Well it’s all over. You can rest and breathe easily, all the trauma is done. The trauma from the terror of this final episode? Not quite, more like the trauma of having to watch a ridiculously twisted, campy and ambitious show go all soft and fade quietly into the night, instead of going out in a magnificent blaze of psychotic glory. In possibly another attempt to shock or maybe just a sign of fatigue, the writers of American Horror Story: Asylum decided to go the emotional, introspective route, going for a twist in tone rather than a twist in the action. When the season started, we marveled at the shows willingness to try or do anything that seemed frightening, but in this episode they don’t seem willing to try to do anything but neatly wrap up our surviving cast members’ stories.
Neatly is the perfect word too. No copious amounts of blood (there’s some, but nothing to write home about by this show’s standards), no bombast or cliffhangers, just tidy exposition that sees everyone off to their fates. So much exposition, actually, that it all goes from tidy to tedious, constantly watching events pass in montage like the whole episode were the montage scenes in Scorsese’s Goodfellas, you know, without all the cool deaths and killer music. The one thing you can give credit to is the cinematography in the episode. All season long, the cinematography has been top notch, giving Briar Cliff just the right amount of grey and shadow and making motif colors like red pop right off the screen. In tonight’s episode, we’re treated to the vintage film look of Lana Winter’s Briar Cliff Exposé, with its grainy look and resemblance to the outdated health films that you were shown in elementary school. Another honorable mention goes to the director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Just like in “Spilt Milk,” Rejon uses aerial shots and unconventional framing, for instance the scene where Jude and Kit’s children walk off into the woods, to help bring a new beauty to the series.
But is beauty really what we want? Sure, this episode mined some tender moments, like the entire story of Kit rescuing Jude from Briar Cliff, nursing her back to health, and saying a heartfelt goodbye to her on her death bed, but is tender what I came for? Hell no! I can appreciate the lengths a show like American Horror Story has to go to try and rake some emotion other than disgusted, amused, astonished or frightened out of the viewer, but these little heartfelt goodbyes are not the type of goodbye I had planned to say to this season of AHS.
Maybe the root of the problem was in the show’s pacing. Just like a similar complaint I had with the previous season, main characters were killed off far too soon. This season’s most intriguing characters, Sister Mary Eunice, Oliver Threadson,and Dr. Arden, were offed so prematurely that by the end the show was left with a gap that they couldn’t possibly hope to fill. Sure, Lana makes a solid protagonist and her journey is harrowing, but her presence doesn’t glue the viewer to their TV like it did when wicked Mary Eunice would blow around Briar Cliff like a hurricane in cherry red lipstick.
Possibly the worst aspect of the episode is the “it was all just a dream” ending. Copping out and pulling a St. Elsewhere (if you’re too young to remember the show, you may be familiar with the pop culture event that was created by its “the whole series took place in an autistic kid’s snow globe” ending), the very end of the episode travels back to 1964, with Lana once again asking Jude for permission to interview Bloody Face, except this time, Jude convinces Lana that to forget about the interview and Lana walks out the front door. It may be just me, but I hate any ending that makes the journey of the whole show seem pointless. I guess it’s not surprising that American Horror Story would try to pull one over on the viewers one last time and for the ultimate laugh, but we just wish they wouldn’t have.
So how did the “pretend” ending go? Well, as Lana, now old and extremely successful, sits down to give an interview, she recounts the story of her life and describes the fate of each of AHS’s central characters. As mentioned earlier, Kit and his “special” children nurse Jude back to health, before being met with a kiss by the Angel of Death. A fitting ending for Jude, but the way the whole thing is told by Lana makes it seem a little too Forest Gump-y. Kit’s feels that way too. We learn that Kit is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but disappears before his death and we see him abducted one last time by the aliens. Kit’s abduction, the aliens and the alien children are left shrouded in mystery á la the X-Files. Kit’s storyline was the one I was most looking forward to seeing concluded, out of the characters we were left with, but sadly no clear ending was given.
The dastardly Monsignor’s crimes catch up to him, as we learn that the man killed himself, slitting his wrists in the tub, unable to continue with his life of lies. But the big ending is the story of Lana and Johnny. During her interview, Lana comes clean about her child being alive and tells a story about visiting him once. It’s all fitting because Bloody Face Jr. is in attendance to hear it, disguised as a crewmember. After the interview, Lana coaxes him out of hiding, recognizing him after police showed her a picture of the accused killer just a few days prior. The two have a heartfelt discussion, Johnny raises his gun only to put it down in a moment of weakness, and Lana picks it up and finishes him. It all is less climatic than it seems though. Johnny Threadson was just introduced only four episodes prior to this and his emotional orphan-turned-killer arc didn’t have enough time to fully develop and make the audience care like Lana’s journey to escape Briar Cliff.
So as the credits roll on the final episode, I’m left mourning not the end of the season, but mourning the loss of what could have been. All the fun lunacy could have built into a chaotic crescendo, but instead, it simmered and cooled off before revealing that the whole thing was just a mirage to begin with. The beginning of the season feels like some daft, hypnotic acid trip and the end is like realizing that you never really had taken any drugs at all, you just ate some bad Chinese food.