WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILER ALERTS!!!!
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, what the hell’s wrong with you, American Horror Story?
Tonight’s Season 2 finale, “Madness Ends,” which airs at 10pm on FX, has me feeling some familiar frustrations. Last season I willfully and gladly went along with the big ball of crazy that befell the Harmon family, not caring that the rules were established, then seemingly broken at will. Just what the heck ghosts were capable of, anyway? I thought they couldn’t leave the house, but then I see one riding in the back of a squad car? But hey, it didn’t really have to make sense, as long as it was fun. But toward the end, once Connie Britton’s character died during childbirth, I kinda lost interest. Then Dylan McDermott’s character, after dragging us through so much drama all season, was offed relatively easily and unceremoniously in the finale. While some consider the incongruous “happy” ending with the deceased family gathered around the Christmas tree the perfect sendoff, by that point I pretty much didn’t give a you-know-what.
So the news that the show would become an anthology, with each season creating a new story with a new set of characters, was about the best thing I could have heard. And the first few episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum had me believing. Jessica Lange as a sadistic nun who runs a dungeon-like mental facility? Yeah, I can work with you on that. James Cromwell as an evil doctor? Yes yes, I like what you’ve done here. Then there were hints of aliens, escaped Nazis and oodles of ’60s-era societal mores. Sign. Me. Up.
But around Episode 5, which began the two-part “I Am Anne Frank” arc, Asylum lost a ton of momentum. The whole point seemed to be to establish Cromwell’s character as a possible former Nazi, along with raising the possibility that perhaps the Anne Frank story we know isn’t the truth. But really it just proved a big distraction. It’s very telling that Ryan Murphy, on the other hand, thinks “I Am Anne Frank (Part 2)” is one of the best episodes the show’s ever done. After that, promising storylines such as the possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) and most notably the revelation of Dr. Thredson as Bloody Face either went absolutely nowhere satisfying, or went through so many twists and turns that it was hard to stay invested. Grace gets shot and killed, comes back having been impregnated by aliens, only to get hacked up by Alma, who after also coming back from the dead thanks to aliens is now a patient at Briarcliff, which Lana had promised to shut down but now isn’t because she’s caught up in being a big-time author, even though she kept the baby from Bloody Face, and now that baby is apparently offing hookers after they let him drink their breast milk.
I promise you, that is the strangest sentence I’ve ever written, yet somehow seeing it unfold proved baffling and, worse, boring. Murphy promised a killer finale, and while “Madness Ends” does hold the attention, taking us through the 1960s up to today, it’s still not enough to make up for all the aimlessness and red herrings. The season felt like it should have ended with Dr. Arden (Cromwell) jumping into that crematory fire with Sister Mary Eunice’s corpse. Or at least that should have had more impact on the final outcome. As it was, we just had a random demon possession that came and went, and a largely unexplored escaped Nazi. Not to mention that it left us with wholly uninteresting characters such as the Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) to follow around, just waiting for the next bit of Bloody Face depravity.
So, it’s with a resigned sigh and shrug that I bid adieu to another wildly uneven ride with AHS. Are the fun, truly inspired bits of horror worth the whole maddening mess? Yet I know as I write this that once Season 3 rolls around, I’ll be right there, eagerly awaiting entry into whatever twisted world Murphy & Co. conjure next. I’ll just be better equipped to handle a show that forces you to endure a torturous middle, hopefully surrounded by a fantastic beginning and an, oh please oh please, satisfying ending.
If we’re still making changes to American Horror Story for Season 3, may I recommend a six-episode format instead of 13? While I love Murphy’s ability to rifle through story lines and situations without stringing viewers along, in AHS — as in Glee — this seems to have translated into changing the game so much that it’s not even worth playing.
Photo: Credit: Byron Cohen/FX