WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!
Before I write anything further I thought it was only fair to offer a spoiler warning to those of you who might have episodes saved up to watch on your DVR, or are waiting to see the second season when it comes out on DVD, Netflix streaming, or from another on-line provider.
On October 17, 2012, “American Horror Story” returned to the FX network with its second season premier. Created and produced by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tick) and Brad Falchuk (Glee), the part drama, part horror, and part mystery television series does not pick up where last season ended. The creative decision was made to make the show an anthology series, so as to not get tied down to one location or to a particular set of characters. This season’s full name was “American Horror Story: Asylum.”
Leaving behind the setting of the California home where numerous atrocities were committed and vengeful spirits haunted anyone who dared to try and live at the place, this second season of the series transports viewers to Briarcliff Manor in Massachusetts. The year is 1964, and Briarcliff is an institution for the criminally insane. The first few minutes of the show, however, take place in the current year, as a catalyst to what transpired in the past.
The first episode of season two, “Welcome to Briarcliff,” begins with a newly married couple, Leo and Theresa, portrayed by Adam Levine (Love Actually) and Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Step Up). They are visiting haunted places located throughout America. At first, their macabre fascinations are satisfied as they make their way into the now deserted Briarcliff and explore different areas, but things suddenly turn deadly when Briarcliff’s most infamous murderer decides to come out of hiding…or does he? Afterward, the action reverts back to 1964, the year in which a good deal of season two will take place. The show does, however, at times, delve into years prior to 1964 as they pertain to certain characters, some of the sixties following 1964, and also to the current day, as a way to advance the narrative.
The second season, just like the first, featured a solid ensemble cast that turned in strong performances on a weekly basis. Starring Jessica Lange, two time Oscar winner for “Tootsie” (1982) and “Blue Sky” (1995), who, in essence, plays three roles – a former, alcoholic lounge singer turned corporal punishment wielding nun, Sister Jude Martin, who in the later episodes is turned into a victim of the same institution she helped to mold. Evan Peters, who played Lange’s son, the deeply disturbed Tate Langdon during the first season, returns this time as Kit Walker, a man who has been wrongfully accused of being the murderer of women known as ‘Bloody Face.’ Season two also features: Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters, a very driven reporter who is willing to pay any price in order to get her story about the asylum; Joseph Fiennes (Luther) as Monsignor Timothy Howard, who is secretly the object of Sister Jude’s fantasies, a man, whose desires of ascending to a higher station within the church hierarchy influences the questionable decisions he makes; James Cromwell (The Green Mile), as Arthur Arden, the asylum’s resident doctor who is attempting to create indestructible human beings through perverse medical experiments; Lizzie Brochere (One to Another) as Grace, who had resigned herself to living locked up, until the arrival of Kit Walker, who she befriends, a relationship that will turn her life around to say the least; as well as Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as the mommy obsessed serial killer, Dr. Oliver Thredson. One of season two’s standout performances belongs to Lily Rabe. She played the baby obsessed Nora, during season one. In Asylum, she gets to portray the dual roles of innocent nun, Sister Mary Eunice McKee, and after being possessed by a demon, that claims to be the devil, she completely immerses herself in her role as she fosters the entity’s demonic agenda. In addition, there were notable guest stars such as, Frances Conroy, (Six Feet Under) Dylan McDermott, (The Practice) Ian McShane, (Deadwood) and Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry).
Thoroughly commenting on each episode that ran this season would make this blog far too long, but there is one particular two-parter, that I found thought provoking, that I will speak about. “I Am Anne Frank (Parts 1 & 2),” starts off with a woman, Franka Potente, (Run Lola Run) who is taken to Briarcliff by the police after she attacked some men in a bar. The men were laughing over anti-Semitic remarks. The woman informs Sister Jude that, that is how it always starts, with seemingly innocuous things, such as anti-Semitic comments, and if left alone it will springboard into far worse things in the future. When Sister Jude asks the woman if she lost people in the Holocaust, the woman answers her by whistling, but she will reveal, a short time later, that she is Anne Frank, at least she is claiming to be.
