MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE's a mess. But a creepy one about the horrors of neglected mental illness.
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!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 12: “Continuum”
Directed by Craig Zisk (Weeds, Nip/Tuck)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Spilt Milk” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Madness Ends” – click here
Starting off back at the Walker house, Kit (Evan Peters) finds himself bloody, axe in hand, being called for by his child. Has he gone and actually murdered someone this time?
Who knows. Was it a dream?
Cut back to Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) stuck at her drawings, trying to recreate the aliens who took them, alongside Alma (Britne Oldford) who seems to be doing all the cooking/et cetera. Kit is obviously involved with protests of some sort, marching, “fighting the good fight.” While it’s not exactly an unhappy home, at all, there’s still an aspect about it that isn’t quite right. Particularly, Alma is worried about Grace’s fixation on the aliens; Kit passes it off, but Alma wants him to spend more time with her, to try and placate those worries of her own. Either way the entire situation is strange, two wives, one husband, two babies.
Then comes an attack on the house. At first, Alma believes it’s the aliens coming back for them. However, it’s only Billy Marshall (Joe Egender) and the rest of the local redneck idiots. Sadly there’s no real big help from police, as they’re more worried about Kit’s apparent polygamy than anything that might happen to him or his family.
I thought there was a great Amityville Horror vibe going at times here in the opening 10 minutes or so, from the beginning sequence with Kit appearing to have killed somebody in the living room by axe, to the quick cuts while Alma and Grace argue together back and forth with shots of Kit chopping wood. There’s definitely a bit of that film’s influence in these moments, I have no doubt.
Must say, I was surprised: Kit tries to do his best after Alma chops Grace to death with the axe. Incredible how the script loops things back around in that sense, playing with our expectations. Great stuff from Murphy and director Craig Zisk.
Back at Briarcliff, Jude (Jessica Lange) plays cards with Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and others at one of the tables. In strolls cock of the walk Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) to talk with Jude; he’s leaving the asylum for an appointment as Cardinal in New York. What a crock of shit, hey? The typical religious way: failure or outright incompetency, in massive and fatal ways, often means a promotion in the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchical, bureaucratic farce of an organization.
Though, he wants Jude to be released, she starts to have trouble when a woman looking much like the Angel of Death (Frances Conroy) shows up as a new inmate; Briarcliff is now an overflow facility. This begins to threaten her pending release. Thrown in a cell with this woman, things get tense and Jude starts to slightly unravel once again.
She starts to lose time. Suddenly there are two years or so gone, Howard has been Cardinal for that time. Even poor Pepper is dead. There’s no end to Jude’s madness now, unfortunately. Honestly, this whole bit is slightly muddled and while I like it, the writing is surprisingly sloppy for Murphy, of whom I’m usually a fan in terms of this series. He is a good writer, I just find this section of this episode a bit lazy. Still, I love the tragedy of Jude anyways.
Cue up some Lana Winters, 1969, as her book is on the bestseller list for ten weeks – Maniac; One Woman’s Story of Survival. She proudly gives a reading at a bookstore for a group listening intently to every word, each syllable. Lana laps it up. She also puts things in the book which never happened, even Ms. Winters herself sees Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) chastise her from the crowd, as well as her lover Wendy (Clea Duvall) who she passes off in the book as merely a friend and roommate.
While Lana is clearly an admirable character, she survived so much and fought so viciously well, there’s a dislikable quality to her in these scenes at the bookstore. Worst of all, not everything Lana promised to Kit happened, she didn’t fully take Briarcliff down but merely stained its reputation and turned it into a snake pit.
Things change slightly once Kit reveals to Lana that Jude is still alive within the depths of the horror that is Briarcliff, but Lana is hardened. Ultimately she doesn’t care much about what happens to Jude, Kit, or anyone else, not anymore.
With a great natural edit we switch back to Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott) whose quest has led him into a bookstore, searching out a copy of Maniac by his long lost mother Ms. Lana Winters. This scene is extraordinarily creepy. He faces off against an old woman – her mother owned a copy of it – and there’s some real nasty exchange of dialogue, getting creepier by the second. I love how it ended, as Johnny doesn’t even get violent, he lays out what he’s going to do concerning his mother. Then he asks, semi-angrily/politely, for her to hand over the book, which she does quickly, trembling all over. Nice finish.Good episode in some respect, though, again I think part of it was a bit sloppy on the writing. I did love the bit with Johnny Morgan at the end and I loved the whole opening 10-15 minutes, that was real masterful television.
The next episode and finale of Season 2 Asylum, “Madness Ends”, is up next. The episode is directed by series regular Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Stay tuned and I’ll be finishing up this second season before moving onto the next!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 7: “Dark Cousin”
Directed by Michael Rymer (Hannibal, Queen of the Damned)
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the next episode, “Unholy Night” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” – click here
In the opening to this episode, as Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré) is seemingly about to die in a bed, two nuns discovering her bleeding everywhere all over herself, we get the WONDERFUL FRANCES CONROY returning to American Horror Story. She is the Angel of Death; that’s right, the Angel of fucking Death. in she swoops to kiss Grace, however, one of the nurses pounds her in the chest to spring her back to life. Sadly, it’s apparent Grace would’ve rather died.
Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) and his sassy partner Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) have a little chat. She chastises him for botching the sterilization on Grace. However, he claims not to have performed any such operation. She says “all of her lady parts have been scooped out.”
What’s most wild about this scene is how Arden gets physical with Mary. She warns he’ll die next time, throwing him across the room and into the wall.
An inmate named Miles (Tongayi Chirisa) sits in the bakery listening to the voices in his head spit vitriol through his brain. He’s had enough, as they egg him on. All of a sudden, he asks to try and fix the meat slicer, as it looks to be slicing too thin, he says. The voices scream at him until he lays his wrists down into the slicer’s blade.
