‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Season Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by

Lily Rabe Jessica Lange and Adam Levin in American Horror Story Asylum American Horror Story: Asylum Season Premiere Review

As someone who enjoyed watching, but wasn’t exactly over the moon with season 1 of American Horror Story, I must admit considerable interest to hearing that its creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, had set the series up to be an anthology – the second helping of which would, of course, become American Horror Story: Asylum. And while the revelation that the Harmon family’s story had reached its conclusion was arguably more interesting than the story surrounding the actual Harmon family, it did offer a clue about what to expect from a narrative stand point, once season 2 got underway.

Season 1 was chock-full of every little bit of madness Murphy and Falchuk could scrounge up; there were whiffs of various film influences – both in and out of the horror genre – and enough gore, violence and jump scares to consider the series aptly named. Still, as the series trudged on, there was the overwhelming sense that it was burning the candle at both ends, so to speak – which was followed by the disclosure that American Horror Story was (and always had been?) intended to be an anthology series. This is important because, while season 1 ran at a breakneck pace for 13 episodes, the audience was left wondering just how it would all come together at the end, and what that would mean for the future of the series. Viewers entered into the series unaware that watching a dead family gather around a Christmas tree would not just be the end of the season, but the end of that particular story, as well.

As Asylum kicks off, it does so with the audience prepared for whatever storyline may be awaiting them to likely come to an actual conclusion. Therefore, the normal sense of exhilaration that comes from watching a television season reach its finale, and all that entails for the continuation of the story, is no longer an issue for AHS; the audience knows that once it’s done, it’s done. That will pose an interesting set of challenges for Murphy and Falchuk as they enter season 2.

Evan Peters in American Horror Story Asylum Welcome to Briarcliff American Horror Story: Asylum Season Premiere Review

And so, with the premiere episode, ‘Welcome to Briarcliff,’ the first thing most viewers will notice is how the writers have chosen to display their lunacy in a much more controlled fashion. That’s not to say the show has suddenly learned some manners, or bothered to look up the definition of the word “subtle,” but it just feels more like everyone is in on the joke now, everyone gets that the writers will ride this thing as hard as they can until its heart explodes, and then we’ll all just continue on with our business.

In season 1, it felt as though the madness was random, and a little rushed – which likely increased its appeal with some viewers. The storyline was largely an indiscriminate collection of horror movie tropes and freaky circumstances with equally unusual denouements that all danced around a central theme of a broken family who had unwittingly moved into a haunted house. In Asylum, Murphy and Falchuk are still inviting a whole host of bizarre images into a single structure, but this time is seems for a far more precise purpose. Perhaps that’s because they’re not burdened with making Jessica Lange’s character more central to the story after the fact, but mostly it’s because the writers have apparently had the proper time to arrange and organize the proceedings into a more cohesive whole.

Asylum begins with a twist on the kind of cold open that began season 1. Instead of beginning in the past, witnessing a gruesome even and then flashing forward, the open starts off with newlyweds Leo (Adam Levine) and Theresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) stopping off at Briarcliff in the midst of their tour of supposedly haunted places in America. After things get off to a good start, they quickly turn sour and the two wind up facing the institution’s most endearing legend in the deranged serial killer, Bloody Face. The storyline then jumps back to 1964, and quickly introduces us to its characters, paying particular attention to Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), as they’re really the only two who need to find their way into the confines of the Briarcliff sanitarium and the clutches of its professed director, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). Through Sister Jude, the episode manages to spell out the majority of the relationships at Briarcliff, which include Jude’s put-upon and callow fellow nun, Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), the brilliant, but demented Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) and the object of Sister Jude’s lust, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes). There’s also a trio of more-or-less permanent guests at the facility played by Chloe Sevigny, Mark Consuelos and Lizzie Brocheré. That’s a lot of characters, and we still won’t see Zachary Quinto until episode 2.

Sarah Paulson in American Horror Story Asylum Welcome to Briarcliff American Horror Story: Asylum Season Premiere Review

As Murphy and Falchuk stated, season 1 was a family drama. As such, Asylum is very much all about the workplace, and all the interesting relationships that can arise from that kind of setting. Here, though, the characters feel wholly about their own personal journey, as it relates to them and to the larger question of the season – which, apparently, is about aliens, mutants, demons and the aforementioned Bloody Face. They have aspirations and dreams, and often those don’t mesh to well with their environment, or the other people around them – whichever side of the locked door they happen to be on – and that goes a long way in making them interesting.

Perhaps it’s even more surprising then that Asylum is also concerned with societal shifts and the changing worldview of the time.

And in typical Murphy and Falchuk fashion, those concerns are made apparent through incredibly broad statements that have all the inspired flare of a high-school textbook. But still, bluntly shining the spotlight on things like interracial marriages, homosexual relationships, the conflict of science vs. faith, and, as the season progresses, likely a whole lot more, is the kind of thing these guys do, and it provides a much sturdier groundwork for the season than what was presented in the first few episodes of season 1.

