If you haven’t been watching American Horror Story: Asylum, I forgive you. Honestly, I tried (and failed) to resist it myself. I did the same with the first season, too. After the first couple of episodes, I wondered, “Do I really need to be scared/upset/disturbed on a weekly basis?” But I kept coming back, mainly for Jessica Lange (and Dylan McDermott‘s frequent nude scenes didn’t hurt, either). Jessica gives something of a master class in acting from week to week, and Ryan Murphy is astonishingly lucky to have her anchoring whatever nonsense he throws on the screen. Jessica is the Bela Lugosi to Murphy’s Ed Wood. You’re not quite sure how she ended up there, but you’re glad she did.
If you doubt the genius of Jessica, just watch the final episode of the first season. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!) Her monologue, a rarity on television to begin with, gives Constance the last word in the series, adding another layer of frailty and resolve to a character who’s already developed so many different, splintered personas to manipulate and control the world (and supernatural forces) around her. When she finishes, you can’t help but hit the pause button and say, “What did I just watch?”
This season wisely moved Jessica to the forefront. She’s no longer the kooky neighbor commenting on events and pulling strings; she’s front and center and running the show, which, in this series, is the Briarcliff Asylum, home to a diverse assortment of the mentally challenged, from innocent to guilty to simply misunderstood. In 1964, it was still common practice to put people away for all manner of eccentric or unusual behavior. Jessica’s Sister Jude runs the institution with an iron fist (and an impressive assortment of paddles, canes and torture devices). If anyone from the outside comes snooping around or tries to question her authority, she’ll just produce some commitment papers, lock them up and add them to her miserable menagerie.
Of course, you can’t have Jessica Lange in a mental institution without letting her have a mad scene or two of her own. This is the woman who played both Frances Farmer and Blanche DuBois, after all. So, when the tables are turned on the dear Sister, and she gets a healthy dose of shock therapy herself, and since this is a Ryan (Glee) Murphy production, better clear the common room, because a musical number is inevitable.
Ordinarily, if something like this happens in a show, I’d be looking over my shoulder to see if we cleared the shark or not, but this is AHS, and Adam Levine got disemboweled before the opening credits of the first episode, so I’m inclined to accept it as it is. In fact, it’s the rare musical number that works so well, establishing a time, place and state of mind, while also advancing the inner world of the character (if not the plot), that I’m actually very impressed.
But with only three episodes left, do the Briarcliff inmates have what it takes to make it to regionals?