Sister Jude rebukes the woman’s claims and speaks briefly about what happened to the real Anne Frank. For those of you, who might not know, I will briefly expand on the remarks made by Lange’s character. Anne Frank is one of the most famous victims of the Holocaust. The reason being is the diary she kept for a period of two years while hiding from the Nazis. On August 4, 1944, Anne, her father Otto, mother Edith, sister Margot, along with Hermann, Auguste, and Peter Van Pels, as well as Fritz Pfeffer were captured. The secret annex they had been hiding in, which was located in a building owned by Anne’s father, was discovered thanks to an anonymous tip to Nazi secret police.
The group was first sent by train, on August 8, 1944, to the Westerbork concentration camp in the Netherlands. In September they were transported to the death camp Auschwitz located in Poland. Once at Auschwitz, men and women were separated; it would be the last time Otto Frank would ever see his wife and daughters. Auschwitz would not be the last stop for Anne and her sister. The siblings were transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where both sisters contracted typhus and died in March of 1945 – sadly, it was shortly before the camp was liberated by the Russian army. Otto Frank did survive, and through the publication of Anne’s diary allowed her memory to live on.
Sister Jude, can’t, however, dismiss the numerical tattoo on the woman’s arm, and curiosity really takes hold of her when the supposed Anne Frank, recounts in vivid details, the actions of Dr. Arden, who she states was known in the death camp as Dr. Hans Gruber. Sister Jude, already at odds with Dr. Arden, sets off to find out the validity of the woman’s accusations. She hires famed Nazi hunter, Sam Goodman, portrayed by veteran film and television actor, Mark Margolis. Throwing cold water on the woman’s claim, however, is the arrival of her husband. He shows up at the asylum to take her home, and explains to Sister Jude that his wife has become obsessed with the Holocaust. What he at first thought was nothing more than an interest, he tells Sister Jude, has consumed his wife’s every waking moment. He takes his wife home, only to return a short time later because she refuses to give up her claim of being Anne Frank.
Dr. Arden suggests that surgery will cure her of her nightmarish thoughts. He is given permission by the husband, and at the end of the episode the viewer sees a now docile woman, holding her child, and getting rid of various photographs and documents pertaining to the concentration camps. The irony here is that whether she was the real Anne Frank and survived the camps or just a woman who became impassioned with brining those responsible for inhumane cruelty and murder to justice…she was right. Dr. Arden, according to Sam Goodman, is really Hans Gruber, a Nazi in hiding, who is a former Auschwitz concentration camp doctor.
Questions and thoughts that came to my mind after watching those episodes are: If Anne Frank had survived Bergen-Belsen, why wouldn’t she want to contact her father? He was after all still living. At the conclusion of the war, he did search, as countless other people did for their own family members, for Anne, his wife, and other daughter Margot. Would Anne Frank, really have the attitude, as the character did on the show, that she could do more good having people thinking she was dead, therefore, allowing the diary to live on as an inspirational tool? Wouldn’t she want to be used as a living testament against the ignorant Holocaust deniers that rear their ugly heads throughout the world, who have claimed that her diary was nothing more than fabricated Jewish propaganda? As always I am interested in hearing from my readers, please comment with your thoughts.
The viewers who tuned into the FX network at 10:00PM on Wednesday evenings were offered an intense, psychologically visceral, often thought provoking, one-hour of television. The second season dealt with a plethora of different subjects, including: alien abduction; social issues pertaining to interracial marriage, lesbianism, and science versus religious faith; serial killers and the psychological effects on their offspring; exorcisms; human experimentations, as well as other topics. After two and half months, the second season of the anthology series, which consisted of thirteen episodes, ended last evening. Fear not, fright fans, FX has renewed the show for a third season, which will begin production this summer and air new episodes in the fall. Jessica Lange will once again return to star in the series.