Monday, January 16, 2017

American Horror Story Asylum- Episode 1- Welcome To Briarcliff

**This review contains spoilers**

The Story: In 2012 Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Leo (Adam Levine) are ready for the next stop on their haunted honeymoon tour. Teresa and Leo are newlyweds and horror enthusiasts, and visiting famous haunted places in America, and having sex in each site along the way is an active hobby they share together. Together, an anxious Teresa and Leo enter the Briarcliff Manor Sanatorium, an abandoned insane asylum built in 1908, and the asylum was originally used as a hospital that housed many tuberculosis patients. Thousands and thousands of tuberculosis patients died at Briarcliff, and for years Briarcliff housed many sordid personalities. Bloody Face, a sadistic killer of women, who wore a mask made of human flesh, stands out amongst the crowd as Briarcliff’s most infamous patient.

Naturally, the legend of Bloody Face and Briarcliff’s dark past excites Teresa and Leo, so they decide to have sex inside Briarcliff, but a strange noise worries Teresa. After a brief investigation, Teresa dares Leo to stick his arm inside the food hatch on a door to a seemingly empty room for a second time. With the promise of a reward, Leo accepts Teresa’s challenge, but an unknown figure reaches through the hatch to cut Leo’s arm off.

A horrified Teresa runs through the halls of Briarcliff, as Leo bleeds profusely, but Teresa runs into an unpleasant surprise, when she reaches the front doors. The doors are locked in chains, and Leo is clinging to slim hopes of survival, as Teresa searches for another exit. But Teresa runs into another roadblock, when she comes face to face with Bloody Face….

In 1964 Kit Walker (Evan Peters) works an unrewarding job at a gas station. Kit is ready to open up and tell the world about his wife, Alma (Britne Oldford), but Alma insists they keep their relationship a secret. Kit is white and Alma is black, so Alma fears the ramifications and the backlash for telling the truth about an interracial marriage, and Kit experiences early signs of a fallout for telling the truth, when a friend named Billy (Joe Egender) uses racial taunts to get under his skin.

One night, Kit and Alma’s quiet night at home is disrupted, when Kit notices bright lights shinning through the windows. Kit suspects an attack from Billy and his friends, so Kit runs outside with a shotgun, leaving Alma in the house alone. Kit looks for Billy and his friends, but after more flashing bright lights and Alma’s screams, Kit runs back into the house to protect his wife. Kit tries to find Alma, but a series of loud blaring sounds and strange occurrences derail Kit’s plans for a rescue. Alma disappears, and Kit is stuck in a grim situation, when strange creatures probe his body during an unsettling experiment.

After the explainable and bizarre fiasco at his house, Kit is charged with Alma’s murder and the murder of other skinned women, because the authorities believe Kit is Bloody Face, so Kit is admitted to Briacliff to determine his mental stability for a trial. Kit denies the other murders. and he insists aliens are responsible for Alma’s disappearance, but no one believes him.

At Briarcliff, Kit is  faced with the challenge of surviving and enduring the madness at the asylum under Sister Jude Martin’s (Jessica Lange), the head nun and administrator at Briarcliff, watchful eye. Sister Jude shows no sympathy for Kit’s plight after she uses a racist insult against Alma, so Kit spits in her face, but Jude issues a stern warning about the dangers of defiance and rule breaking at Briarcliff.

Jude rules Briarcliff with an iron fist, and a jittery and insecure Sister Mary Eunice McKee (Lily Rabe) assists her in a never ending mission to reform the patients at Briarcliff, and Sister Eunice accepts her role as an understudy. Sister Jude’s strong and intimidating presence throughout the halls of Briarcliff is unquestionable, but Jude shows humility towards and gives credit to Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joesph Fiennes), the director of Briarcliff and Jude’s superior, for Briarcliff’s success. Jude idolizes The Monsignor, and she believes in his methods and teachings, including the three P’s (productivity, prayer, and purification). Unbeknownst to The Monsignor or anyone else, Jude harbors romantic feelings for her boss.

Monsignor Howard trusts Jude as his “right hand,” and The Monsignor envisions a bright future with Jude at his side. The Monsignor’s future plans include Rome, a rise through the ranks to become Pope, and a spot for Sister Jude as Reverend Mother at his side.

For Jude, the idea of an unstoppable union with Monsignor Howard is promising, but Jude expresses her concerns with one of The Monsignor’s decisions. Jude doesn’t trust Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), the director of Briarcliff’s medical unit, and his unusual methods. After a series of mysterious disappearances and patient deaths under Dr. Arden’s watch, Sister Jude suspects foul play and a sinister cover up, so she demands unlimited access to his work and his experiments. But Dr. Arden has a “gentlemen’s agreement” with The Monsignor: Dr. Arden is allowed privacy with no questions asked, and no one, including Sister Jude, will interfere with his work or his experiments. After a brief talk about Dr. Arden with Monsignor Howard, Jude reluctantly drops the issue for the time being. Jude is determined to expose Dr. Arden, but she doesn’t know about the alliance between Sister Mary Eunice and Dr. Arden. Dr. Arden entrusts Sister Mary Eunice with the task of feeding meat to unknown figures in the woods surrounding Briarcliff, and Mary Eunice uses a secret tunnel to sneak in and out of the asylum to deliver the meat.

