Oh, Ryan Murphy. You’re the airport novelist of TV shows. You can craft an engaging plot, and you know just when to toss in some sex and violence to keep viewers engaged, but the whole thing is pretty thin gruel. And yet, something about the rebranded second season of American Horror Story: Asylum, is promising.
Maybe it’s because Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have given up the pretense that their characters are sane by setting Asylum in Briarcliff Manor, an insane asylum. Or maybe it’s because this reboot is firmly rooted in Jessica Lange, who has been giving peerlessly grounded crazy since her turn in Frances. Because Asylum was something the first AHS rarely was: tense.
Take Sarah Paulson’s lesbian reporter, Lana. Gaining admission to Briarcliff in 1964 by pretending to be interested in its bakery (she coos over the molasses bread), Lana is actually dying to interview the serial killer Bloody Face, being held there while he awaits trial. But head nun Jessica Lange is having none of that. In fact, Sister Jessica Lange is having none of it from anyone—except the hunky, sensual priest played by Joseph Fiennes. For him, she’ll cook coq au vin and put on a red negligee beneath her robes. Or maybe that’s just due to Jessica’s Lange contractually required sexy scene.
Regardless, Sister Jude and Lana don’t see eye to eye. When Lana is attacked by… something after sneaking back into the asylum in the middle of the night, Sister Jessica Lange takes the opportunity to have her institutionalized by way of a little Christian blackmail applied to Lana’s lover (Clea Duvall). The chance to punish the nosy girl reporter and cure a homosexual? Too delicious for a hard-charging, old-school nun!
The one person who won’t bow to Sister Jessica Lange’s will is head doctor Arden (James Cromwell), who, in addition to keeping creatures in the woods on the grounds that are fed with buckets of body parts by simple Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe, not in her element), also seems to be conducting experiments on patients with no family to complain. Those patients also frequently expire in the middle of the night, to be spirited away in those buckets, presumably.
There’s also the little matter of Bloody Face. One of the genuine surprises of the premiere (which has been so heavily advertised and scrutinized over the last few months that the episode felt like a rerun) was that this season’s hero, Kit (Evan Peters), was the woman-skinning monster, about to go on trial for killing his African-American wife. “Tell me,” Sister Jessica Lange says in a perfect Jessica Lange delivery, “did her dark skin slide any easier off the bone?” Kit swears it was aliens, and since a metallic creature flutters out of his neck while Dr. Arden works him over there’s reason to believe him.
Evan Peters's abs...and ass
Filling out the edges of the canvas are Chloe Sevigny’s nymphomaniac patient—who is as entranced by the sight of Peters’s bare buttocks as any viewer would be—a sweet French woman named Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) (who may or may not have cut up her family), and Marc Consuelos as a terrifying bit of rough (was that feces he threw at Sister Mary Eunice?).
Oh, and there’s the much-touted appearance by Adam Levine and Jenna Dewan-Tatum as newlyweds in the present day, spending their honeymoon boning in the 12 most haunted places in America.
The prolific nudity of the first season seems to have been replaced by violence this time around, because Levine is atypically clothed for his scenes, despite receiving a blowjob and spitting in his hand for lube to enjoy some electroshock therapy chair sex. He doesn’t get to enjoy either, since seconds into that blowjob, his arm is ripped off by a creature who seems to have chained the twosome in, and wears a mask made of human skin. Unlike Jessica Lange.
In the coming weeks, it looks as if we’ll be treated to a lot of hysterical screaming from a lot of fine character actors who know how to pull off controlled hysteria. Bring it on! And, like the cowering Sister Mary Eunice, we beg you: Use the bigger cane. We’re ready for it.
The contents of Mark Peikert’s brain play on shuffle at www.karencarpenterdiedforyoursins.wordpress.com.