‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Season Finale Review

‘Madness Ends’ manages to stand out in the same manner as the two episodes before — which is to say: the interest in it comes from the creators’ decision to have fun with the episode’s structure. While Minear and Gomez-Rejon don’t play with the arrangement with quite the same energy as Murphy did in ‘Continuum,’ the season finale still doesn’t come through as being another typical episode of American Horror Story. And that could be thought of as a positive, considering how the season wraps up.

All obligatory comments and objections about facial prosthetics aside, the choice to set ‘Madness Ends’ in Lana’s present works not only because she’s one of the two most reliable figures left to fill in the blanks (mostly because the audience has been made aware her lies, and the fact that she’s cognizant of them as well certainly helps), but since the season premiere, Lana’s plight, as played through her character’s social status and career ambition — which were certainly important given time period — has been a primary Asylum storyline. Additionally, at this point, it allows her to resolve the Kit and Jude threads, as well as the dangling issue of Son of Bloody Face, a.k.a. Johnny (Dylan McDermott). But the episode is also centered on Lana because the conclusion of her narrative hinges on the completion of her initial task: to expose the wrong doings of Briarcliff.

Much of what ‘Madness Ends’ works to do is see the surviving characters reconcile their (subconscious?) guilt over those who’d been left behind or had perished at the sanitarium when things had gotten particularly hairy. Jude is remanded to Kit’s care, because, apparently the Walker family residence just isn’t a home anymore unless an unstable person is part of it. Meanwhile Lana sets her sights on bringing down the institution and, in particular, Monsignor Tim. But that’s only part of the story.

Had Johnny turned out to be something other than what the show presented him to be (a prospect that seemed likely given American Horror Story‘s twisty nature), it feels like Kit could have easily taken center stage in the finale. Instead, he’s relegated to being just another part of Lana’s story. If Lana is Asylum‘s plucky, but sometimes morally ambiguous central protagonist – or at least the closest thing this series can come to having one – then Kit has been the show’s emotional foundation. His scenes recounting the last months of Jude’s life nearly became too saccharine – especially for a series with the word “horror” in the title – but the episode managed to pull back and offer something thematically and visually interesting in Jude’s final moments.
As striking as the conclusion to Jude’s tale was, Kit’s felt almost like a footnote, as mysterious and mysteriously underdeveloped as certain aspects of the Asylum storyline had been. By the end of the season, aliens, demons, Nazis, killer Santas and mutants all felt like fringe elements heaped on to an already overloaded premise. Perhaps the Ryan Murphy kitchen-sink style of horror ultimately suffered under the weight of all of these extraneous plot devices and familiar horror tropes. One of the key problems with this everything-that’s-scary approach to the season is that the thematic weight and importance the show attempted to apply to these separate, and somewhat disparate elements, didn’t really fit with the amount of time ultimately granted to them in the overall storyline.

Instead, by ‘Madness Ends,’ Asylum was far more interested in Lana’s forsaken offspring. Essentially, the finale, in addition to significant portions of ‘Continuum’ and ‘Spilt Milk‘ – if we want to take it back that far – came off like they were trying too hard to heap the season’s questions and examinations of mental illness and the roots of evil onto a relatively minor character whose introduction occurred more than half way through the season.
Although the Johnny arc may have failed to excite in terms of offering a truly comprehensive climax to the Asylum chapter, it did its best to bring the Lana character back to Briarcliff (emotionally, anyway) one last time – which had been an ongoing theme throughout the season, and no small feat, considering the institution no longer existed at this point. However, it was in these moments that it became clear just how much weaker Asylum became when the characters and storylines were taken out of Briarcliff. Even when Lana turns the tables on her son and would-be killer, and then does what, in any other show, might be deemed unthinkable, ‘Madness Ends’ still has to circle back to the moment when the madness first began. It makes one wonder how much stronger the season might have been if it hadn’t been necessary to turn the proverbial car around so many times.
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Lana slays...literally.