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Blu-ray Review: ‘American Horror Story: Asylum – The Complete Second Season’

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AHSACalling this release American Horror Story: Asylum – The Complete Second Season is a little confusing. FX’s American Horror Story is not a continuing series, but several stand-alone, 13-episode miniseries, a new one of which is presented each fall. Thus, while Asylum is, indeed, The Complete Second Season of American Horror Story, the installments on this disc tell a complete tale, featuring characters and plot that are not connected to the first or third seasons, even if some of the cast is the same.

Asylum begins in the present day, with a sex-crazed couple (Maroon 5′s Adam Levine and Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Witches of East End) exploring the run-down and abandoned Briarcliff. It’ll be quite awhile before Asylum really delves into the present again, fully explaining what happens to the pair, as well as moving past those events, but it does eventually get around to it.

Most of Asylum takes place in 1964 and 1965. Briarcliff is a mental hospital for the criminally insane, run by strict, judgmental Sister Jude (Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven). Jude lusts over Monsignor Timothy O’Hara (Joseph Fiennes, Camelot) and bullies the younger, meek Sister Eunice (Lily Rabe, American Horror Story). She also hates the twisted Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell, Six Feet Under), and is cruel to her charges.

Into this environment, brave Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a closet lesbian and daring journalist, marches forth to expose Jude’s wrongdoings. It doesn’t take long for her to realize just how out of her depth she actually is, and Dr. Thredson (Zachary Qunito, Star Trek: Into Darkness) proves both friend and foe. But Lana does find some friends within Briarcliff’s walls.

Chief among them is Kit Walker (Evan Peters, American Horror Story), a man framed for killing his wife, Alma (Britne Oldford, Skins), who soon takes up with murderess Grace (Lizzie Brochere, R.I.S. Police scientifique). Kit and Lana’s lives are not completely intertwined, with the two traveling very different paths for awhile, but they interact quite a bit over the run.

Asylum is full of twists and turns, with plenty of surprises popping up when they are least expected. Among the more strange developments are human experiment subjects, alien abductions, artwork made from dead people, a truly creepy patient named Pepper (Naomi Grossman), and a son violently reunited with his mother. It’s not as overtly scary as the first season, but its dark tone and sick minds definitely make it disturbing, with a very unexpected last couple of hours, which take the show far beyond the walls of the hospital.

Why the miniseries works so well, though, is mainly the character development. It’s hard to think of one character who ends up anything like the person they started as. I won’t get into specifics, because you really should watch these episodes for yourself, but bad guys can be good and good guys can be soured into villains. There’s a lot of grey area in the middle, and it can be argued whether a few of the main players ended up on the side of right or wrong. What is certain is that each is changed by the experiences we bear witness to, which makes the story that much deeper and richer. And, as in the first season, guest stars pop in and out in memorable turns.

There are a quartet of featurettes and some deleted scenes on this three-disc set. One of the extras is called “What is American Horror Story: Asylum?” which will hopefully clear up the confusion I mentioned in the introductory paragraph. “The Creatures” is fascinating because the makeup and effects of AHS:A really are top notch, though it could remove a little of the fear factor if viewed before the series.

Blu-ray is definitely recommended for Asylum. There are lots of blacks and shadows, Briarcliff being a dreary place. You’ll want to catch those layers and detail as much as you can, though some are obscured purposely for effect. The score is also excellent, with undertones that reinforce the style of the piece, and a certain song played repeatedly will start to make you feel a  bit like the inmates. The blu-ray experience here adds a lot, both visual and auditory, and the result is beautiful, in a macabre manner.

You may have noticed a lack of complaints in this review. That’s because, while I do consider Asylum weaker than the first go ’round, it’s still a very strong presentation, with remarkable acting and production, and they did a pretty good job on this release. American Horror Story: Asylum – The Complete Second Season is available now.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com