AHS: ASYLUM … On the Divided Viewership

I’ve been an avid AHS fan since watching the first episode of the first season, enamored by the intriguing mesh of macabre, drama, and insightful commentary. It was and still is a “smart” show, written on a high literary level and meant for fans who enjoy a little depth with their horror.

With great interest, I’ve been following viewer responses to Season 2, and I’ve noticed that there is a distinct divide among those who love the current incarnation and those who despise it—with really no middle ground. I think the main reason for this is the fact that nearly the entire cast is comprised of anti-heroes. No one is entirely likeable, although there are a few with whom we feel compelled to sympathize … to varying degrees.

I think that, among those who see this as a failing point to the season, there exists a resentment over just how realistically fallible the characters are. Most of us, were we to live our lives as a television show or movie, would classify as anti-heroes. After all, we’re only human, and all human beings have flaws, some worse than others. I think some viewers see in themselves those flaws, which they’d just as soon escape from through their choices of entertainment rather than embrace the characters portraying them and sympathize with their imperfections.

As a person with a literary background quite adept in critical analysis, I find Season 2 to be even more compelling than Season 1—which I do also feel was brilliant. The great minds behind this series have gone above and beyond to add level upon level of speculative genius. Every scene is with purpose. Nearly every piece of dialog has embedded within it a statement about either the beauty or darkness that exists in human nature. Every camera shot combines form and function, slanting or obscuring to add to a character’s disorientation, exuding darkness or vivid color to enhance the feel or purpose of the scene.

In last night’s (January 2, 2013) episode, “The Name Game,” the writing and production crew focus primarily on the theme of perception versus reality. Pepper the “pinhead” is suddenly wise and mild-mannered. Dr. Arden comes to realize the failure of his experiments and, for the first time in the series, he is forced into self-reflection. The possession-induced corruption that has taken hold of the innocent and pure Sister Mary Eunice creates a mirror through which Arden must face the cold, painful realization that he is as much of a destructive force as the demon that has claimed her. She has also forever tainted and destroyed all that was essentially good at Briarcliff. She defiled the Monsignor, pushed him to murder, tormented him with temptation of power, and brought Dr. Arden to suicide. I would like to challenge those familiar with the show to take an inventory of how many of the Ten Commandments were broken as the result of Sister Mary Eunice’s possession.

The most memorable scene in last night’s episode is without question Jude’s detachment from reality after given a sadistically heavy dose of electroshock therapy. When she chooses “The Name Game” on the jukebox Sister Mary Eunice has installed, the profundity of the ensuing clip is both chilling and surreal. Suddenly, the room is filled with color, dancing, and joy. Of course, all of this exists only in Jude’s mind, her ability not only to stay grounded in reality, but also to put together a single rational thought, suddenly being her greatest hardship. The scene in which Sister Mary Eunice selects as the jukebox’s first song as being, “I Put a Spell on You,” is equally profound, exemplifying the spell she’s had over the entire establishment and its personnel since her possession.

While there are many out there who view Season 2 of AHS as sub-par, I must argue that it is among the handful of exceptional series currently available on television. It is performance art in one of its most exceptional degrees. It is the perfect combination of flawless acting, amazing script work, and artful direction. It exhibits a level of brilliance that is rare in contemporary television, and I for one cannot wait to see what is yet to come.

Leigh M. Lane is a speculative fiction author whose works span from sci-fi to horror. Her most recent full-length works are The Hidden Valley Horror, Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods. For more about her work, go to her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.


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