American Horror Story: Asylum Season 2 DVD Review

AHS_2PA_jpgHRWhile some may have been surprised that Glee’s Ryan Murphy was capable of creating something as sick and twisted as American Horror Story in 2011, clearly those people hadn’t seen Nip/Tuck. The deranged, Murphy’s Nip/Tuck was a controversial show with dark undertones that clearly served as a stepping point to American Horror Story. For all Glee’s critics, Murphy is a clever and intelligent guy who understands genres and how to play audiences, and this is evident in American Horror Story.

American Horror Story really became a phenomenon in 2011 with its first season Murder House. With a main cast of TV elite such as Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) and Dylan McDermott (The Practice), as well as exciting guest stars like Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek) and Sarah Paulson (American Gothic, Studio 60), the show garnered critical acclaim and became water-cooler discussion in offices around the world. Oscar-winning Jessica Lange (Tootsie) picked up the Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy, and the Golden Globe too. This was success beyond anything anyone could have expected.

What’s it about? When Season 2 was announced, there were equal measures of excitement and trepidation.  Murphy announced his intentions to change the show completely, with a new setting and characters, but keep many of the same cast he had used before. It was a fascinating yet crazy idea that had everyone in a spin, and one that would prove to be a stroke of genius by Murphy as it allowed him to keep American Horror Story fresh and a real talking point each and every week.

Given the subtitle Asylum, Season 2 brings back Jessica Lange in a main role, this time as Sister Jude, a troubled nun who struggles to keep control of her job at Briarcliff Mental Institution, Massachusetts in 1964. Setting this season decades ago gives the show a different and creepier feeling to Murder House. There is still the claustrophobia and tension that comes with being trapped in a confined setting, but this time the danger comes from science and religion and many unknown variables of the time.

Working alongside Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), Sister Jude fights against her own demons while trying to look after the patients. Founded by Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), Briarcliff has many nooks and crannies, dark passages and locked rooms that hide many secrets. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is suspicious with his experiments and abusive behaviour, while psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) definitely isn’t as helpful as he might seem on the surface. What follows is a tale of questionable mental health for all involved, patients and staff alike.

AHS_201_Sc18_0238As the story unravels, loyalties are tested and truths are uncovered, with Kit Walker (Evan Peters) fighting to prove his innocence after being accused of being serial killer Bloody Face. Journalist Lana Winters (Paulson) infiltrates Briarcliff to expose its dark secrets only to end up far more involved than she ever intended. Along with Walker and Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré), Winters has the opportunity to show the world what is happening in the Institution but the staff try to stop her at all costs.

Verdict: Asylum is every bit as good as its predecessor in many different ways. The returning cast all give exceptional performances, even those like Dylan McDermott who have reduced roles this time around. The guest stars are again phenomenal – Deadwood’s Ian McShane, Carnivale’s Clea DuVall and Big Love’s Chloë Sevigny all give outstanding performances and will hopefully return in a future season in other roles.

While the show had its skeptics before the season started (myself included), Asylum proves itself in every way possible. It’s a gripping piece of television for fans of the first season as well as those just jumping in now. That’s the great thing about a fresh start – there’s no reason why anyone can’t start watching here. Lange arguably does the impossible and bests her Murder House performance, while Quinto rises to the occasion as a main cast member. Ryan Murphy really knows how to get the best out of his cast.

Extras: This set has a decent amount of special features which enhance the story of Asylum. The deleted scenes are intriguing yet they’re certainly not essential and the episodes don’t miss anything with these cut. ‘What Is American Horror Story: Asylum?’ is a featurette which looks behind the scenes of the show, talking to all the major people involved, and giving a little background as to why they went in this direction. This is the most interesting part of the extras, as it’s great to see how much effort and research goes into the show, and the enthusiasm everyone has for their work. We also have ‘The Orderly’, a short film set at Briarcliff, where an orderly shows someone around, ‘Welcome to Briarcliff Manor’ which focuses on the set, and ‘The Creatures’ is all about the makeup and all things bloody.

Final Words:  American Horror Story is one of the most exciting and addictive shows on TV and Asylum continues this trend. With Coven due to start on Fox UK on 29 October, it has a lot to live up to. This is a DVD that any horror fans should pick up, as it’s by far one of the creepiest and scary tales that television has ever seen. Perfect viewing for Halloween!

Rating: 5 / 5      

American Horror Story: Asylum is out today on DVD and Blu-ray.