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Last updateWed, 11 Dec 2019 4pm

Entertainment

American Horror Story: Asylum Delivers Tricks & Treats

entertainment-american-horror-storyIf you’re in need of a good scare, blood or kinky sex, you’ll be happy to know that American Horror Story returned to FX last week. The thriller has adapted an anthology format, meaning each season will be one self-contained story. A different season means different characters, places and stories (but expect some of the same actors). This season, aptly subtitled Asylum, focuses on Briarcliff Manor, a mental institution in the 1960s.

The show opens with present day newlyweds Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa (Jenna Dewan Tatum) entering the abandoned asylum on the last stop of their honeymoon. The trip included visiting the 12 most haunted places in America and having sex in each.

After they realize that Briarcliff is legitimately haunted, the show flashes back to 1964. Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is committed after supposedly killing and skinning numerous people, including his wife. However, he can’t remember murdering anyone; he only remembers aliens probing him.

AsAmerican Horror Storydid with their first season, they have tons of subplots that are incredibly interesting but hard to track. The subplot involving a reporter investigating the asylum but quickly getting herself committed was predictable.

However, other plotlines are much more mysterious. What lives in the woods and needs to be fed every night? What is Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) doing to patients without family that causes them to die suddenly? Every character has a storyline, each one more enigmatic than the last.

The most interesting character is probably Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). She runs Briarwood, but ironically doesn’t believe in mental illness. According to her, the patients just need to repent for their sins to get well. Sister Jude is also in love with her priest (Joseph Fiennes) and fantasizes about seducing him.

Jessica Lange really can do anything as an actress. She is vicious, conniving and makes your blood boil. Granted, she did the same last year, but this time her character doesn’t pretend to be nice. Right off the bat, she tells a reporter, Lana Winters (Sara Paulson), that she was shaving off longtime patient Shelley’s (Chloe Sevigny) hair because Shelley is a nymphomaniac. She doesn’t hide any of the patients’ cruel punishments, which include brutal beatings.

Also returning this year is Evan Peters, but this year he isn’t a creepy ghost. Now he is a decent guy who was probed by aliens and supposedly became a serial killer. Peters manages to create a really sympathetic and likable character here.

This alien plotline is questionable. It seemed that it could be all in the character’s head, but then Dr. Arden saw an alien. Are aliens are creepy? Yes. Are aliens really necessary to the story? That isn’t quite clear. Why weren’t ghosts enough? This plotline could be great, but it could easily become unbelievable and cheesy. Also, though we’ve only seen the alien limbs, they don’t look particularly well done. Alien arms bear a strong resemblance to tree branches, which makes Kit’s flashbacks more laughable than fearsome.

Adam Levine was actually really good in his brief screen time. Having a hot musician take a role is often just a ratings ploy, but Levine managed to have plenty of chemistry with Jenna Dewan Tatum. Dewan Tatum, thankfully, has learned how to act since her debut in Step Up. Both were surprisingly believable.

Just as the house last year was a character in itself, Briarwood Manor deserves some praise. The present day version is dilapidated and vandalized to a believable point. It’s obvious that no one has been there legally in years, but plenty of graffiti artists have tried their luck. The flashback version, however, shows the beautiful Victorian manor in all its glory.

The show isn’t terribly scary, but it does send chills down your spine. The show isn’t overly gratuitious with blood and violence either. All of the sex and violence is relatively necessary for a horror show. However, this season’s opener didn’t have nearly as much blood as last year.

Showrunner Ryan Murphy is a good writer. He has a good balance of humor in a dark show with plenty of likable and interesting characters. He has a lot of characters in this show, and he hasn’t even finished introducing all of them. Cast member Zachary Quinto has yet to be introduced, and Dylan McDermott will return to guest star later this season. The main concern here is that it’ll be hard to keep track of everyone, and it’s not a problem unfamiliar to Murphy.

Glee is a revolving door of characters and it results in the audience not knowing or caring about half of them. Hopefully, the anthology structure will force Murphy to contain himself and not create more characters than he knows what to do with.

The horror anthology also carries the same acceptance message of Murphy’s other shows (Glee, The New Normal). The prejudices against the mentally ill, gay and racial minorities are all demonstrated in the show. The characters earn viewers’ sympathy in a way that’s much less preachy than Murphy’s other shows, which is relieving.

American Horror Story: Asylum doesn’t make you jump out of your seat, but it does make you think twice when you go to turn out the lights. Tune in Wednesdays at 10 pm on FX.

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