American Horror Story: Asylum 2.01 "Welcome To Briarcliff" TV REVIEW(opens in new tab)
Writer: Tim Minear
Director: Bradley Buecker
THE ONE WHERE We visit the Briarcliff asylum in 1964 and meet nuns, aliens and a serial killer named Bloody Face. Yep, it's the new series of American Horror Story alright.
VERDICT If there’s one thing you can’t accuse the second season of American Horror Story of doing, it’s going soft. Right from the off this is every bit as weird, violent, sexy and preposterous as the first year, and it still looks as if it's been edited by a speed-freak. But, on the basis of “Welcome To Briarcliff”, the producers appear to have also learned to focus in a bit more on the story. There's even hints of a halfway coherent narrative this time around...
So, a new season and a new cast of characters. Some of the old guard return (Jessica Lange, of course, as well as Evan Peters and Lily Rabe), but in very different guises. It's to the show's great credit that not only does this work, it works well. It's fascinating to see the resonances between bitter murderess Constance (Lange's character last year) and her sexually repressed Sister Jude here. They’re joined by an impressively starry guest cast too, with Chloë Sevigny, James Cromwell and Joseph Fiennes all appearing. Cromwell, especially, as Dr Arden – a sort of 1960's Josef Mengele, – is an intriguing addition; though he's so clearly a wrong 'un you've got to assume that he's not going to be the season's real big bad. It's too soon.
But the main star this year looks set to be the Briarcliff hospital itself. A grotty, gothic hellhole where an estimated 46,000 people are said to have died, and with its own “death chute” (which of course plays a part in the episode's brief – but tantalising – present day segment). It's a much scarier setting than the house in season one, and a more credible environment for all this horrible stuff to go on.
Not that it is particularly credible, mind. This is still American Horror Story and therefore a show that out-mads True Blood . In the episode's most intriguing sequence we see aliens at work. Are they real, or a delusion? And that's before we get to Bloody Face – the killer whispered about in the episode's opening sequence. Let's just say, he lives up to his name...
So, an exciting, scary, genuinely off-the-wall start to the season. It will be especially interesting to see how this predominantly ’60s-set episode will tie into a larger narrative that also takes place in the present day. It may be too early to say, but on the basis of “Welcome To Briarcliff”, it feels like the show is turning into something more than just the show you watch because it's weird. It feels like it's turning into a show that's genuinely quite good.
THE XXX FILES Two bits. The opening present day romp between the young couple who like to shag on murder sites ("you can totally put it in my ass now") which goes predictably - and bloodily – wrong, and Sister Jude's sexual fantasy about Joseph Fiennes. You can't blame her, I suppose.
Sister Constance: “I always win against the patriarchal male.” (Somehow, you believe her.)
American Horror Story: Asylum will premiere in the UK on Tuesday 30 October on FX