Besides, American Horror Story isn’t about the careful and considered study of its otherwise wacky characters – the show gleefully (no pun intended) doesn’t have time for that; it’s too busy filling each episode with a series of ecstatic jump scares, gore and hilariously inane, over-the-top antics that are the real attraction of the series. It’s just intended to be a fun ride. While there’s no telling if it’ll stay on the course it has plotted, Asylum looks ready to gallop through even the craziest bits – all the way to the bitter end.

-

American Horror Story: Asylum continues next Wednesday with ‘Tricks and Treats’ @10pm on FX.

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:
TAGS: american horror story

42 Comments

Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.


If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it.

  1. American Horrible Story is more like it.

    • f*** you

  2. Yay!!! aliens!!!!!!!!

  3. ewwww adam levine!!!!!

    • Adam Levine is the Jesus of American Horror Story.

  4. Awesome first episode…leaving me wondering what was that, that killed his wife. And ryan murphy is epic…thank you

    • ALIENSSSSSSSS< BLAH

  5. Is this really the precursor to season 1???? Love that Fiennes is in it!!!!!

    • Nope. Just a fresh story. Think like the classic Twilight Zone type show. Same cast. Entirely unrelated story and characters to the previous.

  6. AWESOME! The best horror story on TV, EVER! There’s nothing like AHS, it’s a complete hair-rising, nail-biting entertainment. I’m catching up the replay of American Horror Story Season 2 premiere at http://bit.ly/VczbJn

  7. I like this far better than the first season. For one, the premiere actually made me jump (when the reporter was grabbed by the thing behind the door), which the first season never made do. I also just like the location, I’m terrified of prisons/asylums soooo this will definitely freak me out.

    • Yes me too..46,000 died there….is it haunted? lol

  8. You are incredibly generous in not tearing apart Season 2, but you also knew that the show always intended to take on the anthology series format. I went into my viewing experience tonight completely ecstatic, for reasons the show ended up dissolving with the move to season two. I realized that I was most attached to the original narrative – family stuck in house, can’t leave house, lots of passion and odd sex — and that that, more than the strong deployment of a horror genre cocktail, was most significant for me in terms of the show. Why the hell would the writers abandon those incredible characters? Did the writers finally throw in the towel in terms of keeping these families in the house?
    Totally bummed that they went in a new direction. However, I was able to locate some redeeming aspects, particularly in the way of showcasing the extraordinary talent and versatility of the show’s actors, as they all seem to morph into entirely new personas in Season 2. Refreshingly, though, this transition seemed to foreground and perhaps lessen the blow of the drastic narrative shift between seasons. Thank the gods for Jessica Lange, and Chloe.

    • With the short anthology shootings they are able to sign much better quality actors for shorter periods of time. Vice versa with a series they sign on for longer shooting periods and attract a lower quality cast. That is how they could abandon those incredible actors, as you put it.

      • I love this idea, the anthology ensures it will never get dull, new actors, stories, we have the year to get attached, watch in horror as our fav characters are traumatized, grieve, and start all over again. If not I get bored, I bet Ryan Murphy does too!!

  9. As a committed and quite satisfied fan of AHS season 1, I have to express some disappointment with episode 1 of season 2. I was put off by overly fast frames needlessly jumping around with little affect other than to distract me, and the seemingly fast and forced introductions of characters and subplots. I am also fearful (and I don’t mean that in a good SCARY way) that there may be too much going on in this storyline to allow viewers to grasp and absorb it. Maybe this is a kneejerk reaction, please tell me if you agree or disagree…

    • agree and disagree..it was a lot to take in, and if that is all we saw, the first episode, yes I would be confused about a few things. However over the season, it will become absorbed like anything else. Reminds me of the same feeling I get with House of Lies, fast frames, talking, walking, a rush, and that’s why i Love it!

  10. I can assure you that this season will not be predictable. Also, if you did not like the first episode… don’t watch it. There is no reason to trash on it. Give it time to grow on you.

    • Right!? so many people say “it hasn’t give me enough so far”… it has been one episode, and has to play like a pilot and introduce tons of people and ideas. So yeah.. they gotta leave some things out to keep you coming back. Also… lots a quick cuts being a problem? I agree it doesn’t give you a moment to see the surroundings, but maybe thats part of the ‘insanity” they want you to feel, but also maybe it will slow down, and they just had to fit so much in to one hour!!

