Does anyone remember 2011? That’s the last time American Horror Story was on TV. I talk tons of shit about series that pump out the normal American excess of twenty episodes or more a season, but at least those shows don’t ask fans to wait ten fricking months in between. But I’m taking a lesson from Tupac, AHS. I ain’t mad at cha. I embrace your return, and am ever so thankful that this season’s premiere dwarfed last season’s pilot in almost every way. Maybe it’s because my expectations were fully formed this go around. Whatever the reason, it’s good to have horror on TV without any vampires or Dexter’s ghost dad to deal with. Welcome to Asylum. We hope you despise your stay.
”All monsters are human.”
These words, spoken with conviction by Jessica Lange’s spicier-than-ghost-peppers Sister Jude, seem to antithesize the actual goings-on in and around Briarcliff Manor, a notorious tuberculosis ward turned insane asylum. It was the setting for 46,000 deaths between its opening in 1908 and the Catholic Church buyout in 1962, when It gained its “No Way Out” reputation. This is exactly the kind of multi-layered setting one would assume Murphy and Falchuk would explore after taking on the haunted house sub-genre in the first season. It’s huge, full of dark corners, and is able to house an enormous cast of characters.
Before getting to the central 1964 timeline, we follow sex-crazed newlyweds Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa (Jenna Dewan) on the twelfth and last stop of their Haunted Honeymoon Tour, self-perpetuated because “Mommy is a horror freak.” Sexually repressed nuns and nymphomaniacs can wait. This couple wants to sex up all of the decrepitude of this seemingly abandoned asylum, complete with creepy religious paraphernalia strung up outside. Some sex talk and sexy pictures later, and Leo straps Teresa down, faking electro-shock therapy before they get down to the kind of business where “Ready for your injection?” reads as erotic dialogue. They’re stopped by a noise, perhaps the unspectacularly-named Bloody Face, coming from behind a heavy door with a slide window. Using his cell phone’s video camera, Leo sticks his hand through the window and records the darkness, all while Teresa starts going down on him. Of course, a boogey monster quickly appears and rips his arm off almost at the shoulder, turning him into a screaming bloody mess. Teresa hysterically runs around trying to find an exit that may lead to help. Smash to the jump-cut clue-filled opening credits, crammed with religious statues, nuns riding patients, and crab-walking up staircases.
”Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sin.”
Flashback to 1964. Kit Walker (Evan Peters), a gas station attendant, arrives home after work for some tighty-whitey tossing coitus with his wife Alma (Britne Oldford). Due to it being bi-racial, I assume, their marriage is kept secret from their parents. Afterward, as Alma makes Kit’s dinner, radio static and blinding lights take over the room. Temporarily assuming it’s harassment, Kit finds his theory disproved by the loud crashes and destruction of everything in the house just before he and a few other items are sucked up to the ceiling. Tractor beam, you say? Apparently so, as proven by flashy snippets of Kit strapped down in a white room while skinny green things push into his backside. This is the point when millions of Americans’ trust wavered as they arched an eyebrow and screamed, “Seriously?!?” The truth is out there, people.
Finally, we get to Briarcliff proper, as reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) arrives under the guise of writing about the asylum’s bakery, made semi-famous from Sister Jude’s molasses bread. Let’s meet some characters here. Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) takes Lana to Sister Jude, though not before running into the scary, baby killing, buck-toothed “lady” that I’ll refer to has Hairy Krishna. (She shows up in the “This Season On…” previews, so I hope she’s one of the regulars.) Jude is playing barber to Shelley (Chloe Sevigny), the resident nymphomaniac. Jude is a no-nonsense nun, guided by her three “P”s: productivity, prayer, and purification. She stands behind the visionary leadership of Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), and rails against the science-based treatments of Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), who will most assuredly become a mad scientist by the time this is done. Trepanation with your coffee, anyone?
Lana’s real intentions are soon discovered, as she is overly interested in the arrival of the previously mentioned Bloody Face, accused of skinning his victims and making masks from the skin. Turns out, this maniac is Kit Walker, though he professes his innocence over and over, even as he’s whipped. (I wonder who these other victims are.) After being in the general population of the asylum for all of two minutes, Kit gets hit on by Shelley and gets hit in the face by someone else, a fight that gets him thrown into a straitjacket in solitary. A kind soul, Grace (Lizzie Brocheré), brings him a plate of food and allows him a drag of her cigarette. She’s accused of chopping up her family, but she also claims innocence.
Dr. Arden becomes Kit’s reverse savior, taking him out of solitary confinement, only to strap him to another table, causing flashes of his abduction to flourish. Arden believes the devil resides in the brain, not in hell, and has shelves of jarred brains to prove it. He finds a solid bulge on the side of Kit’s neck, too hard to be a tumor. He cuts Kit open with a scalpel, as was done by his green captors, and finds a black insect looking thing that sprouts legs. It almost looked like a computer chip of some kind. Alien spyware?
Back in Lana’s world, she and her lesbian partner/elementary science teacher Wendy (Clea DuVall) talk theories and agree that Lana should go back to investigate the asylum further, which she does, in the dead of night. In what will certainly be one of this season’s mysteries, she stumbles upon Mary Eunice leaving two buckets of “food” out in the middle of the woods, near what’s referred to as the “death chute,” where all the TB victims of old were carted out. What kinds of creatures are out there?