by Wade Wallerstein
When I first heard of American Horror Story, I thought it was going to be some dry History Channel documentary rehashing some random killing. Much to my surprise, I was greeted by one of the most intense, twisted, and complex shows on television.
The second season, which just finished airing until January, is titled American Horror Story: Asylum. It chronicles the goings on of Briarcliff, a fictional insane asylum, during the 1960’s. The season premiered with a pair of newlyweds in the present day visiting the abandoned Briarcliff building as part of a “haunted honeymoon.” What begins as an innocent romp in an abandoned asylum quickly evolves into a gorefest as the male, played by guest star Adam Levine, gets his arm ripped off by a mysterious creature.
This is the nature of the show: dark, psychological, sexual, and gory. The show mainly takes place in the 1960’s, following a man named Kit Peters, played by Evan Peters. Kit is brought to Briarcliff accused of being the serial killer, “Bloodyface.” Bloodyface kills women and removes their skin.
A reporter named Lana Winters, played by Sarah Paulsen, comes to Briarcliff under the pretense that she is writing a story about the good work done by the nuns who run the facility. In actuality, she really just wants an inside scoop on the Bloodyface killer to skyrocket her career as a journalist. When the head of the institution, Sister Jude, played by Jessica Lange, figures out Lana’s true intentions, she makes her out to be insane in order to get her committed into Briarcliff. For the rest of the season, Lana gets an inside look at the true horrors of the asylum.
While Paulsen and Peters put on stellar performances, the true star of the show is Lange. She plays the iron-fisted ruler of the asylum, keeping the patients on a strictly regimented schedule. Lange develops an incredibly complex character, at once a deeply pious and ethical woman, but also a sexual deviant and murderer. Lange is a true queen of old Hollywood, and the glamour and emotional depth that she brings to this off-color role are mesmerizing.
Other highlights of the season include Chloe Sevigny’s character’s maiming and subsequent mutation, an exorcism, an appearance by Anne Frank, and multiple alien abductions. While the events sound smutty and more D-list slasher film than quality television, American Horror Story is very well done. In 2012, it was nominated for 17 Emmy awards, more than any other show. Instead of trashy late night flick, AHS is a dark, terrifying, twisted masterpiece.
AHS is one of the most jarring and controversial shows on television right now, fearlessly showing gritty topics that writers dare tread upon. It’s gross, demented, and spine-chilling—I love every minute of it.