The shocker comes when Sister Mary Eunice comes down to see an ancient Aramaic word scrawled across the white tiled wall of the bakery. Mary asks Miles sternly: “Did you summon her?” Hmmm. Would that be Satan ad the Angel of Death having a little interfamilial trouble? Perhaps. We will most definitely see.
Certainly, as Miles gets locked away by the guards and finds himself alone in a tiny cell, the Angel of Death comes to him, offering her kiss: that of Death. Love the BIG WINGS which protrude out of Frances Conroy’s back; the imagery is incredible, as well as the entire costuming she has going on, all of the black, very 1950s-ish.
Plus, fashion aside, there’s an excellent meeting between the cousins: Satan and the Angel of Death. Two amazing actors going back and forth, all sorts of good stuff especially once the real Sister Mary breaks through a moment before SATAN
HIMHERSELF rises up to stuff her back down into the dark recesses of her own soul. Just can’t get enough of this whole bit.Dr. Arden goes to visit Grace, mostly in order to not have to take a fall for her botched hysterectomy. All the while, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is fighting to try and get his case heard; he’s now told about Grace, that she may not make it through the night with her injuries and infection. A lawyer lays out Kit’s case pretty plainly, not doing much to help other than progressing forward trying to say it’s best to go for an insanity plea, to say he doesn’t know right from wrong. Ironically, Kit jumps up and cracks him over the head, knocking him out behind his desk then runs off.
Disgustingly we’re treated to a scene of Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) thrashing on top of his surrogate mommy, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who fades off and sees the Angel of Death off at the peripherals of her vision. She seeks THE KISS slightly, feeling as if “death might be better” and that she used to be scared of it, but not any longer. Though right on the verge, Lana stops short of the kiss saying “not yet”. This is probably the biggest testament to her power as of yet, over anything else which came before. She willingly heads back into the situation.
Following quickly, Oliver descends upon her very angry. He feels as if the’ve reached an impasse, there’s nowhere to go except MURDER for Lana. But he claims to wish to make it as painless as possible for her; y’know, painless death.
This begins a savage fight for survival. Great fight and chase sequence here, as Lana manages somehow to escape the lair of Dr. Bloody Face. She runs out into the road where a car eventually stops to pick her up. The driver (William Mapother) is immediately quite an edgy man, accusing her of probably doing something to her boyfriend. He’s obviously got his own mommy issues, women issues in general, raging on about his own personal life, his wife cheating on him, et cetera. Then in the back of the car, the Angel of Death appears. Lana watches as the driver blows his own brains out and the car goes smashing down.
What might be one of the most cruel twists so far sees Lana back at Briarcliff, Sister Mary Eunice standing over her, stuck in a head brace and the whole getup. She’s back in a bed, right at home once more within those hideous walls.
Back to Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) who has discovered Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis) bleeding out on the floor with a piece of glass in his neck. Knocks at the door come, she sees blood on the television saying MURDERER with newspaper articles about the girl she killed in a hit and run; are they there, or simply images in her own mind?
She has a major flashback to her old days in 1949, as a singer, a serious alcoholic. Intense, desperate, sad scene for Jude whose further flashes to the night she killed the girl keep coming back, over and over. There’s some excellent little black-and-white bits here that I found incredibly effective. There’s this bit where we get an almost Oliver Stone-like feel to certain shots, of which I’m a big fan.
Now Jude is being framed for the death of Goodman. Sister Mary Eunice finally reveals herself to Jude, who remembers Jed Potter and the exorcism, what happened to the young nun as the presence left that boy. This all puts Jude in a terrible way, an awful state, back on the booze and yet knowing all the TRUTH but feeling powerless to do anything about it.
What does she do? Tries to commit suicide by opening her veins in the bathroom at a diner.
OR NOT. Tricked us. “Nothing but a passing thought,” Jude tells the Angel of Death out in a booth at the diner. Luckily the angel says she doesn’t judge, she merely comes and takes; never judging, only doing the job. Even more of Jude’s character comes out here and it’s so crushing to hear parts of her former life, how bad it was for her, what led her down a path of alcoholism and doubt. Solid scene, though, seeing Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy back together again, quite unlike Season 1 yet still impressive.
Jude goes to see the parents of the girl she killed in the hit and run years ago. It’s quite a tense, almost awkward yet touching scene. Until we figure out there’s been more going on with Jude’s memories.
Apparently little Missy Stone – all grown up now – (Kristin Slaysman) with the blue coat all those years ago, the one she’d run down, is still alive. Part of this makes her thankful, at the same time she still ran the girl down. It still happened, just didn’t kill her. So… relief, but never relieved.
Lana reveals to Sister Mary Eunice that Dr. Thredson is in fact Bloody Face. Of course, this is in no way a good thing. Certainly, Satan already knew that Bloody Face was Oliver.
It’s more terrible when Mary reassures a frantic Lana: “No one knows that you‘re here.” Not exactly what Lana wanted to hear in the sense which Mary tells her; Satan surely wants to keep her closed up and out of sight.
Kit Walker comes into Briarcliff through the tunnels of death, finding Grace to try and escape. As they attempt to break free, Arden’s latest monstrosity shows up and tears apart a nun. In the whole fiasco, Grace takes a bullet in the chest when Frank McCann (Fredrich Lehne) is aiming for Kit. The Angel of Death shows up for her, and finally, as she says: “I‘m free.”
What a whopper of a finale to this episode!
Next is “Unholy Night” – directed by Michael Lehmann (Dexter, Californication, Tyrant). One of my ALL-TIME FAVOURITE American Horror Story episodes.
Stay tuned, friends and horror hounds alike!