“American Horror Story” is one of the most unique experiments running on television today. Each season tells a completely different story involving different characters, but using many of the same principle actors. When season one aired, I didn’t watch it, but from the great word-of-mouth it received, I finally gave it a chance. Sitting down to the first episode late one night, I thought I would watch one or two before calling it a night. Four or five episodes later, I realized I was hooked on this intriguing tale of a family moving into a house where many terrible, gruesome things had happened. The performances were phenomenal, particularly that of the great Jessica Lange. As season one came to a close, I couldn’t wait to see what was going to be in store for the next season. If its first season was any indication, it seemed as if we were going to be in for a fantastic and thrilling series.
Cut to a few months later. Once again, I opted to wait until the series had concluded to marathon it (with the multiple cliffhangers the first season had, this seemed the better option). You can imagine my excitement in sitting down to start the latest season, a tale that involved the goings on at an insane asylum, featuring such interesting characters as Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a reformed nun who now operates Briarcliff Asylum, Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), a former Nazi doctor who experiments on the patients, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a reporter looking to expose the secrets of Briarcliff, only to end up getting committed instead, Kit Walker (Evan Peters), an accused serial killer who must find a way to prove his innocence, and many more. Imagine the possibilities with this setting and these characters. It hardly seemed possible that anything could go wrong.
Immediately from the first episode, I sensed that something was different, and no, I don’t mean in the sense that this was a new story with new characters. I’ve already mentioned that after I watched episode one of the first season, I immediately went back for more, and even more after that. After watching episode one of season two, I decided that I could use a little break, so an hour or two later, I came back for the second episode. Upon its conclusion, I found that I didn’t want to get back to it right away again, but why was this? The answer was somewhat simple: these storylines were not nearly as engaging as those from the first season. All the elements were there to make this a thrilling and engaging season of a show that had started off with a bang, but this time around, it just wasn’t pulling me in as it had before. We can probably chalk some of this up to having high expectations for it, but even so, I was starting to miss the immense anticipation of finding out what happened next.
That’s not to say that it was just flat out bad. The first third of the season is somewhat engaging as it delves into the mysteries of the asylum and the characters’ past. However, it never ends up using any of the characters or their storylines to their full potential, instead settling for a reveal that includes a clichéd serial killer and another that involves aliens. Yes, you read that right. A show that has all the horror it needs locked up in a terrifying asylum had to resort to aliens. If you’re not too busy laughing at the concept, you’ll merely be shaking your head at the randomness of it. You also get the fantastic performances from the ensemble cast that includes Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Sarah Paulson, Joseph Fiennes, Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters, and Dylan McDermott.
The last few episodes also left a lot to be desired. It was as though the writers just couldn’t come up with any good resolutions to the various storylines, so they simply had people die or disappear in random ways. Some of them don’t even get a resolution, causing them to go flat at the end. In a season that had so much potential, it was rather surprising to find it a bit of a letdown. Where had the strong characters and sharp writing of season one gone? Why the lazy conclusions? I can only hope that season three will be a return to greatness for a show that has the ability to be so much, but only when its most important elements are fully fleshed-out.
The show comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that presents an outstanding picture. Most of the show is set in the dark confines of the asylum, but even so, the picture remains sharp and focused. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is crisp and lucid, though a little soft. Overall, the presentation is marvelous and has very little to complain about.
The Orderly: A pointless featurette that has an orderly taking an unseen woman around the asylum and telling her about the different patients. It basically acts as a recap of several of the characters, so if you’ve seen the show, there’s not much of a reason to watch this.
What is American Horror Story: Asylum?: An intriguing featurette that features interviews with cast and crew talking about the various characters, their stories, and the themes the show deals with. It’s worth watching if you’re looking to learn about the show in depth.
Welcome to Briarcliff Manor: A look behind the scenes at how the different sets were designed and built. With the asylum being one of the major characters of the story, this was a rather interesting featurette, especially as the crew describes why they made certain choices. Definitely worth watching if you’re interested in the production design.
The Creatures: A look at the various creatures used throughout the season, including the aliens, Bloody Face’s mask, and the “Raspers” (Dr. Arden’s experiments). Somewhat interesting, though it does get a little hung up on the aliens that didn’t get used very much.
Deleted Scenes: Two entire deleted scenes that total about four minutes. Not really anything mind-blowing, so it’s easily skipped.
Despite having a decent number of featurettes that delve into the making of the season, this release is still held back too much by the show itself. With season three premiering tomorrow night, we can only hope that the series will get back on track as it takes on the realm of witches. That’s another area that has a lot of potential for a terrifying story, just as much as an insane asylum. Will it be worth it to get our hopes up again? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Now playing in theaters: Gravity, Argento's Dracula, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, A Single Shot, Blue Caprice, Jayne Mansfield's Car, Riddick, Hell Baby, Touchy Feely, Passion, The Lifeguard, Short Term 12, The Grandmaster, 2 Guns, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Curse of Chucky, Fantastic Voyage, The Croods, This is the End, Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition, Redemption, A Letter to Three Wives, Disconnect, The Bling Ring, The Iceman, Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Two
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This review is based on a copy of the Blu-ray received for reviewing purposes.