we had the quirky adventures of Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) and Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto), which ended two weeks ago, leaving nothing for Lana to do but be a glory hound for decades. Meanwhile, her son (Dylan McDermott), aka “Bloody Face 2,” went around killing people and blaming her for killing his father. In this week’s episode, Lana is about to get a Kennedy Center Honor for her career in investigative journalism, and is interviewed about everything all our unanswered questions about the series. Since most of our questions were answered several episodes ago, the revelations in “Madness Ends” are heavily padded, but amount to: A) Lana finally closed down Briarcliff, B) Cardinal Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) killed himself, C) Kit got Sister Jude released from Briarcliff, and she died fairly happily, and D) Lana kills Bloody Face 2.
This isn’t an episode of television, it’s a denouement that’s been spread out over two episodes unnecessarily. The “horror” part of “American Horror Story” died out weeks ago, leaving only a string of tedious follow-up questions that, frankly, only pertain to the series’ most conventional storylines. Conventional storylines were not this series’ strong suit. Seriously screwed up, outlandish storylines were what grabbed a lot of us from the beginning of the season, but instead of following them through to a logical (or even pleasingly mad) conclusion, they all got written out of the script so a straightforward serial killer subplot can end with the killer dying, having achieved nothing. The atmosphere of all-consuming dread, in which goodness could not thrive and evil seemingly ran the world, was what made “American Horror Story: Asylum” so captivating in the first place. Ending the series on a happy note of “everything turned out more or less okay” feels like a betrayal. All of these reassurances seem tacked on, even hastily rewritten, like a terrified studio decided that audiences couldn’t handle anything but a happy ending.
While “American Horror Story: Asylum” ended with several episodes of extreme disappointment, I would like to take this opportunity to point out a few highlights of the series. Firstly, every single director on this show brought their “A” game, filming even the lesser series with an inventive visual aplomb that made this series stand out from the rest of its TV brethren in one fascinating way or another. Every one of the cast members sold their parts with enthusiasm and dramatic flare. And when this series got dark, i.e. when “American Horror Story: Asylum” was at its very best, it treated us to some of the most gruesome and despairing sequences in TV history. Would that they had committed to this tone, the thing that made the series special in the first place, rather than assuming we needed everything wrapped up in a tidy little bow.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” wrote a check that, apparently, it couldn’t cash, promising terror and providing only conventionality instead. I don’t think I will be returning next season. What about you?
Photo Credit: Byron Cohen / FX