“American Horror Story: Asylum” Review – “Continuum”
“American Horror Story: Asylum” Review – “Continuum”
This week’s “American Horror Story” opens with Kit holding an axe and covered in blood. He waddles in a stupor before slumping down on the recliner in his underwear. His naive, innocent child cries out for him to come upstairs. With a blank look on his face, he stoically calls out that he’s on his way and a tear drops from his eye. This opening scene for “Continuum” proves that the horror formula in “The Shining” about a normal suburban dad going crazy and attacking his family to death will always be an effective horror trope. The juxtapositions of imagery representing home, comfort, and family life set against imagery of blood, violence, and madness is still a chilling and entertaining visual device for horror films and series.
After the prologue, the show revisits Kit’s household. Inside his home, Grace draws her alien abductors while her kids play with toilet paper. Alma, the other female in Kit’s menage a trois arrangement, shows bottled-up tension while she’s cutting carrots on the kitchen counter. Kit recommends a 1960’s demonstration to his two wives once he walks in the door. Alma doesn’t soak most of it in because she’s concerned about Grace’s alien drawings. Kit looks at her drawings and disinterestedly provides her with compliments about her skills, even though her illustrations make him nervous.
Alma hated her abduction experience and continues to show concern for Grace’s obsession with the aliens. With eyes glazed and wild, Grace explains that the aliens have so much in store for them both. Alma denies it. She refuses to believe it.
Unnerving friction elevates the tension in the household to the extent that Grace is killed.
The next part of the episode takes place in the Briarcliff Asylum in 1969. Sister Jude plays “Candy Land” like a dangerous game of poker with the other lunatics in the asylum. What is most unique and original about the show is that in scenes like this one with Sister Jude, audiences get to see the inmates’ interactions from their perspectives. The characterization and direction is reminiscent of Tod Browning’s film “Freaks”, in which the viewpoint of carnival freaks is explored sympathetically and empathically.
The patients see themselves as prisoners, even though they’re clearly not in a jail. The cells are private rooms, the orderlies do not visibly mistreat the patients in any identifiable way, and weapon checks are more lax. What makes the writing and directing so phenomenal is the fact that just when you’re about to side with the patients of Briarcliff about mistreatment, especially the characters who are former patients of Briarcliff, you realize that there is no visible harassment of the patients to be identified. The scriptwriting and dialogue works so marvelously for the horror series because viewers are invited to share in the paranoia that the subjugated characters feel towards their oppressors. Deranged characters like Sister Jude are divided from the authorities who have power over them by something closer to an “ism” that designates spite on upstanding characters like Monsignor Tim Howard based mostly on social status.
This kind of simulacra is used as a narrative tool in one particular scene when Sister Jude is told by a psychiatrist that the last time she talked to the monsignor was 2 1/2 years earlier and not that week. Then the psychiatrist tells her that her best friend in the institution is dead. Jude is stunned and looks straight ahead. The camera pans down to show her disheveled upside-down reflection in a glass of water. In that frame her madness and confusion is made crystal-clear.
We are also provided a different perspective when Kit revisits the institution. His perception of it is much more grotesque. He focuses on an old man who takes out his catheter and plays with it. Then he observes two insane patients having sex on a recliner in the corner. He looks away in both instances.
In the last part of the episode, Lana’s book tour is well underway, where she promotes her memoir about surviving life under Bloody Face’s captivity. She imagines Dr. Thredson (“Bloody Face”) and Wendy (her bitter ex-girlfriend) are in the audience interrogating her. Both Thredson and Wendy accuse her of blindly seeking fame until the presenter at the bookstore touches her on the shoulder to bring her back from daydreaming.
Lana sees Kit at the book-signing and they go out for coffee. He feels that she’s sold out so she can exploit the sensationalist aspects of her experiences at Briarcliff. He regrets that she doesn’t seem interested in writing to expose injustices anymore. She tells him how she received movie rights for her book.
On the other hand, when Kit goes to visit Sister Jude she claims that they stole her life-story and put it on TV. Jude points to the television and tells him, “She’s got the hat! … She can fly with the hat!” Kit rolls his eyes at one point when she’s speaking to him. In this sense, Jude is a foil to Lana. Lana and Jude are both blinded by their own perceptions. Lana has a blind-spot because of her vanity and Jude has one because her out-of-control neuroses.
The episode ends with a surprise visit from a son of Bloody Face, and he is looking forward to settling some major scores and making up for lost time by the next episode. Fortunately for horror fans, this should mean that Bloody Face’s wrath is far from over.