AHS: Welcome to Briarcliff

Season two of the hit (apparently)mini series American Horror Story started out with a bang. Literally. Doing the banging was a hot, kinky couple (Adam Levine and Jenna Dewan Tatum) on perhaps the strangest honeymoon ever proposed; a tour of the twelve most haunted places in the country. And the latest location on that list was the now abandoned Briarcliff Mental Intuition.

But it wasn’t always abandoned (if it even is now). No, our real story begins in 1964 when Briarcliff was full and functioning, run by the iron fisted Sister Jude (the incomparable Jessica Lange). Lange plays the warden of her makeshift prison with Nurse Ratchet menace. See, the writers of AHS understand that the most terrifying of villains are the ones who enact evil in the name of good. And Sister Jude does some truly terrible things. The decision to create an entire new story for the second season was an inspired one, but by casting many of the same actors it seems impossible to not compare them to their season one characters. And where Constance Langdon was all Southern charm and subtle threats, Sister Jude is brash and no nonsense, but still equally full of malice.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After the first scene of everything we have come to expect from AHS; explicit sex, startling scares and unexpected gore, we are thrown into a much calmer story. Its 1964 at a small town gas station being run by Kit Walker (Evan Peters, almost unrecognizable when he’s not imitating Kurt Cobain). It’s a simpler time when people still pump your gas for you, but people are still dicks. Side Note: I am enforcing a new rule that any show set in the past cannot make anymore easy jokes about thirty cent gas being too expensive. Come on, put some actual effort into this, guys. End Side Note.

However, it’s also a time when interracial marriage was more than just frowned upon. Which is unfortunate for Kit and his lady love Alma (Britne Oldford). So they are forced to lock their doors and lock out the judgmental world with it, to bask in their own newlywed bliss. Until that door is knocked down by glaring lights, an incessant screech and a sudden lack of gravity. Next thing you know, Alma has been skinned and Kit is thrown into Briarcliff and given the silliest serial killer nickname ever made up in a writers room; Bloody Face.

But Kit isn’t the only new face in the crazy ward; reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) has begun poking around. She claims to be covering the bakery attached to the convent, but in reality she believes she has found the story that will make her career and break her free from the cooking desk. All she needs to do is prove that something wonky is going down at Briarcliff. Ironically she does indeed discover the sinister forces at play in the hospital; the least of which involve committing perfectly sane people. Of course she discovers this as a result of being locked up herself, for the mere crime of knowing too much, so her story is going to be a little difficult to fact check.

AHS has discovered, like many nostalgic shows before it, that working within the framework of the past is the best way to comment on present society without coming across too heavy handed. While it might not be such a scandal to have a gay school teacher anymore (depending on where you live), the references to having no legal rights to the medical treatment of your significant other is still a hardship that many same sex couples fight today. Of course, even with her dubiously granted rights, Wendy condemns her girlfriend, Lana, to wrongful imprisonment, so perhaps the message they’re trying to convey get a little lost in the delivery.

Lana’s suspicions stem from the intimidating Sister Jude, and certainly the sister has an ominous power over the ward, but the true monster of this tale is clearly Dr. Arthur Arden (the amazing and surprisingly menacing James Cromwell). Its no stretch to assume his hobby of splicing plants to create new species extends to human subjects as well. This theory is supported by the disappearing patients, the mysterious beasts being fed in the forest, and the jars of brains lining his laboratory. Like Sister Jude, Dr. Arden’s horror stems from his belief that what he is doing is for a greater good, though in this case his God is science.

Last season American Horror Story became a massive hit by combining overt sexuality, genuine scares, risky storytelling and a dizzying amount of twists that resulted in an entirely deceased cast, an instant understanding of the phrase “rubber man” and (perhaps) the antichrist. Just one episode in to this new season and we have a lusting nun, alien abductions and caning. It may seem impossible to top the extremity of the first season, but Asylum is sure as hell going to try. And we’re just along for the ride.

– Devin Mainville

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