  11. This episode sucked.

  12. The 1st episode was alright. The fact that the show is on FX gives the show limits. Had this show been on HBO/Showtime/Starz I think we might be seeing something great but since it’s on FX the show does lack the scare factor. We shall see if this season will have the success that season 1 had

  13. So after the first season, this is a big depature from the first season. This 1st episode seemed to move a little bit quicker then the first from last season, which was nice but at the same time some of the choices left me scratching my head (spoiler) ALIENS, really. However, they earned my respect from the first season so we shall see how it plays out. I will say this the cast is fantastic and I look forward to seeing where they go with this season.

  14. I liked the first episode of the second season, just give it a chance because there will be twists and turns that will rock everyone!!!

  15. Agree w/Jessica L. 100%. Gave this episode a chance & watched till the very end, hoping that I would somehow relate to at least one character as I did in S1. The characters in S1 were incredible & to just let them vanish was a bit harsh. S2 premiere was all flash. Some shots shown were barely visible. Left me wondering, what was that? Minimal character buildup. Way too many thrown in one episode. Nuns, evil dr. teacher, reporter, loonies, aliens, bloodyface, animals, + more. Is there room for more? Do I really want more? There’s no suspense. What I loved about S1 was that the characters were introduced slowly & seductively. It was a slow journey but still scary at the same time. Not sure if I’ll watch this year.

    • Totally agree with you KC. No build up here of characters … Just hit us over the head with the horror “cheap shots” . How can we care about characters we have only known for 5 minutes? I liked the slow burn of season 1 much better

  16. LOVED Season 1. Will love this season too it looks like.

    What episode will feature the ‘French Maid’ again?

    ~ Stark

  17. I think this season will be more f up then the first season. Hoping they will not disappoint.

  18. First season drew me in slowly. This episode of season 2 whams you over the head, yet I wasn’t finding myself drawn in. I can’t stand slasher films, and this has the same feel to it. Not something I will stay with this year, I’m afraid.

  19. I have been waiting for Season 2. It was ok, but im such a fan cant wait to see what comes next.

  20. Telling different stories each season is an interesting approach. They told the story of the house through the eyes of one family and the way they ended it was satisfying enough. Trying to keep doing the show with the family and all the other ghosts haunting the house might have gotten old after about one season, so the anthology style may keep the series fresh.

  21. I was expecting a supernatural tale again… The thought of Aliens makes me a little weary of this season. I love the Sci-Fi – Horror genre, but it is extremely hard to blend and balance without coming off stupid. Great performance by Lang. I will watch regardless.

  22. Wow!
    That was a lot to digest. I really enjoyed season 1 and appreciated it for what a big crazy mess it was so I knew what to expect coming into season 2 but that didn’t stop my senses from reaching a serious overload.
    But I’m willing to go along for the ride and I’m pretty intrigued to see how all these ingredients come together. Because it seems to me that just like in season 1 it’s going to be pointless to try and guess what’s coming.

  23. Sounds alright.

    I’m gonna admit that I never saw season 1, mainly because of scheduling that means I’d miss it (the only shows on FX I get to see are Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, otherwise I’ve missed AHS, Breaking Bad, Falling Skies and Leverage over the years) but also because it didn’t look that good in the tv spots, both before and during the original airing here in the UK.

    The spots I saw for season 2 look good though, might give it a watch if time permits once it starts over here.

  24. I don’t know what to think of this season. I’ve been waiting for it to come out since they ended season 1. I think only time will tell and I’m excited to see what they have in store for us. I actually really like the anthology idea because it keeps the story from becoming stale. I notice that with quite a few tv shows nowadays they run too long. People just can’t say no and there is no ending that makes sense.

    I think that part of season 1′s success was that there was nothing like it on cable before. But now Murphy and Falchuk have to match what they set in motion and seemingly top season 1, which may explain why people feel it’s too rushed. I did get that feeling as well. Once we get into the meat of the story, i hope it all settles down and we get something a little bit more cohesive.

    Is it just me or was anyone else confused as to why Adam Levine was in the present and why he is a character in the past? I got really confused by that. Let me know what you think, I’m always curious about what everyone else was thinking.

  25. I absolutely loved this show. It totally reminds me of Goosebumps in a way. It’s just trying to be your typical classic horror story. I’m down for this series.

  26. It sucked big time!!!!

  27. I really liked season one and I see why they are going with the anthology format. They told a complete story and did not keep adding to it waiting for us to become bored. Season 2 has my interest for sure and like many of you so much was thrown out there I know I missed some details that were revealing. Jessica L is doing a great job again and it is rather amusing that the bitter nun slips into the red number (under her habit of course) for dinner with the high ranking clergy guy. I wonder what the scared little nun was carrying pails of body parts to. This should be a good ride.

  28. I find the second season very disturbing and not in a good way. The line between fiction and non-fiction is very small and a lot of the things that are happening actually occurred. It is not scary, it’s exploitive. I will not be watching any more episodes

  29. its my favorite in all, thanks to share about asylum i was looking for this, can i download this, plz share the link

<-- Taboola Alt -->