One of the more commendable aspects of American Horror Story: Asylum is that, like its predecessor, the show remains unafraid of over stimulating its audience with a barrage of seemingly disparate elements that range from canings, demonic possession, alien abduction, dismemberment and the good ol’ standby of stabbing a dude while wearing someone else’s skin as a mask. All of this (and more) has already transpired in the first two hours of Asylum, but the really scary thing is how season 2 is being described as more “controlled” than season 1.
To an extent, it’s true; there is a far more cohesive storyline being brewed by series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, but that is just the foundation on which a heaping helping of crazy is being served. At first glance, it may seem as though the show suffers from an identity crisis, or that it simply cannot decide what it wants to be. But if you take the shenanigans of season 1 into account, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that’s not the case. Asylum isn’t unsure of itself so much as it’s completely aware it wants to be everything at once.
Asylum is broad horror, broad comedy (if you take into account the rough approximation of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting that Jessica Lange and Evan Peters use as their accent of choice), and really broad social commentary. There are so many themes running through the season’s storyline after just two episodes that one doesn’t even have time to wonder how it’ll all fit together.
‘Tricks and Treats’ brings quite a lot of those themes to the table, but is mostly interested in talking about science and faith, and how staunch advocates on either side can be blind to possibilities outside their beliefs. Zachary Quinto‘s Dr. Oliver Thredson makes his first appearance in this episode and in the span of a single day at Briarcliff, manages to generally annoy Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), meet with alleged serial murderer Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and run an assist while a young priest and an old priest perform an exorcism on a fella named Jed. Thredson’s appalled by what he sees at Briarcliff, not in regard to the inmates (legitimate and otherwise), but in terms of the “barbaric” means by which Sister Jude and Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) choose to treat those requiring extra care. He takes considerable issue with Briarcliff’s use of television’s favorite therapy, which is all the more pertinent after Sister Jude implements electroshock therapy to diminish the memory of intrepid reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson).
Lana earns her ECT after Sister Jude and Frank the security guard (Fredric Lehne, the yellow-eyed demon from Supernatural) start tossing cells, Shawshank style, and rustle up some notes detailing her mistreatment at the facility. Planning her escape, Lana goes over with Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) the details of the hidden tunnel Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) uses to come and go when on mutant-feeding duty. Grace seems up for it, but will only go along with the plan if they cut Kit in on the deal. For whatever reason, Lana won’t be party to freeing an alleged killer of women – even if that means losing out on a chance for freedom herself. And so, in the midst of their escape, which coincides with the exorcism, Lana calls the guards and manages to get everyone detained.
Perhaps it’s a double misdirection, but Grace is so pleasant, knowledgeable and genuinely helpful that it seems a foregone conclusion she’s an alien or some instrument of the devil (or worse) that is up to no good in the confines of Briarcliff. Maybe she and Kit are really innocent, but then again, maybe her ultimate goal is to see how many canings Kit will subject himself to in order to protect her.
In that regard, Cromwell’s Dr. Arden seems like he’s obviously around to distract the audience from whatever real evil is lurking in the sanitarium. ‘Tricks and Treats’ gives us a peek into the (mad?) doctor’s home life. We learn he’s a wine connoisseur who enjoys Chopin as much as naughty euphemisms, and has a secret collection of dirty magazines that he doesn’t even want prostitutes to see. Of course, his real temptation seems to be Sister Eunice. Arden is at once as creepily excited at the prospect of feeding her a candy apple as he is in gazing upon her out of “costume.” Whatever was hitching a ride on poor Jed has apparently transferred itself into Eunice, so one can only imagine Arden’s displeasure at the vulgarity Eunice will be capable of once the thing starts going full bore.
‘Tricks and Treats’ only briefly touches on the fact that it takes place right around Halloween by having a trio of preemptive trick-or-treaters stop by Wendy’s (Clea DuVall) house only to proclaim they’ll be back tomorrow when she’s actually got some candy on hand. They’ll be in for a world of disappointment, however, once they learn Wendy was the latest victim of Bloody Face. Hopefully, ‘Nor’easter’ will touch on her apparent death a bit more, since it seemed an odd way of opening the episode without ever mentioning it again. Still, perhaps it all has to do with the Bloody Face of 1964 and his continued rampage in the present.
Speaking of, it sure looks like Adam Levine is vacating his spot on AHS as Bloody Face takes to stabbing him repeatedly in front of his wife, after a quick jaunt around the sanitarium. Still, this is the show that celebrated family unity by killing the Harmons, and having them gather around a Christmas tree as ghosts. Given that, Levine’s story could just be getting started.
At any rate, the season feels like it’s tempted to go completely off the rails, but after two episodes, Asylum is still firmly planted on the foundation it has built thus far. No doubt things will get crazier as we move along, but it should be interesting to see just how long the series bothers to balance a cohesive story with…well, a desire to throw in everything else.
American Horror Story: Asylum continues next Wednesday with ‘Nor’easter’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: