Tuesday, October 23, 2012

'American Horror Story: Asylum' Episode 1: 'Welcome to Briarcliff'

"American Horror Story: Asylum" can best be described as a horrible hodge-podge monstrosity of "Fire in the Sky" meets "The Island of Dr. Moreau" meets "Freaks" meets "The Magdelene Sisters" meets "Girl Interrupted" meets "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Throw in any title of a bad B-horror slasher movie with a killer that has an unimaginative name from the 1980s to get a premier episode that is just jammed to the gills with clashing fictional archetypes that have no business being in the same room together, let alone in the same episode, and you'll have the first episode of "American Horror Story: Asylum."

The first episode was so muddled and hard to follow that I kept going, "Wait, what? What just happened? What the f--- is going on? Why is that guy getting probed anally? Who the heck allowed the evil mad scientist to run an insane asylum to begin with, and why isn't he in jail or on trial for murder yet?"

The subject of insane asylums and being committed, or just being insane for that matter, can be downright terrifying if done correctly. Unfortunately, the only thing scary about AHS:Asylum is that anyone paid to have it filmed, and that FX decided to air it.

Episode 1: "Welcome to Briarwood" starts out with two sexy lovers entering the Briarwood Asylum in modern times on their sexy haunted honeymoon tour. There they start getting frisky on an old, dusty and no doubt infested electro-convulsive therapy table. They hear a noise and go to investigate. The noise leads them to a locked door.

While his hot and bothered wife goes down on him, Mr. Sexy Lover puts his hand in the food slot and tries to film what's inside with his phone's camera. His arm then gets ripped off. Yep. Don't fornicate in horror stories. If you do, you're the first to die.

Flashback to 1964:

Kit Walker is being harassed by his peers at the gas station where he works. There is an innuendo about his black wife when one of the guys steals his chocolate and eats it in front of him. "MMM... Chocolate." (But the innuendo is so dense, that I didn't catch it until way after the fact when it's revealed that his secret wife is a black woman. Boy do I feel dumb. And possibly naive.) Kit Walker is in an interracial marriage in the 1960s, which could possibly get him lynched by the local  yokels and is abducted by aliens. Ahem, Betty and Barney Hill anyone?

Kit goes home, has hot sex with his nubile wife, and lies about in his tidy whiteys for a while. Then he's abducted by aliens. Yes, that's right. Aliens, that not only anally probe him, but also rip the skin off of his lovely wife. The abduction and subsequent anal probing drives him completely INSANE, to the point where he is skinning people alive and supposedly wearing their flesh.

Now, I wouldn't have such a problem with this if it were actually shown, if the first few episodes of the show were about Kit's descent into madness and his subsequent admission into a mental institution. But it wasn't, and they're not. All the information we have about his wife being skinned alive is related to us in dialogue. He doesn't have flashbacks to it, and the audience certainly has no freaking clue as to if this indeed really happened.

At any rate, Kit is framed for murder by the aliens and sent to Briarwood Asylum for evaluation prior to his trial in court. Because apparently  there isn't any sort of local psychiatrist that they could contact or ship in from out of state to get him to put Kit through a series of tests while he is in prison awaiting trial. Nope. He goes strait to the loony bin, and man is that place crazy. But not in the good way.

Upon his arrival, we are introduce to the plucky reporter Lana Lang err.. I mean Lana Winters, who enters the asylum on a pretense to interview Sister Jude about the great bread that the patients are making there.

                                  I just love her Laverne and Shirley-esque "L" lapel pin. 

The Briarwood nuns believe that keeping the patients active and productive will help them be cured of their mental illnesses. Oops. Did I say mental illness? My bad. Sister Jude doesn't believe in that sort of thing. She thinks that psychiatry is a quaint thing used to defend the sins of people, and that they only way to cure them is to beat the Devil out of them. Yeah. She isn't a cliched character at all.

After a while, Kit is introduced to the patients in a scene that harkens back to the classic film, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Which, now that I think about it, Sister Jude is a little like the horrible tyrant, Nurse Ratched.

And sorry, Ms. Winters, but serial killers aren't referred to by their nickname alone by newspaper reporters. The nickname is usually inserted between the first and last name, even in dialogue, so the fact that the perky lesbian reporter, Lana Lang, (Oh wait, did we forget to mention that she's a lesbian? If we did, here's some more saucy footage for you)  only referred to him as "Bloody Face" and not Kit "Bloody Face" Walker, which is how most serial killers are talked about in the media, makes the scene completely unbelievable and shallow feeling.

Some other, mostly unimportant things happen, such as a patient who the audience never met dying, and then Sister Jude goes to yell at Dr. Arden, the local mad scientist who is involved in studying genetic mutations. He confesses that the patients under his care have been disappearing  and that a lot of them are dead. Instead of going to the police to get her nemesis arrested and sent to jail for murder/medical malpractice, she glares at him and tells him that she knows who to deal with the male patriarchy and then storms off. *sigh*

Afterward, the simpering Sister Eunice is sent by Dr. Arden to feed the monstrosities in the woods with two buckets full of body parts. Which is where, I assume, the mad doctor's mutated patients are now residing. While tending to the mutated beasts, Lana Lang comes up to her and convinces her to let her into the asylum.

Lana does a little bit of investigating and is then knocked out by a monster who reaches through the feeding slot of its door and grabs her violently. When she comes to, she finds herself strapped to a bed. In the meantime, Sister Jude ferreted out where Lana lived, went there, deduced from just looking around, or perhaps, from the smell alone, that Lana is in a lesbian relationship with her roommate, and bullies the poor woman into signing a legal document to get her committed. Overall, this scene was the least coherent and made the least amount of sense.

Then we see a room covered in gouges made by large claws, where Sister Jude is glaring at Dr. Arden, who is nonchalantly cleaning the room with disinfectant.

The episode ends with Mrs. Sexy Lover running through the "death chute" of the asylum trying to get help for her now one armed husband, because apparently the doors and windows are locked and she can't get out the way she came in. There, she comes face-to-face with Bloody Face! Who, by the way, is looking pretty good for someone who has to be about 65 years old by now. Think about it; if he was in his early twenties in the early 60s, which is what I'd assume Kit to be, he'd be the same age as my dad.

                                               Why, hello there ladies. Who wants a kiss?

I have a theory about that. Either Kit "Bloody Face" Walker has aged well thanks to the crazy "Island of Doctor Moreau" experiments that turned him into a mutant freak, or--- dun, dun, DUN!, he is traveling through time thanks to the aliens. Yeah. Time traveling aliens, that's the ticket. That's what this show really needs. Screw the rest of that crap. Let's have more sexy abduction sequences, while traveling through time! Am I right?

Now, there's so much wrong with this episode, it was hard for me to pinpoint exactly why it didn't make any sense to me. So far I've come up with several problem areas:

  • Too many monster genre types
  • Sexy, sexy ratings or soap opera syndrome
  • The inaccurate portrayal of a mental institution in the 1960s
  • Cliched stereotypes of the evil nun and vile geneticist

Less is More
My main problem with AHS: Asylum is that instead of just picking one theme and running with it, it appears as though the scriptwriter got into a room with several other people and they all wrote down their favorite monster movies on a piece of paper and threw them into a box. The writer then drew out five different slips of paper, and decided to use each monster in the same story. And I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work. It just doesn't.

I'm almost 100 percent certain that the brainstorming sessions for the show looked something like this:

Personally, I'm betting on Sasquatch/Wendigo/Yeti being introduced in the third episode of the season.

Sorry Kit. You're going from the alien horror sub-genre to something much, much worse: a poorly done period piece set in an insane asylum run by a sadistic nun and an evil genetic researcher who is going to turn you into a mutant freak. Yeah. I'd be crying too if I had to live through such a trite storyline.

Sexy, Sexy Ratings
The one thing that really stood out to me, other than the fact that the plot line is so confused that it is running around itself in circles like a dog chasing its tail, is that there were more sex scenes in the first episode of ASH: Asylum than there were drama sequences, or even action sequences for that matter. The only reason I can think for this to occur is that more sex scenes gets the show higher ratings.

Sure, the sex scenes are "edgy," I guess, if you consider two beautiful people bumping and grinding on dirty tables in an abandoned tuberculosis ward/insane asylum to be edgy. But just because they show a little more skin than daytime TV doesn't mean that it's better than a soap opera. In fact, I've seen soap operas that have better plot lines and story flow than what AHS: Asylum has to offer us. And that's just sad, because soaps are notorious for their shallow characters and ridiculous plot lines.

