American Horror Story: Asylum (2012-2013)

Enter the Briarcliff Asylum, one of the cruelest locations on the face of the earth. Briarcliff is not only home to the deranged and the criminally insane, but also to Sister Jude and her sadistic medical staff. Kit Walker becomes one of their newest residents after being falsely accused for a series of brutal murders, but he is soon joined by the unfortunate Lana Winters, a reporter who is admitted against her will after attempting to expose Briarcliff for all of its corruption. They are not the only ones, however, as an evil presence quickly consumes the dark hallways of the asylum.

American Horror Story continues to break the boundaries of acceptability and moral decency on television with another thrilling season that is sure to shock and disturb its viewers! Asylum goes far beyond even the first season when it comes to explicit sexuality and true terror, bombarding the audience with an onslaught of graphic images and themes from the very first episode on. The addition of Sister Jude's naughty nuns ties in an element of exploitation that seems unacceptable, even for cable. It isn't just the women, however. The despicable Dr. Arden and questionable Dr. Thredson are responsible for some of the most heinous acts ever thought imaginable, reducing the residents of Briarcliff to a subhuman level.

Jessica Lange returns with another powerful performance as Sister Jude, commanding the screen once more just as she had in the previous season. She lends a depth and sincerity to the role, even in its darkest moments. Evan Peters joins her as the pitiable Kit Walker, whose guilt we can never quite establish. Although he is still quite good, he is unable to outdo himself from the first season. Sarah Paulson and James Cromwell each contribute admirable performances, as well, but the highest praise goes to Zachary Quinto and Lily Rabe as Dr. Oliver Thredson and Sister Mary Eunice. The character of Dr. Thredson draws from a variety of notorious names throughout America's dark history, and Quinto's dry, clinical portrayal is nerve-shattering. Lily Rabe is simply fantastic, and is able to play the sweet, innocent Sister Mary Eunice just as well as her demonically-possessed alter-ego. Once again, American Horror Story has found its greatest strength in its key casting.

Briarcliff would not be the dark, menacing beast that it is without its key set decoration, either. After stepping into the asylum, we literally enter the mouth of madness, a dungeon of filth and despair. The chic home of Dr. Thredson creates the perfect dichotomy, and explores the different facets of a broken psyche from each of its many angles. This season would not have achieved the same level of success without the convincing environments in which its characters interact, allowing the actors the sense of sheer insanity that their characters would have experienced.

After an electrifying start, however, Asylum begins to dawdle midseason, before dropping off into a sappy and overly-emotional finale. The story threads that immediately captivated our curiosity in the beginning never come to a satisfying resolve, thereby squandering all of the potential that is set up in the first several episodes. This is the greatest shock and disappointment in the series, which already has a history of ending on a lull after first season. Still, the first half of season two is strong enough to carry audience members through to the end.

Regardless of the change in direction, American Horror Story continues to prove itself as one of the most provocative and terrifying shows on television, and if one thing is certain, it is that audiences are sure to tune into season three.

Rating: 8/10.

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