American Horror Story: Asylum is the second season of the wildly thrilling FX horror television series American Horror Story. The interesting thing about this show is that it’s billed as an anthology. That means none of the events we discussed here in the first season have any relevance at all here. Odd huh? I love it! While some of the faces may be familiar (we’ll go over them in more detail below), the second season ushers in all new characters, locations and most importantly…a brand new storyline. Think no one watches this show? Think again! This season alone garnered seventeen Primetime Emmy Award nominations, more than any other show. Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s quite a feat considering it’s one of the most eccentric and eclectic horror series you’ve ever seen on television. Nothing is too taboo on this show. Nothing! From aliens to possessed nuns, trust me when I say…you’ll see it all this season and as odd as that combo seems, you haven’t seen anything yet. So if you’re brave enough to enter the Briarcliff Mental Hospital here in Season Two, let me show you around just in case the odd door gets shut or we get lost in the catacombs. I feel you should know your way around.
Upon sitting down with the very first episode of the second season here, you’ll instantly recognize the familiar faces such as Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and most importantly, Jessica Lange. There’s also two more, but I wont spoil the fun. I’ll leave them as a surprise for you. You’ll also find Joseph Fiennes, Lizzie Brochere and Jack Bauer’s father, James Cromwell billed among the main cast. The recurring cast includes the likes of Chloe Sevigny, Ian McShane and even Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. Sadly, Miss Alexandra Beckenridge (the hot housekeeper from the first season) is nowhere to be found this season, but a little birdie told me there’s a good chance of me seeing her in the third season, Coven, which starts this Wednesday.
Intercut with scenes from the present, namely with Levine’s character, Leo, the second season follows the nuns and doctors who run the Briarcliff Institution in Massachusetts in 1964 and the various patients within that are almost all criminally insane. The place was founded by Monsignor Timothy Howard (Fiennes) and entrusted to Sister Jude (Lange) and Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) to oversee. Psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Quinto) and scientist Dr. Arthur Arden (Cromwell) treat and care for the patients. And speaking of the patients, they range from a lesbian journalist, Lana Winters (Paulson), who’s wrongly committed to an accused serial killer who peels the skin of his victims, Kit Walker (Peters). There’s even a patient who is committed because he obsessively masturbates (the scenes where he’s doing this are pretty graphic too) and another one who hits her head against the wall every day. Oh, there are plenty more, but I think you get the gist of it. I just love psychiatric settings like this. Don’t you? I mean, there are just so many rich and interesting characters you can craft and place within a setting like this. It’s nirvana to an eccentric writer like myself.
So let me be the first to admit and others who have seen this second season please chime in below…there’s a lot going on in these 13 episodes. Wowsers! Just when you think you have a grip on the storyline they change the pitching style and throw you a curveball. I felt like I was always playing catch up this season, not that the first one was forever straightforward and linear, but this one takes the prize for one of the most bizarre series ever since the like of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks in my opinion. And of course, I refer to it as such in a very lovingly manner. I just never thought I would see something so wickedly good on free television…isn’t that what the kids are calling regular cable nowadays? I know, it’s hardly free, but you get what I’m saying. It’s not a premium movie channel and that’s a plus with my wallet.
Trust me when I say this is a really hard show to write a summary or a synopsis for without giving away something paramount because practically everything happening in the show is constantly in a state of flux and there’s never no complacency here. However, let’s face it. Complacency in the world of American Horror Story would truly be devastating. Don’t you agree? Good! So I guess you can say that as the season deliciously unfolds we pretty much learn about everyone’s past and present and believe it or not…future events too. Major characters that are strong and in leadership roles in the very beginning have complete role reversals and are stripped of powers by the midpoint. I guess that way you can’t say there’s no change or character arcs for them. And so like I was saying you pretty much deal with it all here from aliens to demonic possessions, crucifixions to a killer Santa Claus, alcoholism to cannibalism and so much more that if I went on any further down my list of topics covered on the show I would probably make your head hurt very badly. You’re just going to have to watch to see how the writers and let’s face it the actors too are able to juggle everything that’s happening in each episode. From that standpoint, you have to admit, it does make the show truly remarkable and deserving of those 17 nominations because trust me…the actors give it their all.
