TV Autopsy: We Tear Into 'American Horror Story: Asylum'


american horror story: asylumWhile American Horror Story: Asylum was in no way perfect, it had a lot of elements that improved vastly on the first season, and benefitted from one of the greatest finales of any TV show.

Let’s start at the end: that finale. The American Horror Story: Asylum finale can be considered a series finale, in the sense that, like with every season of AHS, we will never see these characters again. The producers want to call it a miniseries; whatever label you put on it, it is difficult to wrap up a series with recurring characters that your audience has connected with over the course of 13 weeks. AHS:A went into the future, skillfully, and showed us exactly what happened to each of these characters further down the line. Granted, part of the success came from the fact that this season’s story lent itself to the “looking back” framework. It was engaging, it was true to each of the characters, and it was flat-out enjoyable.

That said, the rest of the season was kind of a mess. I loved the setting - 1960s mental institutions were hellholes but, much like the first season of AHS, the complete arc was a little sloppy. Season one shot their wad in the first half of the season and had no place to go for the second half. Season two had much better pacing (rather than jam as much craziness as possible into a few episodes, the stories were spread out over the entirety of the season) and some very interesting storylines that, unfortunately, ended up nowhere.

Dr. Arden started as a major factor in the trajectory of the season, but then he killed himself and that was that. Was he really a Nazi? What were those things he fed in the woods? What was he trying to accomplish with his experiments? Then there were individual patients who were presented with some interesting stories (notably, Lee the killer Santa and Pepper the “pinhead”) but they did their one or two episodes and were lucky if they got a footnote at the end. Frankly, I think that kind of structure would be very successful in a more anthological-type format: you have your handful of main characters, then each week present a new patient o’ the week. Also, Jude’s musical number, while entertaining, was completely out of character for the show and was wholly ridiculous.

Putting aside all of that, this season was strong. The characters were far less annoying that the season one characters. Season two didn’t have any big reveals meant as plot twists (like the daughter-dead-since-episode-three “twist” from season one) which I thought was a smart move. With modern, savvy audiences, twists are very rarely a surprise except to the most casual viewer.

So let the speculation on season three begin. Series creator Ryan Murphy would only hint at where season three would go: “horror romance” and “something a little more fun” were the key phrases he used. When I hear “horror romance” my mind immediately goes to the Twilight franchise (oh wait... that was “horrible romance”) but I can’t imagine Murphy would head down that path - he’s got Glee for that. I have said that I want a mid-1980s haunted roller disco to be the setting for season three, but that might be taking the cheese factor too far. A late 1970s-set summer camp theme might be more appropriate. You have the camp romances against a background of a maniacal serial killer on the loose. Sure, it’s a cliche, but that hasn’t stopped AHS before.