Meanwhile, a persistent journalist named Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is granted a one on one interview with Sister Jude and a tour of Briarcliff’s bakery. Lana works for a local newspaper, and she’s supposed to write a story about the bakery, but Lana wants the inside scoop on Bloody Face and Kit Walker. Lana is sick and tired of writing dead end stories, but an exclusive piece on Bloody Face will open countless doors for her. Lana has plans to dig deeper after she witnesses Sister Jude shaving Shelly’s (Chloe Sevigny), another patient at Briarcliff, diagnosed as a nymphomaniac by a psychiatrist, head as a form of punishment. But Jude is quick to question the sincerity of Lana’s visit after more non-bakery related questions, and Jude scolds Lana for her motives.

Lana hits a brick wall during her mission to expose Briarcliff after Sister Jude condemns Lana for sleuthing, but Lana refuses to give up after she receives some words of encouragement from her girlfriend, Wendy Peyser (Clea DuVall). Together, Wendy and Lana live in the same house, and Wendy works as an elementary school teacher. Wendy and Lana are madly in love, but Wendy urges Lana to take certain precautions, so they can maintain the secrecy of their relationship, because Wendy is afraid of losing her job, if the public discovers the truth.

One night, Lana accidentally runs into a startled Sister Mary Eunice after a late night feeding session. Under Sister Mary Eunice’s guidance, Lana re-enters Briarcliff using the secret tunnel. Sister Mary Eunice pushes Lana to leave, but Lana threatens to expose her secret, so Sister Mary Eunice gives Lana five minutes to investigate and look around. After a nasty incident separates Sister Mary Eunice and Lana, Lana wanders the halls of Briarcliff in search of Kit Walker. Lana narrowly escapes a close call with Sister Jude, but Lana’s luck runs out, when an unknown attacker’s grotesque arm slams her head against one of the cell doors, knocking Lana unconscious.

A confused and frightened Lana awakes inside one of the rooms at Briarcliff, strapped to the bed with no way out. Lana immediately demands her release, but Sister Jude reveals a release form signed by Wendy to admit Lana to Briarcliff. Sister Jude threatened Wendy with a scandal, promising to tell the truth about Lana and Wendy’s relationship, so a hesitant Wendy signed the form to keep her job and maintain her reputation.

Lana warns Jude about the possibility of others coming to rescue her, but Wendy made the decision to turn her back on Lana, and Lana’s parents don’t speak to her, so Sister Jude dismisses Lana’s warning. Lana screams for help, but Sister Jude closes and locks the door to her room after making a stern promise to cure Lana’s homosexuality.

Kit tries to hold it together, but after some time in a straitjacket and one brutal canning from Sister Jude, Kit struggles to hold on to hope. Kit finds an unlikely ally, when another inmate named Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brochere) decides to help him. Grace is accused of murdering her family, but she doesn’t believe she’s crazy, and she believes Kit is innocent. Grace urges Kit to play by the rules, she pushes Kit to eat, and she tries to offer some relief with a cigarette. Grace’s kindness gives Kit some temporary solace, but things change, when Dr. Arden shows interest in Kit. Dr. Arden uses a sedative to subdue Kit, and during his experiment, Dr. Arden cuts a piece of the alien’s technology out of Kit’s neck.  

During her quest to uncover the truth behind Dr. Arden’s work, Sister Jude persuades Mary Eunice to steal Dr. Arden’s set of keys. Sister Mary Eunice succeeds, but when she enters the door to a seemingly abandoned room (the same room containing the unknown assailant, who attacked Lana), she finds Dr. Arden cleaning with a powerful disinfectant. Sister Jude spots scratch marks on the walls, so she doesn’t buy into Dr. Arden’s story about an old and deserted room with no inhabitants. Sister Jude returns the set of keys to a confident Dr. Arden, but Jude reassures Dr. Arden she won’t quit until the truth comes out……

Review: Aliens, abductions, a sadistic serial killer, a callous, strict nun, an obsessive and delusional doctor, Lana’s wrongful imprisonment, and the madness at Briacliff? That’s a lot to digest after the first episode in American Horror Story’s second season, but Asylum’s season premiere packs a powerful punch. 

In the past and the present, Briarcliff really works as the nightmarish main setting for Asylum. In the present, Briarcliff is this trashy and dank hellhole with a dark past. But in the 60’s, Briarcliff is basically a dreary and hopeless prison, filled with sordid characters, and the zaniness in the common room completes Briarcliff’s twisted puzzle.

