FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 13: “Madness Ends”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town that Dreaded Sundown)
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Continuum” – click here
The finale is upon us!
“Madness Ends” starts at the top with Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott) entering Briarcliff for the first time, the empty building, listening to his mother’s book on audiotape – as Lana (Sarah Paulson) herself narrates – and he walks the lonely, scummy halls, smoking meth in his pipe and taking in the terrifying air of the place. It’s spooky, watching the images of Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) walk by, talking to Johnny while he’s exploring the place where his mother and father first met, where they came together.
Awesome opening, where we’re whisked away to where the season started – Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) and her husband (Adam Levine) exploring the empty asylum on their honeymoon. We get a little background as to how exactly Leo Morrison lost his arm so quick and efficiently in those first wild moments of Asylum. Excellent writing and not in the sense that it’s innovative, new, it just makes sense. Tim Minear allows us a way to look at where Johnny is headed through where we began the journey ourselves, it all comes full circle; now we’re caught up, so to speak. Onward, into the dark night.Now in present day, Lana Winters is being interviewed after a long and storied career. Her partner Marian (Joan Severance) isn’t on-camera with her, but definitely present in Lana’s life. Ms. Winters talks about Briarcliff, the expose she did, though refuses to talk about Bloody Face and give him any further celebrity than he’s already been given.
What I love here is how there are equal parts Titicut Follies, Shock Corridor (which has turned up already in this second season), and even most importantly, or at least most obviously, Geraldo Rivera. Rivera did a piece on a Staten Island mental institution and this is directly mirrored in the news-like pieces Lana does inside Briarcliff. In fact, you can see more about that one plus a whole lot more in the documentary Cropsey.
I loved this whole bit because, while it does show Lana trying to be a bit opportunistic she is also clearly concerned with blowing the lid off things and exposing Briarcliff for what it is: a dirty hole in the ground. Though, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) was not there once Lana made her way inside.
SHOCK – Johnny Morgan turns up as a sort of P.A, handing off sparkling water right to Lana herself, addressing her properly as Ms. Winters.
Turns out Betty Drake – the lady who once was Jude Martin – was living with Kit Walker (Evan Peters). He managed to take her out of Briarcliff, he recognized she was still alive inside and there was still some of Jude, the good portion, left buried within. Back at the house, Jude became a part of the family Walker.
Kit learned how to forgive. He chose to forgive Jude. All in order to help his kids, to show them how to live, to be there for them.
Honestly this whole bit is one of the more emotional angles of this season for me. I really enjoyed Kit, but I think this tops the sentiment. He’s such an amazing character to me. He doesn’t strike me as naive, he seems strong. Over and over again, Kit proves that. Dealing with Jude wasn’t easy at first, though, it eventually got better for them all. He helped Jude come back to herself.
Or was it him? Rather, the children helped Jude. Soon Kit came to discover there was something different about them, something more pure than either him or Jude or anybody else. They take Jude out in the woods and upon return she feels more calm and collected and then things level out.
After awhile, Jude got sick. There’s a great emotionally wrecking scene between her and the two children, which is equal parts powerful acting from Jessica Lange and some wonderful looking shots capturing the beautiful moments. I honestly like how after all the darkness, and even despite her approaching death, there are some nice light bits here. Huge horror hound here, for those who are regular readers you know that, but still I enjoy these scenes because they’re organic, they fit for the person, the character Kit is/has become over the course of this season.
Finally, the Angel of Death (Frances Conroy) in her true form shows up for Jude, who is fully ready for the kiss. Love the music which follows the Angel, little piano piece with some strings in the background, plus the whole aesthetic in those moments is – pardon me for this one – to die for. Great, great bit.
Turns out Kit, after developing pancreatic cancer in his older years, disappeared without anybody knowing how, where he went, how he got there, anything. The children, though, insisted there was “no reason to mourn.” Suspicious? Of course. But we know the truth… is out there… (fucking Mulder I love you)
Back to Lana’s interview, more hard-hitting questions concerning Cardinal Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes). After she cornered him and asked questions about Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), as well as the atrocities which happened while Arden was under his employ, Howard ended up going the way of the Romans – opening his veins in the bathtub.Lana comes clean about her child being alive, admitting to having not raised him and giving him up. Nice touch! I’d not expected her to actually say this, yet there she goes. While she does talk about the boy, Johnny the P.A is sitting out behind a bit of stained glass, watching, listening; Lana recounts going through a “period of remorse“, visiting at school and trying to protect a little unsuspecting Johnny from being bullied. There’s a true eeriness to everything about this entire sequence, start to finish. Even watching the grown Johnny eat his eclair, or whatever it is, listening, chewing away with a sort of malice on his face, it’s chilling. Love McDermott; hail the Dylan! He is great and I’m so damn happy he came back for the second season, even if the role hasn’t been constant through every single episode it is still one hell of a performance and his significance is huge.
What we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived: modern day Bloody Face versus his mother Lana Winters. The seed of Oliver Thredson has come full circle, juts as the plot did and just how the episode did in terms of returning to the beginning of this season. Now, Johnny Morgan has wormed his way into being next to his mother. Finally. He wants to finish his father’s work, he needs to claim her as the final victim; to close off the cycle. We get lots of exposition here in the final 10 minutes – however, I’ve got to say it comes in a way that’s easy to digest. It isn’t outright bam-bam-bam-bam, there’s at least a bit of prose to the dialogue instead of straight up expository rambling. Ultimately, it’s the very finish of the episode I dig the most. When all is said and done, the tension between Johnny Morgan and his mother Lana Winters builds to a head and steams hot, bubbling over. The way in which Lana lulls Johnny in close, like a loving mother would, it’s perfect. The first time around I didn’t expect her to do what she did and BOOM there’s a bullet right between Johnny’s eyes. Fascinating in the most macabre way imaginable. Never has done been so sweet!
One last scene takes us back to a meeting between Lana and Jude, they talk of what’s ahead, the harsh road. Lana proclaims how tough she is, but Jude also warns of the Nietzschean principle of staring into the abyss and how the abyss stares back, though not in those same words. These are the final moments we witness inside Briarcliff Asylum.
Amazing season, one of my personal favourites honestly. Though there is room for improvement, I think lots was accomplished throughout Asylum and I can’t wait to start reviewing Coven. Keep checking back and I’ll soon have some of those for you to feast on!