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Possibly the most striking thing about how AMERICAN HORROR
STORY: ASYLUM has wrapped itself up is that, in a show and season so imbued
with a love of and homage to cinema, “Madness Ends” really went to bat for the
power of television. Really, Ryan Murphy’s extended, warped odyssey through a Massachusetts
mental institution could not have been told any other way. Brutal, soap operatic,
involved, indulgent and even massively transformed from beginning to end,
ASYLUM laid down with grace via a 60 MINUTES-esque sit down and a horrifying
exposé reminiscent of Geraldo Rivera’s own investigations of the squalor at
Staten Island, New York’s Willowbrook State School.
It was in the latter
grainy news report that ASYLUM, in its thirteenth episode mind you, found its
first real fright. The harsh, repulsive conditions of a late stage Briarcliff
already unnerving, Lana Winters rummages through documents and files strewn
about in chaos. One of the severely ill emerges from a pile and scampers off. A
cheap gag, maybe, but it felt like the first time the series actually attempted
a thrill. It was massively successful in my home.
The takedown of Briarcliff is only one aspect of Lana’s life
post-Bloody Face that’s chronicled in this finale, and third part of a seeming
three-episode epilogue. Having agreed to a sit down on-camera interview, Lana
looks back on her life of harrowing ordeals, best-sellers and famous friends, managing
to update the audience throughout.
It’s an episode filled with an odd and unexpected elegance,
especially surprising as it was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. The filmmaker,
who previously helmed two of ASYLUM’s best episodes, has really put a stamp on
the show’s visual direction and is often dizzying and showy in style. Retaining
such flare, however managing it into something affecting and poetic in “Madness
Ends” truly shaped an episode that was akin to floating. An ensemble of the
insane, possessed, wicked and extraterrestrial was undeniably distracting, but
Lana was always our window into Briarcliff and here she remains so, for ASYLUM’s
world at large.
What Lana and the audience find is ASYLUM’s own brand of
peace, which previously seemed unattainable to anyone connected with Briarcliff
or this series. It’s simply that the wicked perished first, however, while
Lana, Kit and even Jude are able to live on with some degrees of happiness. Kit
and his children retrieve Jude from the asylum and give her a lovely final few
years, in which she regains perspective and sanity and finds kindness and love.
Her final moments, as she agrees to depart with the angel of death were nothing
short of gorgeous.
Murphy and his team made a fantastic choice in keeping the
aliens that have hovered around the edges of this season, still just out of
reach. Kit’s children are clearly products of the experiments, taking Jude out
into the wilderness and somehow returning with her, healed. Meanwhile, as Kit
nears the end from pancreatic cancer, he simply disappears, having been taken
back; space, his final resting place.
The aliens’ “barely there” presence serves to support what
the final scene of ASYLUM really emphasizes. Why does AMERICAN HORROR STORY,
despite itself, work? Midst the endless barrage of sheer batshittery, the mixing
and matching of subgenre and style, the likes of Sarah Paulson and Jessica
Lange and James Cromwell and Lily Rabe elevate the series. AMERICAN HORROR
STORY is good enough to take its characters and its cast seriously. After Lana doesn’t hesitate to kill the one
remnant of her past traumas, the audience returns to the very beginning. In 1964,
Sister Jude and Lana Winters converse and unknowingly foreshadow their hellish
descents. AMERICAN HORROR STORY works because, here, stripped of all that’s to
come and all we’ve been through, we’re left with Jude and Lana, Lange and
Paulson, as a backbone.
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