Film and TV

American Horror Story: Asylum: Free to the End of Your Rope

Do you know why Texas Chainsaw Massacre is brilliant, and why House of 1,000 Corpses is an underrated gem? It has nothing to do with the violence, the horror of cannibalism, or the nature of the kills. It's not even the presence of inhumanity within man. No, both master the worst part of a nightmare, the part where you run but you cannot escape.

The nightmares I remember best from a child are simple ones. Just me running from something bad, but my legs are slow, my breathing hurtful, and the ground like thick mud. That's all it really takes to draw the deepest level of dread from a person. After all, there will come a day when it's your time to die, and all the thrashing, screaming, and rage in the world will not prolong the ticking down to your end. When Sally almost escapes Leatherface only to be grabbed back into the house at the last minute, when Denise wakes in the lair of Dr. Satan, these moments are preludes to our own last seconds.

That, my friends, is what is truly frightening, and Asylum managed to do the same this week in an incredibly subtle way.

It starts off with that exuberant run toward freedom I mentioned. Lana (Sarah Paulson) is smuggled out of Briarcliff first, her case being brought to the attention of Jude's (Jessica Lange) former superior in the church who recognizes what the asylum has become. Lana manages to get free, exonerate herself, and even gets to kill Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) in self defense to ensure he never interferes with her life again.

Nonetheless, when she attempts to go to abort the baby he raped into her, she can't go through with it. "No more death," is all she says, but continues to use her skills as a writer to bring down the asylum and all its hellish practices. When the time comes, she delivers her son, and even though she plans to give him up for adoption she is guilt tripped into breast feeding him by a nurse. The last look we get of her is her looking severely pained as she gazes on a cross above her bed while her son feeds.

The most subtle traps are the most fiendish. What lies before Lana is something like that old wives tale about how you can cook a frog without it ever knowing it by increasing the temperature ever so slowly. Since the show is teasing the idea that the modern Bloody Face (Dylan McDermott) is Lana's son, it's possible that Asylum has created a true long game nightmare.

Someone else we think has made it out, in a sense, is Jude. After she finally snaps back to reality from the effects of severe electroshock she challenges her former monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) about his tryst with a possessed nun. Eventually she's locked away in solitary, but Lana hasn't forgotten her and how she instigated her own release. Yet when she comes with a court order to speak with Jude, the monsignor tells her Jude hung herself. Of course we pan away to her locked in the deepest bowels of Briarcliff.

With only two episodes left in the season Asylum has a lot to tie together. Bloody Face, aliens, and the Devil among all of them. I don't honestly have a lot of hope that they'll do it well because American Horror Story has a problem with the end game. That said, you have to applaud the way they tied into a most primal fear, that of being trapped in an inescapable trap, and did so in such a roundabout way that the people in it still aren't aware that the jaws are closing.

In the last season, death became a comfort in the end. Now, it looks like even that release may be denied the victims of Briarcliff. After all, the only thing worse than dying is living with no end to the pain.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner