American Horror Story season 2 finale review: Madness Ends
American Horror Story: Asylum reaches its finale with typically stylish aplomb. Here's Ron's review...
This review contains spoilers.
2.13 Madness Ends
Well, another American Horror Story has been written. The madness is ended, the loose ends are tied, Briarcliff has been thrown down in disgrace, and the speculation for the third season of FX's hit show has already started. Fortunately for the programme, it goes out with a real bang that resolves the entirety of the meaningful story lines, from Bloody Face Jr. and Lana to the final fates of Kit, the kids, Sister Jude, Monsignor Timothy, and the rest of the AHS gang.
One of the weirdest things about this season of AHS is that while the plots were more outrageous than the first season (aliens and Nazis are hard to top with simple killing and ghosts), the emotional stakes also seem a whole lot higher. When you're not distracted by mutants or horrifying humping, there was something at the centre of the program that appealed to viewers on an emotional level. We were drawn in to care about these characters in the process, and to see them in their final moments and see just how they went on about their business in the wake of the horrors at Briarcliff yielded some staggeringly moving moments.
It goes without saying that Jessica Lange, as always, was brilliant during this episode. Just the sheer amount of physical work she did, both as Sister Jude in the asylum and as Betty Drake during the final years of her life, ended up being a real payoff. She's got some wonderfully subtle expressions, and even when Sister Jude is being a little cranky, there are little hints that Lange allows through to show that Judy is a tough old bird with a heart of gold, even if she's always struggled to express that. Her final moments with Kit and his children were wonderfully sweet, and really hit home for me. The episode's real centrepiece, Lana Banana herself, also got to do some great work this week, thankfully not obscured behind too much old-age makeup. Between the two of them we have two of the better actresses on television in the same show, and it's a stronger show for it.
The script, from Tim Minear, served as the best possible capstone for this series of the program. One of the bigger complaints of the first season was the way it failed to really wrap everything up in a satisfying way. There were less insane moments, possibly because we expect the craziest possible scenario from this show, but there were legitimate character arcs crafted for the show, and some really satisfying conclusions. Even with all the time shifts and moving back and forth throughout character lives, it was easy to follow and place (thanks in part to the great period outfits being rocked by Evan Peters).
Not only did the script and actors craft out moments of unexpected beauty, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon continues the show's excellent standard of cinematography and filming with a crackling season-ender. There was great use of chiaroscuro shading this week, with some great match cuts connecting modern-day Lana to historical Lana, and that's without the spoiler of revealing the situation that led to a spotlight bed in a black-box theatre background. As for the cinematography, the scene involving Jude teaching Kit and his children how to swing dance was a thing of beauty, as was Sister Jude's slow traipse into the woods alongside Kit's children. All of the scenes involving Jude this week were incredibly well done and given an impressive amount of artistry considering the show's cable TV status.
That's the thign about American Horror Story in a nutshell. It hasn't always been successful, but it has definitely been clever (even when that cleverness is completely flayed away). Even the show's missteps have been out of a desire to push limits, expand stories, pack more into a finite amount of network air time. I'd rather a show try for too much than to not give the home audience enough, and that's definitely a good description of AHS under Ryan Murphy's guiding hand.
Shine on, you crazy murder diamond.
Read Ron's review of the previous episode, Continuum, here.
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