Luke heads back to Hill House. Steven and Hugh bond after years of estrangement.
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!
Psycho II. 1983. Dir. Richard Franklin. Screenplay by Tom Holland.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, and Hugh Gilin. Universal Pictures.
Rated 18+. 113 minutes.
There’s no debate to be had: Anthony Perkins IS Norman Bates. The way Perkins inhabits the role in the first two Psycho films is amazing. It’s particularly interesting to see Norman in Psycho II quite some time after his institutionalization, and to see how he is a little older, maybe a little wiser, or maybe not.
What we get is not only a story about Norman trying to re-enter society, but also a sort of look into what it’s like when any violent mentally ill criminal is deemed fit to be integrated back into a normal life after having undergone various psychiatric treatments. By no means a statement, but merely an examination; we sway back and forth with the story, as we’re not quite sure if Norman has really been rehabilitated, or if Mother is up to her old tricks again. It’s just as psychologically trying as the original Psycho, but not in the way it feels like Hitchcock; it simply frays on our nerves, as we try to figure Norman out, and events push us to one side then back to the other.
A particular scene where Norman is handed a large kitchen knife to cut a sandwich for a young girl who befriends him (very similar to his sandwich dinner with Marion Crane from the first film) becomes a very nervous few moments; we watch as Norman battles his subconscious, or possibly Mother whispering in his ears about how nice it might be to kill his young dinner guest. I enjoyed how they played with the idea of someone toying with Norman, but also with Mother being very present still in his mind.
One of the things I really enjoy about this sequel is the fact it relies on more than just Perkins as Norman Bates to really drive things. While the original Psycho did start off with Marion Crane before shifting to Norman, this movie gives us a couple other performances to enjoy as well.
Both Vera Miles and Meg Tilly did great jobs here with their characters. Tilly, as Mary Loomis, was just enough of an innocent type to sort of be drawn in by Bates’ charm while also still remaining a bit of an independent and tough young woman. I liked how Mary Loomis was sympathetic towards Norman because it created this tension where you sort of teeter on the edge of wondering exactly what his intentions towards her are really. Their relationship is one of the real interesting parts about this underrated sequel.
Vera Miles, playing Lila Loomis, is spectacular. She is every bit a wicked and wild old woman here. Her character fight very well with the plot, as you’d naturally expect some of Norman’s victims to have family who would care enough to protest his release. Miles is a fantastic actress. She really plays a great character to provide some of the new plot developments here in Psycho II, and had they cast a lesser actress in the part it may not have worked as well. Miles gives us enough venom in her portrayal of Lila Loomis to really sell the part.
All in all, I would say this movie is a 4 out of 5 stars. The plot is really great, and relevant to modern society (how many killers are let loose on the streets again because they got an insanity plea & supposedly ‘served their time’ in an institution somewhere? Plenty!). Perkins, again and as always, is a revelation as Norman Bates. As I’m also a fan of the third movie in the series, Psycho III (see my review here), each time Perkins plays the character he seems to hone Norman into something more intricate and full of little idiosyncrasies. A treat to see the same actor come back to a character and not only do a good job again, but also add something more to the character with each turn.
My only reason for not giving the film closer to a perfect rating would be the whole situation with the boy getting killed in the cellar. It’s hard for me to believe that even though his young lady friend lies for him that the police would not take Norman into custody until they figured out some more about the situation. I mean, the man has been in psychiatric confinement for 22 years after killing a few people, he goes back to live in the exact same house where all the violence really happened, and then when someone gets murdered right in the cellar of this house they just let him stay free walking around on the word of some waitress? That’s my only problem with the film, and it’s not something that ruined it for me, just a little nitpick.
Other than that, I love Psycho II, and it’s criminally underrated especially when many horror franchises keep churning out sequels that get worse and worse ever year. This one is a keeper. A lot of people expected a direct copy of Hitchcock in some sense with this sequel, and unfortunately that was never going to happen. Nobody is able to replicate Hitchcock, even those who closely emulate him with their own personal style, and it’s silly to want another movie exactly like the first one. This is a very natural, organic sequel. It plays well both as a horror film, and also as a real psychological thriller, too. I really had no idea exactly what was going to happen until the very end – speaking of which, the end is also one of the great aspects of the film. It not only gives us a little surprise, setting things up for a further look at Norman Bates, it opts to make more of the story and expand things. No longer is Norman tied completely to the events of the original film, or his own story as we know it so to speak, and it kind of opens up the whole concept for further plots. Of course there’s Psycho III, but even if they hadn’t gone on to make another one I’m still satisfied with the little twists, and most certainly how thrilling the climax of the film came off.
You can do much worse in terms of horror sequels – this is one of the best, and absolutely one of the more underrated sequels in any of the big horror franchises. Norman Bates is an incredible character. Psycho II does an admirable job with his legacy. Plus, there’s a bit more hack and slash going on here – sure to appease any genre enthusiast.
Highly recommend you seek this out and enjoy it to the fullest!