So I will say this. If not for the season’s final redeeming episode, I would have been more prone to settle with the 3.5 score I was going to reward it. Again, this is so hard to talk about without any spoilers. I avoided any news story completely that even remotely dealt with this season until I finally got the chance to marathon it all this past weekend on Blu-ray. All I will say is the following and I’m sure fans of the show will agree with me. Compared to the first ten episodes of the season, the last three feel very different and disjointed. Think of how Act 3 of World War Z felt to you and that’s how this one is. Characters die. Characters have full role reversals. And others find redemption when all there was prior was darkness. It’s very rewarding from a certain point of view, but can also be very frustrating too. I completely get that. The one thing I do love about American Horror Story: Asylum, like its predecessor season, is since it’s an anthology the writers make damn well sure that you have absolute closer at the end. And I particularly love them for that since this season saw a smorgasbord of pretty much everything. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Nazi story lines above too. LOL. You heard me right, Nazis. I mean, they go hand-in-hand with demonic possessions and alien probing, right? Now you finally see my dilemma here (insert smiley face and laugh).
Last but not least, I wanted to cover the show’s production and most importantly the actors. What can I say but t1ts man?! The production quality of this show is like none other. It makes The Walking Dead look a little low budget in my opinion. No penny is wasted in making sure you have an absolute cinematic look and feel in your viewing experience. The asylum and stages/lighting built to support it look absolutely amazing. And while we are on the subject of amazing, how about that cast? Jessica Lange shines once again and reinforces my feelings that I could not see this show without her in it, ever. She can play a role across all spectrums from on top of the world to the meanest nun you’ve ever seen, not to mention one hell of a psychiatric patient too. This woman has it all and she gives it her all here. And the same sentiments apply towards Spock, err I mean Quinto. He brings creepiness to a whole new level this season. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite rising stars in Hollywood. I could go on and on, but quite honestly I have nothing but praise for the rest of the cast as well. James Cromwell, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe and others gave such strong performances in my opinion that it just completely reinforces the fact that this show was not only very deserving of its 17 Emmy nominations, but also it remains a force to be reckoned with in the primetime television arena. Here’s hoping that this Wednesday’s Coven raises the stakes and keeps things like they are in Austin, TX, W-E-I-R-D. And do I even need to mention the show’s most bada$$ intro and theme song ever? I didn’t think so.
So like the last time we visited Season One on Blu-ray, things are in check here. Once again, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment brings the grittiness and horrors of FX’s American Horror Story to life with a visceral AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio that will completely fill your HDTV viewing monitors. The greatest thing about the show is its cinematic quality. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching a generic, canned television show. The transfer makes you feel like you are watching a horror film, albeit a long one. So with that cinematic look and feel you are naturally going to have some moments of light grain and softness. That’s to be expected, but no worries here. Things look stupendous in this transfer! The colors when they want to be are plentiful and vibrant, popping with three-dimensional qualities. Since this is of the horror genre, be prepared to spend a lot of time in the shadows and in dim lighting. However, I’m here to tell you…you’ll love it. The black levels are excellent here. The look of this presentation just puts you in the right state of mind when watching this one and when those bright white lights come out and play, then you know for sure that you’re being taken advantage of by an extraterrestrial. And let’s take a moment to talk about the textures in this print. Outstanding! From the rotting, puss-filled flesh on Dr. Arden’s subjects to the white tiled floors in Bloody Face’s killing room, everything looks authentic like no expense was spared in recreating the realistic and horrific atmosphere this television show begs to be seen in. And last but not least, there are no visible blemishes, artifacts or noise in the print. This one’s a keeper! As I said before, it puts you in the right state of mind and mood without you having to experiencing the real pain and torture the onscreen characters do. Sounds like a win-win to me! Can’t ask for anything more, can you? Just think of it this way, everything you seen on your HDTV screen is intentional and the way the show’s producers want you to see things. And now you know, the rest of the story!
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little too lax and generous above with the video score so I’m going to be a little harsher in the audio department so I don’t lose my street creds as an effective reviewer of Blu-rays. First thing first, for a television show, you’re not going to find any finer presentations. Things go bump in the night all around you, not to mention one of the best scores and opening theme songs ever on television, in my humble opinion. That track just immerses you here once again. I love it! I can’t wait to see what they do with the intro to Wednesday night’s premiere of Coven, but I digress. So let’s get down to covering the basics for a moment regarding this Blu-ray release. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has brought the horror show to the Blu-ray format with a very engaging and effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. That opening score will cut right through you just like Leatherface’s chainsaw would if he were in your living room. The dialogue is always loud, clear and intelligible throughout and the atmospheric events, like the video presentation above, do an above average job of putting you in the middle of all the creepiness. From the ambient noises and screams to the eery music that sounds from the rears, you’re surrounded by real horror goodies here and in my opinion…that’s all that matters…especially in the electro shock therapy scene…ZAP! It won’t rival the masterfully mixed horror films out there, but let’s not get off the beaten track. This is a television series and by all accounts, it looks and sounds pretty damn good and lays waste to its original broadcast quality. And I have to go on record by saying, what a great soundtrack this season had too. The songs, set in the same 1960′s time period that the majority of the season is, sound like seamless here, almost like they were crafted precisely for it. In addition, there are also English, Spanish and French subtitles accessible from the disc’s main menus.
