Have you ever felt like a crazy person while watching a television show?
American Horror Story: Asylum might do that to you. By definition, Continuum is a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. The horrific elements of this season’s insanely complex story displays an essence of truth. Penned by Ryan Murphy himself, this strange and stunning episode does something to make us all question our own sanity by looping us in the very circle of terror that we thought we had escaped. Just when you think the twisted story couldn’t take another turn, it opens a new surprising layer that is arguably more unnerving than Briarcliff Manor itself. They sure know how to twist a dark twisted twist, don’t they?
This episode is mostly split into three long segments--Segments with adjacent elements which are not perceptibly different from each other, yet their extremes are quite distinct. Yes, it all ties together in the weirdest, most unsettling ways. Finally free from the terrifying halls of the torturous asylum, the survivors are still feeling Briarcliff Manor’s influence. Even outside of its dark depths, our characters can’t escape what it has done to them. Structurally, this episode veers from its usual pacing and it pays off. It first focuses on Kit, Grace, and Alma. The perfect little mixed polygamist family, still attempting to move on past their various horrors. We don’t know very much about what went on with the aliens and Grace & Alma, and I actually prefer it that way. We only have the scenarios that Grace has told us, and clearly not all of them were true because Alma and her baby are still alive. Whatever Grace experienced, she found it to be a religious experience which is something to be praised. Alma however is tortured by whatever happened to her…
The tricky and bloody opening scene does well to set a tense tone as it all goes down. Grace and Alma’s disagreeing perspectives slowly disrupts the peace in the Walker home. Grace’s obsession with the green monsters from space is debated and beyond the group’s odd domestic situation, the matters at hand deal with the perception of horror and spiritual experience. The fixated Grace would like nothing more than to have the alien scientists continue their immaculate work, even with her, Alma, and Kit’s children. Alma makes an extremely dramatic move by cutting down Grace’s exasperated intentions with an axe right in her spine. Kit isn’t Grace’s murderer. I assume Alma’s time with the alien scientists scarred her so much that she’d do anything to not go back to that place again. We forget that while Kit and Grace were going through hell in Briarcliff Manor, so was Alma. But just a hell of a different kind. And it drove her a little crazy and Grace’s consistent alien talk was all it took for her to go over the edge. Kit remains an interesting mystery. Grace keeps on insisting that Kit is special and his mind is so open, which is why she also believes the aliens choose him to conduct this hellish experiment on. He is open-minded; Kit is married to a black woman in a time when that is totally unseemly, he has a biracial child, he heads an unorthodox family and he stands up for the misfits in a prejudice society. There might be some more mystery to Kit to discover…
The second segment follows Jude’s continuous downfall. Last week, Jude pronounced that she was “more sane as a madwoman than she ever was the head of Briarcliff” and that perception of insanity (it could be sanity) continues here, but escalates to a whole new disturbing level. Jude is the queen of the asylum’s inmates, with Pepper being her right hand gal in charge. And they make quite an enjoyable team. Monsignor Timothy makes his announcement to Jude that he has been made a cardinal and is leaving from Briarcliff. He makes intentions to take Jude with him, but apparently it is nothing more than another mad hallucination that deters Jude from her escape. It doesn’t help that the Angel of Death makes an odd return to torture Jude’s mind more than ever. Death is hunting this madwoman down, and she isn’t ready to go. Jude’s total clarity comes with its disastrous side effects. Frances Conroy portrays a street tough version of the Angel of Death--the rough queen of the prison sort of character, and she does it well. The dark angel’s arrival is the final straw and pushes Jude’s mind to yet another impressive breaking point.
The sequence in which Jude is confronted with the truth may be one of my favorite scenes of this entire season, both stylistically and how it delivers a whole new level of shocks. Visually, the scene is haunting and horrifically stunning, while the devastating truth unnerves both Jude and the viewers. We’re left scratching our heads, thinking we’ve gone a bit off our rockers as well. How much of what we’ve seen through Jude’s eyes in this episode, and even this entire season, is reality? The show’s tricky editing is only to be applauded! Dr. Miranda Crump’s information on Pepper’s death, the fact that Jude’s been at Briarcliff for years now, and that the Monsignor had abandoned her, while a disturbing atmospheric rhythm silently echoes in the background…it’s all well done. The audience is left in the dark, just as much as Jude is, and by the time she is grasping the full volume of these truths, it’s too late. All we can do is watch as this shocking train wreck occurs.