Sister Jude might have soft spots for Sister Mary Eunice and Monsignor Howard, but Jessica Lange plays the role of a cold, hard, and strict authoritarian to perfection. The canings, shaving Shelly’s head, and her strict set of rules? Sister Jude sends a clear message for having the last word (well, for the most part) for all things Briarcliff, and you’ll have to face harsh and cruel punishments, if you break any of her rules. She has the support of Monsignor Howard, Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne), the head of sucrity at Briarcliff, is an enforcer for Sister Jude, so who's going to stop her?

Lily Rabe’s vulnerability and innocence as Mary Eunice is believable. It’s kind of hard to not feel sympathy for Mary Eunice, when she’s a blubbering and pitiful mess, and she’s basically begging Sister Jude for a caning after the mess with Lana’s secret late night tour. Sure, if you’re looking at it from Jude’s point of view, you could say she made an unforgivable mistake, but she’s always trying, and Mary Eunice has the best intentions.

With Kit Walker, you get the feeling he’s a good, hard working guy, who loves his wife, and Evan Peters really delivers a solid performance here. Kit is clearly losing his mind inside the walls of Briacliff. He’s heartbroken over losing Alma, and Peters really did a job of showing believable emotions.

Lana Winters is a fierce and gutsy reporter, who’s out to prove she’s worth more. Sara Paulson portrays a strong and brave character, and Paulson’s nervousness, when she’s face to face with Jude, or when she catches the orderly with Shelly really works, because she knows she’s putting herself in harm’s way, but she has the fortitude to push forward. Lizzie Brochere is enigmatic as Grace, and so far, you get the impression she’s on a short list of level-headed people at Briarcliff.

James Cromwell’s Dr. Arden is an intellectual madman with a menacing dark side, and Jude is the perfect adversary for him, because it’s always interesting to see how far things will go when two strong and unflinching characters face off against each other. You want to believe in Joseph Fiennes’ Monsignor Howard as a noble and trustworthy man, but it’s also hard to ignore the pompousness oozing from his personality.

During Lana’s tour(s) of Briarcliff, we’re introduced to Shelly, Spivey and Pepper. Spivey is a despicable human being, and Lana wants to have sympathy for Shelly and Pepper, but Mary Eunice is quick to dismiss Lana’s feelings for Pepper (she drowned her sister’s baby and cut his ears off). Individually, Spivey, Pepper, Shelley, and Grace are different characters, but collectively they represent the bizarre conundrum at Briacliff, with a mix of seemingly innocent inmates, people who deserve to be there, people, who need to be there, the question marks, and the misunderstood inmates.

The debut episode of AHS Asylum is packed with intriguing storylines and thought-provoking scenarios. Who’s going to come out on top in the Dr. Arden/Sister Jude rivalry? Arden and Jude are two headstrong people with big egos, so you can pretty much forget about one willingly backing down or conceding to the other. And what’s going to happen, if Jude finds out about the secret alliance between Mary Eunice and Dr. Arden? Dr. Arden is keeping secrets, and Jude is just waiting for the opportunity to take him down.

Sister Jude idolizes Monsignor Howard, but she’s fighting off her urges to give in to her feelings for him. The red lingerie, the possibility of joining Monsignor Howard in Rome, fantasizing about him at dinner. There’s a side of Sister Jude that wants more than a working relationship with Monsignor Howard, and the possibility of crossing that tricky line might be too tempting to resist.

Wendy was faced a tough decision: jeopardizing her career and her future, or locking the love of her life away at Briarcliff to protect her job. Now, an innocent Lana is trapped at Briarcliff’s with no help, and Jude knows about Lana’s mission to expose Briarcliff, so she’ll have a tough hill to climb. After the run-in with the aliens, Kit is stuck in a downward spiral, and you can clearly see he’s starting to crack. Yeah, he might’ve found an ally and someone he can talk to, and open up to in Grace, but he’s trusting someone, who allegedly “chopped up her family.”

Is Kit Bloody Face? He didn’t hallucinate or imagine the aliens. That’s obvious, but the problem with Kit as Bloody Face is, Bloody Face attacks and terrorizes Leo and Teresa in 2012, so you’re talking about an old man as a vicious serial killer.

And speaking of Bloody Face, you have to wonder what’s going to happen to Leo and Teresa in 2012. Leo lost an arm, and Teresa was running around like a chicken with its head cut off before she crossed paths with Bloody Face. On one hand, I want Leo and Teresa to survive, but you have to remember they only have themselves to blame for their life-or-death dilemma, because no one forced them into an abandoned Briarcliff.

Leo and Teresa are walking clich├ęs from horror films. You know the one person, or the group of people, who are looking for an authentic terrifying experience, with real haunted houses, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, or they want to uncover the truth behind an urban legend? They all want something REAL, but what happens, when they find what they’re looking for? They completely panic, they’re petrified, they’re begging and pleading to leave, they’re desperately running from whatever they were looking for, and you can be sure they’ll need a fresh pair of underwear.

Rating: 8/10