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Excellent Fall Shows that Deserve Your Attention Now: American Horror Story: Asylum

By on October 20, 2012
Jessica Lange as Sister Jude in American Horror Story. Image: Frank Ockenfels © FX

Jessica Lange as Sister Jude in American Horror Story. Image: Frank Ockenfels © FX

What do you do when you have a hugely successful first season with beloved characters and a nearly cult-like following? If you are as bold as producer Ryan Murphy, you start your second season from scratch with a brand new setting and story. American Horror Story: Asylum takes place primarily in 1964 (with some present-day flash-forwards) in an insane asylum. Last season focused on the Harmon family, though none of them show up in the season two premiere that aired this week. Several of the leading actors from the first season do return, but as entirely new characters.

All of this change sounds a little worrying to a big fan of the show. Why mess with a good thing? But they have truly pulled it off and, as a result, avoided becoming stale. We probably all know the disappointment of watching a favourite series decline because they recycled what worked the first time. By going in this direction, the creators of the show have again tested the limits of TV and come out successful.

Despite being completely different from season one, the show still has that dark, unnerving tone that viewers fell for initially. Much of that is thanks to the era-appropriate music, incredibly talented cast (can Jessica Lange do anything poorly?), and chilling setting. Speaking of chilling, if you are the type to scare easily, you may want to fast-forward the opening credits. Seriously, they are probably the creepiest part. If you haven’t watched yet, there are some minor spoilers ahead.

Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe and Jessica Lange all return in the first episode, “Welcome to Briarcliff”. The show’s new blood includes pop star Adam Levine, James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes and Lizzie Brocheré. The entire cast is undoubtedly very strong, but Lange leads the way as Sister Jude, a nun at the asylum.

Evan Peters as Kit Walker. Image: Michael Yarish © FX

This role is a big departure from Lange’s last sadistic character, Constance Langdon, and is already a very intriguing one.  She appears devoted to her faith and somewhat protective of the patients, but has no qualms with getting out her spanking rod or shaving off hair as a punishment. She also appears to be attracted to her priest, though it is unclear whether she is lusting after the power he can offer her or him as person. Either way, it’s probably inappropriate to wear red lingerie under your habit when you dine with another member of the clergy. This clashing of ideals will make for a tormented character, one worthy for an actress like Lange to sink her teeth into.

Another already impressive character is Kit Walker, played by Evan Peters, who became quite popular during his role as Tate Langdon last season. Kit appears to be a much more wholesome and initially likeable character for Peters to show some diversity with. Kit has already gone through plenty of grief, from losing his wife to being admitted into an insane asylum. He may also have been abducted by aliens. Yes, all of that actually happens in just the first episode. American Horror Story is not afraid to go there, or anywhere.

We are given hints of many other eerie plotlines, such as a gruesome monster in the woods that feeds on body parts. The asylum’s ‘doctor’ (you’ll understand why we have to use that term loosely when you watch) may be doing a lot more harm than healing, and is clearly going to battle with Sister Jude throughout the season. The flash-forwards to present day suggest that the evil we are introduced to in 1964 is far from dead. A journalist attempting to reveal the truth behind the asylum will discover what the consequences of messing with Sister Jude are. Also, aliens?

In case you were worried about being underwhelmed after all the hype for this show, don’t be. If the first episode is any indication, this show is going to live up to the standards of last season, and maybe even rise above it. To summarize my thoughts on the show so far, let’s borrow a line from Adam Levine’s character: “You are so demented – I love you.”

American Horror Story: Asylum airs Wednesdays on FX.