Now concerning Lana Winters, I am compelled to have a Tyra Banks moment and start screaming, “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you! How dare you?!”
But in all seriousness, Lana has turned quite a corner. I’m not sure what doesn’t scream “bestseller” about escaping an insane murderous rapist with an Oedipus complex and maneuvering out of Briarcliff Manor and then shutting it down, but apparently Ms. Winters wanted a bit more. Becoming a fame-crazed sellout who is milking her and everyone else’s past horrors doesn’t necessarily set her up for the best karma, if you choose to believe in that sort of thing. But more importantly, and we don’t know how much of Lana’s book, “Maniac” is fabricated and how much is the truth that we have in fact seen, but she might have ruined any chances to right the wrongs of the asylum and get Jude out of the hell she’s in.
Lana’s book reading in the bookstore is a bit of genius because I think it is partially a commentary on how we as a society are keen on believing something so insane and weird that it has to be real. Not to dig too deep here, but it could be amounted to one’s belief in the Holy Bible. A book full of so many amazing stories of faith and hope that some figure it must be reality. While there may be bits of truth, there are also dramatic enhances. Do we deem Lana as a madwoman creating a dramatic and horrifying story or a strong woman whose stories have inspired thousands--probably millions. And wouldn’t a woman who has gone through all of that become a little unhinged herself? We know the truth (presumably) because we’ve been along for Lana’s ride; but, how can everyone else? Certainly it is a possibility that Lana has started lying simply to keep herself leveled in a way. Maybe Ryan Murphy is also attempting to comment on power and fame deterring once righteous individuals from their promised past. Lana might be processing her experience differently and building a new one from her warped mind. These are all possibilities that are worth questioning. All of which makes the story all the more complex and delicious to contemplate. And although, I’m slightly frustrated with how Lana has turned out, it makes for a much more complex character.
When Lana meets with Kit, the two realize they are the only survivors left that are out of the asylum. Alma’s venture into Briarcliff Manor (which has become even worse than it was previously, if you can believe it, now that is being used by the state as an overflow facility) leads to her mysteriously dying for unknown reasons. It’s telling that Kit had to be the one to seek out Lana again. Just wanted to point that out. Like really, Lana didn’t even think about Kit and Grace once she became such a big author. Anyway…Do the aliens have anything to do with Alma‘s death? Kit loses both Grace and Alma, leaving him a single father of two. Kit sights an even more rattled Jude at the asylum and attempts to help free her with Lana’s help. However, Lana has moved on and changed. Her motives are different. The drive Lana had to do good and expose Briarcliff Manor for the hellhole it is has vanished due to what I am perceiving a new societal pull. She was a misfit in the asylum, but now that she has fame and influence, her tune has changed quite considerably. Lana no longer singing the songs of justice, but rather of glorified fame. Jude is aware of her indisposed position; however, the madness in her head is keeping her from helping herself. Society looks at her as an undesirable now that she’s “insane”, and society is not very nice to the insane. So she is left to rot. Kit is trying to tell the truth and is continuing to be punished for it, all the while Lana is telling lies to people who are eating it up, simply because she has fame and a bit of influential power. Interesting what mental illnesses (of any kind, be it lust, greed, passion or power) will do to make someone perceive a story differently.
It all ends on the dark set up of our much anticipated finale, in which our present day wannabe Bloodyface Jr., Johnny makes a move to find his mother. He finds Lana Winter’s book and is now on the hunt. Whatever comes in this final episode of American Horror Story: Asylum is sure to twist this already twisted set of continuous terror. These adjacent elements of horror are not perceptibly different from each other, although their extremes are quite distinct. And wherever this terrifying loop of despair ends for our remaining characters, it will surely close the story with in an especially twisted manner. “Continuum” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013