It’s not enough for a TV series to cram extraterrestrials, mutants, demonic possession, sociopaths, homophobia, misogyny, chronic masturbation and Nazis into less than six hours. No, “American Horror Story: Asylum” has also managed to probe the depths of Oedipal complexes, abandonment, nymphomania and vehicular manslaughter, among others, relentlessly bombarding the viewer with wave after wave of discomfort.
American Horror Story: Asylum
Season Two Midseason
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
The brilliant and demented writers behind this season’s horrorfest have managed to deify an alcoholic and sadistic nun, put the devil in the skin of the initially most naïve and pathetic character and convince viewers that a murderer of nearly 50 years was a kind and magnanimous therapist with the best of intentions. The midseason premiere, titled “The Origins of Monstrosity,” plays heavily with the pasts and justifications of the series’ biggest and baddest characters.
Head Bitch in Charge Sister Jude’s (Jessica Lange) fall from grace has been heavily foreshadowed, from her distinctly un-sister-like penchant for slinky lingerie, to a weakness for cognac. With a past only illuminated via the occasional flashback or whisper under her breath, Sister Jude has gone from a cruel crone prone to caning, to a vulnerable and unappreciated devotee with an idea she won’t see come to fruition.
The nature of the relationship between the enigmatic Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) — the object of Jude’s affection — and the terrifying Dr. Arthur Arden/Hans Grüper (James Cromwell) becomes less opaque after nymphomaniac Shelley’s (Chloë Sevigny) hospitalization. Upon putting Shelley (who has completed her transformation from insatiable Skrillex look-a-like to legless, irradiated, tuberculosis-and-syphilis-infected sac of pus) out of her misery, the Monsignor confronts Arden about his work in a well-shot sequence that highlights the horrifying extent of the doctor’s destructive influence.
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) evolves from a low-grade, deceptive bastard into the incarnation of journalist Lana Winters’s (Sarah Paulson) fears, toying with her desire to be reunited with her deceased lover. In a series of gut-wrenchingly awkward scenes, Thredson describes his profound mommy issues in depth, heaping a helping of heebie-jeebies to the already bleak and stomach-turning season. His and Lana’s midseason arc ends with the bone-chilling line, “Baby needs colostrum,” eliciting more goosebumps and dry heaves than the entire first season.
But a chilling new character makes an appearance: Jenny (Nikki Hahn), an unfeeling little girl who, apparently added for pure shock value, ends up killing her entire family and lying through her teeth about it afterward. As one of the weaker additions to the cast so far, the innately evil child provides a tangible contrast to the deranged adults in the series, but little else so far.
Unsurprisingly, the midseason manages to create as many questions as it answers. Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) has become less and less subtle about her being the physical incarnation of Satan, casually informing Jenny of this fact before killing Jude’s Nazi-hunting informant. Arden, grateful for Mary Eunice’s ineffable devotion, swears his soul to her in exchange for protection. Signing over your soul to the Devil apparently isn’t as big a deal when you’re a crazed surgeon and war criminal operating under a fake name.
Going forward, the teaser at the end of the midseason introduces an angelic figure and what appears to be Mary Eunice/Satan flinging Arden across his lab. Just in case aliens, freaks of nature and psychopaths weren’t enough, the future promises more of the supernatural for the residents of Briarcliff and the show’s devoted viewership.