Thursday, October 18, 2012

'American Horror Story: Asylum' recap: Season premiere

Evan Peters gets locked up, courtesy FX
BY ALLI SALZMAN


The much-anticipated season two premiere of American Horror Story did not disappoint. With the new season comes new characters, new villains and a new setting: Briarcliff Manor. Built in 1908 as a tuberculosis hospital Briarcliff in an asylum for the insane in 1964 - or present day, but I’ll get to that part in just a bit.

Whatever the time period may be, the theme is the same: Welcome to Briarcliff, you will never leave this place.

We are first introduced to Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum). Set in the present day, these young lovers have spent their honeymoon visiting the 12 most haunting places in America. Briarcliff Manor is the last stop on their trip. The adventurers explore, take pictures, and engage in a little hanky-panky. When they are interrupted by a noise, Teresa insists on finding out what it is, much to Leo’s dismay. Coming across a locked metal door, with what appears to be a meal chute, Teresa is anxious to find what is behind it. Ever the helpful husband, Leo grabs her cell phone, puts his arm through the chute, and tries to get a glimpse of what’s inside by the light of the phone. Unfortunately for Leo, this is his biggest mistake.

With a quick flash of something on the cell phone, Leo’s arm is literally ripped out of his socket. He is left to lay on the floor while Teresa panics to help him.

Teresa finds all the doors are now locked or chained and the only way she can get out is through the body chute, where they used to move the bodies of the dead when Briarcliff was a tuberculosis hospital. However frightening the body chute may sound, the monster she comes face to face with at the end of it is enough to make even the most adventurous scream for their life. Viewers will have to wait until next week to
see if Teresa makes it out alive to get help for her beloved Leo.

Sandwiched between the story of Leo and Teresa in the Briarcliff Manor of the present, is the story of Briarcliff Manor, asylum for the insane, in 1964. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a nun, runs the institution with an iron fist. She is a smart woman, albeit a bit devious and conniving, who relies on her cane to keep both the residents and employees of Briarcliff in line. Perhaps even more frightening than Sister Jude is Dr. Arden (James Cromwell).

Most of the patients he experiments on disappear and are declared dead. The doctor appears to know many of the secrets of Briarcliff, including the knowledge of what monsters lurk outside on the grounds demanding to be fed. The power struggle between Dr. Arden and Sister Jude is evident early as they argue over the "disappearance" of one of the residents and Dr. Arden’s role in administering medicine to the now deceased. One more employee of Briarcliff is introduced in this episode, Sister Mary (Lily Rabe). She's meek and only seems to want to please Sister Jude and Dr. Arden.

Sister Jude appears to have a bit of pity for Sister Mary, while Dr. Arden seems to have a power over her. So strong is this power that Sister Mary is willing to his bidding, including taking buckets of some kind of meat to those mystery creatures living on the grounds. As a side note, I can’t help but wonder if those buckets of meat aren’t the remains of those deceased patients, but I assume this speculation is exactly what the show is going for.

Also living in 1964 is Kit Walker (Evan Peters). He’s a mild-mannered gas station attendant who is secretly married to an African American girl. He keeps the secret of his marriage from family and friends due to the color difference. It’s probably not such a far-fetched story line in 1964. Kit’s life changes one night when aliens appear and kill his wife. It’s a brutal killing, where she is literally skinned alive.

Unfortunately for Kit, others are also murdered and he becomes an easy suspect to the crimes. Witnesses claim to see a man wearing a mask of human flesh at the crime scenes, and the "Bloody Face" moniker sticks quickly to Kit. While he awaits trial for these gruesome murders, Kit is committed to Briarcliff. After going a few verbal rounds with Sister Jude, and getting beat up by another resident in the common room, Kit finds himself on Dr. Arden’s table. Dr. Arden talks of a frontal lobotomy, sans anesthesia of course, but before he can get down to it, he discovers a lump in Kit’s neck. He slices it open and a small insect like creature is removed. Could this be proof of an alien abduction?

Meanwhile, outside of Briarcliff, reporter Lana Wilson (Sarah Paulson) is determined that she will get into the asylum to interview the "Bloody Face." When her ruse of doing a story about the asylum bakery is foiled by Sister Jude, Lana comes up with another way to get inside. While sneaking around the outside of the asylum at night, she comes across Sister Mary, who is feeding the "monsters" who live on the grounds. Lana soon blackmails Sister Mary into letting her into the asylum by promising not to tell Sister Jude about the late night feeding. Lana gets what she hopes for, and so much more. She finds herself alone in the men's ward after Sister Mary abandons her there.

Hearing a noise at a metal door, she peeks her head into the chute on the door and is soon attacked. She awakens strapped down to a bed with a metal halo screwed into her head, and Sister Jude standing over her. Lana demands to be let free, but Sister Jude is quick to let her know that she will be at Briarcliff for a long time. Lana insists that people will come looking for her. Poor Lana is unaware that Sister Jude has already blackmailed Lana’s partner Wendy (Clea Duvall), by threatening to expose their homosexual relationship and ruin her teaching career if she does not sign commitment papers. Wendy has no choice but to sign the papers, giving Sister Jude the upper hand, and leaving Lana locked behind the walls of Briarcliff.

There are other interesting residents at Briarcliff. Grace, who has taken a liking to Kit, is accused of chipping up her entire family. She maintains her innocence. Shelly is a nymphomaniac, who claims Kit as her own, although she quickly loses interest in him and moves on to one of the male orderlies. Hopefully, these characters will become more developed as the season moves on.

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