Published Oct 30, 2013Proving the effectiveness of the self-contained season anthology format — sort of a yearlong Twilight Zone — season two of American Horror Story follows the reverse trajectory of its predecessor, steadily building intrigue instead of losing steam with each revelation. Asylum, while still prone to outlandish provocations for the sake of, tells a multi-generational tale of physical and psychological sadism that coalesces thematically in unexpected ways.
This season takes place in an insane asylum during two time periods, though primarily in past when Briarcliff Manor was still operational. In the '60s, a plucky, opportunistic journalist has herself committed in order to get a big scoop on a gristly murderer know as Bloody Face. What was supposed to be a quick in and out to conduct an interview with the man convicted for a series of deranged killings turns into a forced stay in a grotesque environment overseen by a strict, guilt-ridden nun (Jessica Lang), a sadistic mad scientist (James Cromwell) and a friendly psychiatrist (Zachary Quinto).
Lumped in with people afflicted by regular genetic abnormalities and casualties of abhorrent medical experiments alike, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) goes through hell at the hands of a sick institution in search of a truth that'll bring her fame and fortune. But that's only half of the immensely weird and unsettling dark side of the American Dream admonitory being told in Asylum.
The repertory cast element of the series pays off this time out, as each returning actor creates a character miles away from the previous season. Jessica Lang is better than ever, and her character exists in the same tonal universe as everyone else this time. Speaking to the high calibre of acting in this series, Evan Peters and Quinto step up for some series scene-stealing this year as well, while there are a number of high profile guests that leave quite an impression. And then there's James Cromwell; he's straight up terrifying.
Selling short the bold visual style employed by the show's directors, the special features included with the HD edition of this horror series fulfill the basic obligations of extras and nothing more. Aside from deleted scenes, there's a clunky season recap called "The Orderly," a typical "Making Of" full of cast and creator interviews, along with the usual technical extras, in this case a look at the excellent prosthetic makeup effects and the set design of Briarcliff. A few commentaries, especially from standout director Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon, would have been a welcome inclusion though. (Fox)