Season 2 of American Horror Story begins entirely anew, independent of every story line and character that we watched in its first season. Unlike the scattered, way-too-busy premiere of season 1, this new and different season begins with an evenly paced, focused and strategic start. Here’s what we’ve learned already:
1. Jessica Lange is still The Shit. She’s back in all her menacing glory as Sister Jude, head nun of the Catholic asylum wherein this season takes place. She does seem capable of compassion, which would mean she’s not entirely evil, but she’s certainly not a hero, either.
2. Evan Peters returns this season as well, not as Lange’s son, but as a troubled newlywed who witnessed his wife’s murder by what appeared to be aliens. (Yes, I said aliens.) No one believes such a story, of course, and Peters’ Kit Walker is admitted into the asylum while awaiting trial. I have no idea if said aliens are real or a delusion created by Walker’s twisted mind (much like the cutesy inmate Grace, who is either a ghost or a figment of Walker’s imagination) but it sure is an unexpected complication.
3. Unlike his aforementioned co-stars who live in 1964 when the asylum was fully functional, Adam Levine’s character Leo and his newly-wedded wife Theresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) are members of the here and now. They take a tour of the twelve most haunted sites in America, one of which is Briarcliff – the now closed and abandoned asylum – wherein something awful happens. Not being a huge Maroon 5 fan, I wasn’t all that sorry to see Leo’s arm get mysteriously hacked off. But I would like to know what that hideous monster-like creature was that did it.
4. Chloe Sevigny is just one of many superb guest stars this season and, of course, she’s starring as an incurable nymphomaniac. Stick to what you’re good at, I say, and Sevigny is good at playing sexually deviant women.
5. Joseph Fiennes joins the cast as Monsignor Timothy Howard, the delectable priest after whom the seemingly tight-assed Sister Jude secretly lusts, and James Cromwell plays Dr. Arden, a mad scientist type of doctor who performs experiments (sometimes fatal) on the inmates without families and who probably created the monster that stole Leo’s arm.
6. Sarah Paulson guest stars as Lana Winters, a nosy journalist desperate to launch her career by getting an exclusive interview with Bloody-Face (the adorable nickname given to Walker, who is assumed to have killed his wife), but lands herself in the asylum as prisoner at the merciless hands of Sister Jude.
Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck seem determined to make some social statements here – what with two of the more victimized characters (Kit Walker and Lana Winters) voluntary participants in socially unacceptable (in 1964 and, to a lesser degree, today) relationships. Walker and his wife were an interracial couple and Winters is a lesbian, which, no doubt, is the reason Sister Jude locked her up at all – to “cure her of her perversion.”
What made me most uncomfortable throughout is the knowledge that this inhumane treatment of mentally unstable people actually occurred. The way mentally ill people were treated and abused by doctors, nurses, religious figureheads, police officers and prison guards is a reflection of one of many dark, ugly periods of human history and I’ve always felt so sorry for those poor folks who happened to have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or any other mental illness in a time when the most educated of humans thought they could be cured by torture. A sad, shameful part of our collective history, but also one perfectly ripe backdrop for a horror story.