So now that we made it through both of the technical sections above, it’s time to kick back, relax and take a look at what goodies we get to play mad scientist with and dissect within this 3-disc Blu-ray set. Like most television sets, you shouldn’t expect too much. However, I am quite pleased with the selections they chose to include because they have a little more girth compared to the ones on the previous season so without further ado, may I present to you everything you’ll find on each individual Blu-ray disc?
P.S. It’s too bad they do not give you some form of Digital Copies or something, even that of UltraViolet would be nice.
Disc 1 – This Blu-ray disc contains the first 5 episodes of the season. They appear in the following order.
- “Welcome To Briarcliff”
- “Tricks and Treats”
- “Nor Easter”
- “I Am Anne Frank Part 1”
- “I Am Anne Frank Part 2”
Disc 2 – This Blu-ray disc contains the next 5 episodes plus some Deleted Scenes. The episodes appear in the following order.
- “The Origins of Monstrosity”
- “Dark Cousin”
- “Unholy Night”
- “The Coat Hanger”
- “The Name Game”
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 2:54) – There are only a grand total of two different deleted scenes to be found on this Blu-ray disc.
Disc 3 – The last Blu-ray in this collection contains the last 3 episodes of the season plus a handful of extras. They are all listed below in the order they appear on the disc.
- “Split Milk”
- “Madness Ends”
- The Orderly (HD, 9:00) - This is a short where an orderly is being interviewed here and not to ruin things, but there may also be a Bloody Face appearance in here too.
- What Is American Horror Story: Asylum? (HD, 21:55) - I guess this is what you would call your behind-the-scenes look at the second season here, the production and all the territory it covers. It’s basically a series of interviews and clips. If you’re a fan of what you watched this season, you should enter this one. I like how the actors define the season through their thoughts. It’s interesting to hear their take and what they thought of the characters they were portraying.
- Welcome to Briarcliff Manor (HD, 15:04) - I could of mentioned this one above when I referenced how amazing the production’s set design was. This one takes a closer look at that claim of mine.
- The Creatures (HD, 14:49) - This one takes us on a little field trip to Tinsley Studios where we get a behind-the-scenes look at all the makeup and prosthetic effects that were employed throughout the season. I love little docs like these. This is where they make the magic happens..the casting, the sculptures and the molding. Wait until you see the pinhead transformation! And oh yeah…there’s Bloody Face!
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 4:00) – There are a total of only two deleted scenes to be found here as well, just like we saw on the second disc.
I did not want to forget to mention that there’s also this really cool feature called Season Mode that allows you to play the entire season without any interruptions even when you press stop or insert the next Blu-ray disc, it will remember where you left off. Love it! I used it and five episodes went by back-to-back like nothing. Beautiful!
It’s been a couple Blu-ray reviews since I last took some unboxing pictures, but rest assured…I’m rolling out the red carpet for this hotly anticipated television series on Blu-ray. Dedicated to WSB reviewer Gerard Iribe, please eat your heart out and enjoy the following exclusive unboxing pictures of my review copy of American Horror Story: Asylum on Blu-ray.
An attractive cardboard slipcover protects the spindled Blu-ray case.
The back of the slipcover is also the same as the rear cover art in the Blu-ray case.
For crying out loud! Open her already!!!
An small ad for Season 3, Coven, is included inside the case.
Here are individual shots of the three Blu-ray discs.
Behind disc 1 you can see the episodes and extras found on each disc.
This work of art is behind disc 3 in the case.
In summary, I can’t think of a better way to spend this Halloween season than doing a marathon of one of television’s creepiest horror shows, American Horror Story: Asylum. As I mentioned above, many times, this season has something for every one in it. And from cinematic video presentation to the captive audio, your Hi-Def set up will thank you and remind you why you decided to pick this one up on Blu-ray in the first place. So stay the course and think about it. What do you have to lose? I just encourage you to not ask Adam Levine that question, or he may have a different reply for you. LOL. I am glad I went back and revisited this second season. I gave up half way throughout its original airing last year because of time commitments, divorce and whatnot, but I’m so thrilled I had this opportunity to review it and was able to give it a second chance. This title will be proudly displayed amongst the many other horror titles in my Blu-ray collection. And now with this review behind me, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to Wednesday nights again. Bring on Coven!