First Impressions

American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired on: FX

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                When American Horror Story announced that its second season would have nothing to do with the first season's storyline, I raised an eyebrow.  That sort of thing hadn't been done in a television series since the days of The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Amazing Stories and Tales from the Crypt, except with those television series, the storylines differed from episode to episode, not season to season.  I never watched the first season of American Horror Story, but I had heard great things about the show.  With this new season starting in a brand new environment with a brand new storyline, I figured it would be a perfectly good time to check the show out.

                The premiere episode of American Horror Story: Asylum, Welcome to Briarcliff, opens with two ghost hunting thrill seekers, Teresa and Leo (Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Adam Levine), checking out an abandoned asylum known as Briarcliff Manor.  Through them, we learn that the asylum was once a sanatorium that cared for tuberculosis patients.  So many of those patients died that the hospital created a special body chute to dispose of the dead patients more efficiently.  In 1962, the facility was purchased by the Catholic Church and turned into an insane asylum.  While inspecting the body chute, Leo's arm is ripped off by some creature.

                Flash back to 1964 and we are introduced to Kit Walker (Evan Peters), a young white garage gas attendant who recently married a black woman, a forbidden relationship at the time.  Despite the secretive nature of their relationship, the couple appears to be incredibly happy, until one night when a blazingly bright light encompasses the entire home.  The audience is led to believe that Kit and his wife were abducted by aliens.  We next see Kit as he is led in chains and shackles into Briarcliff Manor where he is scheduled to stay until he is fit to stand trial for the brutal murder of a young black woman.  Apparently, Kit was found wearing her face as a mask of sorts.

                We next meet Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a reporter who wants the scoop on this murderer, but discovers that there might be more of a scoop in the asylum itself.  Things at Briarcliff are not as they seem and Lana is determined to uncover its secrets.  Lana, too, is involved in a forbidden relationship with lesbian lover Wendy (Clea DuVall), a third grade school teacher eager to keep their relationship a secret lest she lose her job and career.  Wendy encourages Lana in her pursuit of a big exposť on Briarcliff, even though it will mean that Lana will have to sneak in to uncover its secrets.

                What will Lana discover?  Will she witness Sister Jude's (Jessica Lange) unusually heavy-handed and degrading punishment tactics?  Will she discover the hideous experiments performed on patients by Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell)?  Or will she find out firsthand what it is like being a patient at Briarcliff Manor?

                All I can say after watching this premiere episode of American Horror Story: Asylum is WOW!  I'm no prude mind you, but I was really quite surprised at the explicit nature of a show that is readily accessible to all cable subscribers.  I expect the situations depicted to be shown on channels like HBO or Showtime, but, I suppose the times are changing. 

                But let's forget about the sexual explicitness for a second.  When you think back to all the television shows and movies complained about or boycotted by members of the Catholic Church, I have to wonder why it is that they haven't filed complaints about this one.  After all, they have a lot to complain about.  There's a lot of forbidden activity here between characters.  Let's forget about the supposed sin of homosexuality that the Church is constantly going on about and focus on the more sinister of sins depicted, like the lust of a nun for a priest or the novice who seems to enjoy being punished S&M style.  Yikes!

                The sexual situations and innuendo seem to outdo the horror in this premiere episode, but there were some nasty things for horror fans to enjoy.  The sets are darkly lit and there is a sincere lack of colors other than black, white and grey.  As you find yourself peering into the television screen trying to see what's going on, you will be taken aback by bright lights or colors that will seem to jump out at you.  Then there are the dismemberments, hideous creatures, mad scientist experiments and the like to freak you out.

                If you are a fan of erotically enhanced horror, then American Horror Story: Asylum will be a show you will want to watch.  The back stories of the patients will interest you as will the irony behind why those patients are at Briarcliff.  Sister Jude is a bit of a mystery still needing some unraveling and Lord only knows what it is that Dr. Arden is really doing in that laboratory of his.  The show promises to get more horrific as it moves forward and that should please fans of horror who have not had a show like this to scare the crap out of them in quite some time.  As for me, I'm more into the horror and less into the eroticism used as shock value in this show.  When eroticism is used to lure someone in, I tend to wonder just what it is that the show's creators are trying to hide - perhaps a weak storyline?  I suppose that remains to be seen...but not by me.  You can check out American Horror Story: Asylum at 10pm EST every Wednesday on FX.


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