American Horror Story

Wednesdays 10:00 PM on FX
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American Horror Story Review: A Spirited Debate

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As I wrote about following the American Horror Story: Asylum premiere, season two of this FX thriller is already far more grounded than the opening run of episodes from last year.

Yes, I use that term loosely, considering we're dealing with aliens, sex-crazed nuns and bloody-faced serial killers here.

But the characters are more fully formed than the family at the center of last season's hijinks, which makes for a far more interesting story - but also a far more dark and disturbing one, as evidenced by "Tricks and Treats."

James Cromwell as Dr. Arden

While last year was was enjoyably campy, I was never kept awake at night by thoughts of Leather Man or any general concept of ghosts in a haunted house. It was all sort of vague and silly.

But, man, this Asylum makes far greater of an impact, doesn't it? The ECT on Lana, the lashings on Kit, the notion of being trapped, of being betrayed by your loved ones. These are all taken to the extreme, of course, but there's far more to actually be afraid of this season than last, far more viewers can imagine - in some form - happening in real life than anything we witnessed with Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton.

Take Dr. Arden. Played with brilliant creepiness by James Cromwell, I can't say I actually know any physician quite like him. But it's not difficult to imagine a seemingly serious professional who is all business at work and all frightening play behind closed doors. He abuses prostitutes. He pines for women of the cloth. He is in charge of some kind of diabolical experiment that is resulting in... who the heck knows what beyond the institution's walls?!? It's hungry, that much is  for certain.

He's a terrible doctor, but a terrific character so far.

Elsewhere, the exorcism at the center of the episode helped introduced Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson. It also prompted the sort of debate between science and religion that is still prevalent in some circles today. Is Sister Jude way behind the times, even for 1964?

Clearly. But the show did an effective job here of flashing back to her boozy, accident-ridden past to make it apparent just why she turned to God and just why she wants to feel as in control as she possibly can in this world she's created for herself, one in which perhaps she can erase the sins of her past... in her own unique, over-the-top way. I maintain she has good in mind. She just may not be of sound mind to determine how best to achieve that good.

Jude is haunted. She is full of regret. And she's convinced herself that she can only be absolved if she absolves others, no matter what it takes.

And let's stop for a moment here to acknowledge a couple performances. Jessica Lange is unquestionably outstanding once again as the lead, but Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson are also portraying characters that are total departures from a season ago, making us feel every ounce of pain coarsing through the minds and bodies of Kit and Lana, respectively, along the way.

It's been a job very well done by the stars and the series through two episodes. I'm disturbed but intrigued. I want to know what those creatures in the woods are. I want to know Dr. Arden's grand plan. I want to see how Lana will now fare inside Briarcliff Manor after turning on two inmates here.

I just may do it all with my eyes partly hidden under the covers.

What did everyone else think of episode two?

Review

Editor Rating: 4.1 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.4 / 5.0 (90 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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Fatin

I really, really hate to say it, but when Kit was on the table, the electric bug thingy escaped from his neck and invaded the doctor, so is that why he's gone all crazy?
I was hoping they'd stick to madness, not all this supernatural crap. the best kind of horror is psychological horror. I loved, loved, loved when Sister Jude goes
"All monsters are human."
I'm giving up hope that they were because the other Sister is obviously possessed and I'm starting to believe the "alien" has invaded the doctor.
I thought the first season was mediocre at best, the only stunning episode the one before the finale, but I had really high hopes for this season.

Ilkvomit

Lmao thank you ghostwriter for also noticing that annoying bullshit.

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Reply to "Alice": seriously, the commercial advertisements being disguised as comments on message boards are starting to get REALLY annoying. It seems every comment section on every website has a post from a "DISH Network employee" who is so very, very happy to have DISH's new DVR. Frankly, it's making me consider canceling my DISH service and trying out the competition.

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I love the concept of an asylum & the characters are great! Jessica Lange is fantastic,as always! The show jumps around a bit too much but maybe it will be easier to follow as we get more familiar with the show.

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Anyone else wondering if theres a connection between seasons? I thought it was a strange coincidence that Jessica Lange's character Jude hit a young girl with her car and in season 1 it was her daughter who got hit by a mysterious car that didn't stop.

Richard3

I thought that Murphy said S2 wasn't going to deal with the supernatural but with madness...and then we get a demon who is sticking around. I thought at first they might keep it in the gray realm...is he / isn't he...possessed, but that lasted all of about 5 minutes. On first impression I'm feeling like it diminishes or distracts from the real horror that is the asylum and insanity. For now the aliens are still maybe just hallucinations of a bent mind and although the "creatures" exist they are more along the lines of human experimentation than anything supernatural. But, now that we have the demon I wonder if it'll end up connecting back to S1 somehow...like an oblique prequel (i.e. Prometheus & Alien)

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2 predictions: 1. the opening scenes in the asylum present day are actually a movie based on the legend of "bloody face". 2. The real Bloody Face is one of the 2 women at Lana's girlfriend's place. Interestingly enough while AHS S1 was about as far removed from Glee as you could get (and we all know how much Matt loves Glee ;)) this season has all the Murphy&Falchuk hallmarks of Glee - too many characters, too many storylines and an ongoing PSA about the unfair treatment of LBGT people in the '60s. Just saying.

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I loved season 1! It was evenly told and the characters had good backstories and depth. Like last season the cast is unbelievably good. But while all the "snake pit" trappings are effective the plot is all over the place. It's trying to be a Monster Mash but it's more like a mish-mosh. I do love the cast so much that I'll watch a bit longer to give it a chance but it's getting on my nerves already.

Ilkvomit

Alice strikes back !!

Tvgarth

Yes, it's hard to cheer anyone on just yet, but the "goings on" are certainly enough to hold one's interest. I've always like Jessical Lange and I believe that she will continue to enjoy a very big presence as a character actress, now that the days of ingenue are perhaps gone? But what fun she must be having playing a character like this, or Big Edie in Grey Gardens. James Cromwell is also a far different character than his sweet role in "Babe:Pig in the City." All in all it's great fun though a little disturbing and often terrifying...but isn't that the point? What's to become of all these people and will we find any redeeming qualities...anywhere? Maybe hidden in the secret passage?

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