(Spoiler alert text)
Over 2 million viewers tuned in last Wednesday night for the season finale of “Asylum.” Aptly titled “Madness Ends,” the episode neatly ties up loose ends for audiences, though not without some disappointments. Creator Ryan Murphy disclosed before the finale that only one of the leads would emerge from the shadows of Briarcliff alive, and that this is really anyone’s game by this point. Will it be a tortured Kit, left alone to raise his two children, Jude, whose mind has slowly been deteriorating in the asylum or Lana, stalked by familiar killer?
“Madness Ends” is narrated by present day Lana, who has gained renown as an investigative reporter/writer, as well as iconic status akin to Barbara Walters. As she holds an interview in her own home for a prestigious Kennedy Center event, we catch a glimpse of Lana’s longtime love Marian, an opera singer. Meanwhile, Johnny Morgan has managed to sneak his way into the interview crew in order to get closer to his intended target. It is revealed that Lana’s big career boost came after she snuck back into Briarcliff with a film crew and led an exposé on the neglect and maltreatment of the patients.
Lana’s honed sleuthing skills uncover that it was Kit who checked Judy Martin out of the asylum. I found the way the writers intertwined the last segments of Kit and Judy’s stories to be incredibly touching; one of the most beautiful scenes of the entire season is the one in which Kit’s children hold hands with Judy as they walk out into the woods together. That moment of peace and serenity really added a touch of warmth and humanity to a season that was full of bleakness and bloody betrayals.
I—and undoubtedly many other viewers like me—had harbored high hopes that Kit’s children would turn out to have magical alien powers. However, they end up leading successful but ultimately ordinary lives. My expectations for finding out what exactly was the deal with the extraterrestrials is denied and destroyed. While their inexplicable appearance causes mild irritation, it was strangely fitting for them to be the ones who take Kit away.
Heralded by Murphy as the true hero of the show, Kit really steps up at the end, holding his family together after the deaths of his two lovers, their mothers. He also rescues Judy from her insanity, simply because it is the right thing to do. There is an almost dark fairytale vibe when the aliens finally come to retrieve Kit. Seeing as his whole life has been ruined and rebuilt by the aliens, it only seems proper that they would decide his final fate.
Lana, despite her age, is tougher than ever as she confronts her own son with the same ferocity she opposed his father with, decades ago. Their confrontation is well-performed—every word and action laced with genuine madness and the conviction that neither will back down; Lana refuses to truly apologize for abandoning him as an infant, while Johnny is thoroughly convinced that his mother is the real monster. Their showdown is wrought with tension as Johnny aims a gun at his mother’s head; flashbacks depict him walking through Briarcliff for the first time while experiencing hallucinations of Thredson telling him how much love he had to give as a father. At just the right moment, Lana turns on the mommy charm, as she gently tells him, “You can never be like him;” for a split second there seems to be hope for Johnny when he breaks down and whimpers, “I’ve hurt people, Mom.” Yet all too soon we are reminded of why Lana Winters is the sole survivor of Briarcliff when she blows her son’s brains out, effectively ending the Thredson lineage with violent, poetic justice.
Fame walks hand-in-hand with scandal and notoriety when we learn that Lana had publicly accused Cardinal Howard of his participation in the horrors at Briarcliff and his willing involvement with a Nazi doctor, incurring the wrath of New York for doing so. Her exposure of his misdeeds eventually led Howard to commit suicide, a far too easy way out for a man as deluded and cruel as Howard.
The final shot of “Madness Ends” is a bittersweet flashback to Briarcliff in 1964, and we are brought back to the exchange between Sister Jude and pre-asylum Lana with the familiar “Dominique” (Jeanine Deckers) playing into the end credits. This scene is significant in highlighting the two women as the heart of the show, and emphasizes the passing of the torch from Sister Jude—who ruled the first half of the season—to Lana, who ends the arc with a bang.
“Asylum” was cleverly crafted amidst the social issues (e.g. racism, homophobia, etc.) of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The season provided a literal commentary on mental care institutions that existed during the days of lobotomy and exorcism; it lent an authentic quality as horrors pulsed through Briarcliff. Aliens or no aliens, the combination of the gloomy, claustrophobic asylum, angels, demons and Nazi doctors was enough to keep the chills going in spite of certain shortcomings in character development (Timothy Howard, I’m looking at you) and pacing; the first half of “Asylum” dragged on, whereas the last few episodes sped through the timeline. Though it lacked the originality of the first season, Murphy and his team still manage to deliver a captivating story with a talented cast that’s sure to hook in audiences for season three, which has already recast Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and season one favorite Taissa Farmiga.
Rating: 4 stars