FX’s American Horror Story: Aslyum brings its thirteen episode limited run to an end this week with “Madness Ends.” With most of the main characters dead or out of Briarcliff, the primary setting, weeks ago, “Madness Ends” feels like an extended epilogue, combined with the previous installment or two. But it all ties together by the close.
My early complaints about the second series of American Horror Story stem from the lack of character development. While the first season has a family as its heart, people we care about, the second season tends to be more about disturbing visuals and events. There are characters, to be sure, but things are happening to them, rather than seeing them take control of their destiny.
This sorts itself out as the season goes on. Once we can get past the disgust of the place, and the extremely evil souls that flourish within, then we can begin to root for Lana (Sarah Paulson) and Kit (Evan Peters), the victims / heroes of the story. This mirrors their own journey, having to get used to the place, and then find their courage, before they can attempt to change their circumstances.
In last week’s episode, which is also set mainly post-Briarcliff, Lana and Kit are not in good places. Kit’s misfortune comes by circumstance, while Lana just makes bad choices, but it’s not a good way to leave their characters. Thus, we definitely need “Madness Ends” to not only redeem the two, but tie up loose ends so that a semi-happy ending might be found.
First, Kit, since he’s the slightly smaller of the two stories. Kit is a good, good man. He manages to forgive Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) for locking him up unfairly and treating him so cruelly. But, while for most, finding forgiveness in their heart would be enough, Kit goes a step further and rescues Jude, both from the asylum, and from herself.
It’s an incredibly touching story, to see Kit and his children (Brady Allen and Sade Kimora Young) welcome Jude into their home, caring for her, and bringing her out of her shell, restoring her in all of her glory, maybe more glory than she’s ever had before. It goes well above and beyond what is expected of people, and they do truly save her, allowing Jude to become kind and have a family, living out her last days in comfort. By the time Death (Frances Conroy) arrives for the last time, Jude is finally ready to go.
What a story of redemption! Jude is run through the gamut, beginning the season as a victim, getting a deep back story, and then being the most tortured soul on the program. She comes full circle as a doting grandmother figure, and Lange has got to be enjoying playing such a wonderful, fully realized character.
As for Kit himself, this great generosity of spirit must be what the aliens see in him. While some may complain about the extra-terrestrial subplot, and the lack of real explanation, I feel like they come to help us, meaning mankind, move into the next stage of evolution. They pick the best man they can find, and help him on his way. The good die young, and Kit is spent by age forty, so they take him somewhere for his reward. It’s all a very spiritual and uplifting arc.
Now, onto Lana. Much of “Madness Ends” takes place nearly five decades after the rest of the story, with Lana as an old, well-respected journalist and writer, about to receive a Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. She builds the life that she wants, but she still doesn’t seem quite happy, haunted by those dark days that she suffered, and the wrong decisions she made in the aftermath.
But that doesn’t mean Lana is a pushover, or ready to die. When her grown up son, Johnny (Dylan McDermott), comes to kill her, she is prepared. She talks him down, feigning love for her child, and then coldly shoots him, finishing the job she should have completed years ago.
I think some of old Lana’s guilt definitely comes from letting her son live. Despite the lies that she tells Johnny, completely in character with the fibs in her work, she already knows who he is and what he has been doing. She knows that she should have gone through with the abortion, and that her attempts to give him a better life failed. What’s more, she herself inadvertently sabotages Johnny’s chance at happiness because she can’t resist checking in on him as a child.
Lana may live, the triumphant hero in some eyes, but she will never be happy like Kit. I half expected her to turn the gun on herself after murdering her son, as while she has accepted some of her misery, I feel like this could be what pushes her over the edge. Or perhaps the days she spends with Kit’s family aren’t enough to crack that hard shell she builds up immediately after Briarcliff, and she is too far gone for this latest tragedy to affect her too severely.
The capstone, seeing Lana and Jude together at the beginning again, watching Johnny go to the places his parents were at and continue his father’s work, and even finding out what happens to Cardinal Howard (Joseph Fiennes), also destroyed by guilt and Lana, all serve to really bind the story together in a fitting conclusion. Some things are regrettable, like what happens to the women that Kit initially loves, but, in the end, American Horror Story: Asylum tells a complete and gripping tale, one not likely to be soon forgotten.
My only slight complaint about the hour is that ending old Lana where she does, sitting on a couch near her son’s body, feels slightly unfinished. This isn’t fully erased for me by the flashback scene, and I wanted just a touch more there.
But other than that, “Madness Ends” is a fantastic episode in a really good miniseries.
I’d also like to mention, even though it didn’t really fit in the flow of this review, that the parts of the story involving Lana’s expose and her interview are extremely well done. The grainy camera style back then and the expert make-up in the now are both superb, and make “Madness Ends” one of my favorite episode of the year.
American Horror Story will return for a third season, with a new cast of characters, and returning performers including Lange, Paulson, and Peters, next fall on FX.