"I'm sorry ma'am. It's a brain cloud. We're going to have to operate."

The Insanity of the Insane Asylum

Speaking of ridiculous, Briarcliff Manor asylum as it is presented in the show could have existed in the early 1900s, up to the 1920s at the latest. It would not have existed in the 1960s. Asylums were phased out during the 1950s and replaced with outpatient care and psychiatric wards in hospitals. The 60s were actually a time of great reform in the mental health industry, which was championed by the great JFK himself, of whom Sister Jude just gushes about during her dinner with the object of her onanism, the Monsignor Timothy, who wishes to move up the religious food chain and place Sister Jude as Mother Superior.

MMM... monsignor, you're so delicious, I could just eat you up with a side of fava beans.

In fact, the National Institute for Mental Health, or NIMH, was established during his short term as president of the United States. Electro-convulsive therapy and lobotomies were being replaced with the first effective psychotropic drugs to help schizophrenics and clinically depressed people on the market.

Briarcliff Manor, and it's sorely understaffed halls (seriously, there's like one orderly, two nuns, and a mad doctor running the place and that's it) is weirdly anachronistic, or as my SO Shane Strange says, it's schizo-anachronistic, in that it picks and chooses what Ye Olde Tymey things it uses and which elements of the 1960s that it prefers to include, such as the threat of a lynch mob coming to burn down their home causing Kit and his lovely wife to marry in secret, and the blatant abuse of homosexuals by psychiatrists, who were at the time considered to have a mental defect that needed to be cured.

Evil Nuns, Vile Geneticists, and Bears Oh My!
Who Needs Subtlety?

OK, so I seriously have a problem with how Sister Jude, and her underling Sister Sobby Suck-up, er.. I mean Sister Eunice (who may or may not actually be Sister Jude's daughter. Gasp!)  are portrayed.

Nuns that were involved with hospitals and sanitariums did so, and continue to do so, as acts of charity. CHARITY. Not, "we have to save their souls from the devil." No, that's more of the Baptist's shtick. Sorry.

Nuns helped the poor, the indigent, and those less fortunate as an act of kindness in order to become closer to God, not to spread the gospel or force people into converting to Catholicism. Were there nuns who over stepped their bounds and thwacked kids with rulers in school? Sure. They probably even used a paddle or too on the really unruly children. But, none of them kept a closet so full of whips and riding crops that it would make a shy librarian with an S&M fetish blush. Which is why Sister Jude's character is ridiculous.

Her "forbidden romance" plot thread is shallow and silly, her obsession with beating the devil out of the insane is inhumane and not very Godly, and her strange omniscient ability to ferret out a lesbian couple, know what to say to get her lover to sign her off and get her committed, and even run to get the paperwork typed up by a legal secretary and approved by a judge so quickly is laughable and completely unbelievable.

Don't get me wrong, I love Jessica Lange. She has a great screen presence and is a wonderful actress, but her character is just... not very good.

Evil Nuns are a cliche, so are evil villainous mad scientists that perform vivisections on patients. Dr. Arden (who may or may not be an evil Nazi scientist) is performing cruel genetic experiments on plants and people, in particular he is taking his test subjects from the patients of the asylum and exposing them to gamma radiation, in an attempt to create Hulk-like super soldiers or just to be a sadistic dick. It's unclear at this point.

When done right, an unethical scientist performing human experiments can be scary. However, Dr. Arden is too blunt and out in the open about everything. He doesn't dodge the issue when confronted by Sister Jude, he outright tells her that the patients that went under his care are dead. His confession would have been enough to get any normal person (nun or otherwise) to call the police and put him under investigation for murder or, at the very least, medical malpractice.

Does he confess that they're dead to cover up the fact that he's turned them into mutant freaks that are living in the woods? The ones that Sister Eunice is forced to feed human body parts to keep them quiet? Probably.

Love it or hate it, "American Horror Story: Asylum" has just gotten started. I can't wait to see what crazy stunts they try to pull next.


  1. You didn't like the TV series 'Lost' did you?

  2. No, no I didn't like the TV series "Lost." However I did think that the title was effective, as it described the plot perfectly. Why do you ask?