1964. Briarcliff Manor insane asylum welcomes a pair of new, involuntary inmates: a young newly-wed and an investigative journalist…
It was a brave choice to turn American Horror Story into an anthology series in which every season has a different setting and characters, but retains some of the same actors. It was a path once mooted for Heroes, but in that case the creators decided to play it safe. Here creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy have torn up the rule book after a successful first series.
The 1964 setting brings to life issues that can be dramatised in a starker form than a contemporary setting would allow. Evan Peter’s newly-wed Kit Walker is breaking taboo by marrying a black woman, while Sarah Paulson’s undercover reporter Lara Winters is a lesbian—both facts barely raise an eyebrow today, but in the 1960s they were the ideal pretexts for locking away anyone inconvenient.
Framed with a modern wrap-around that sees a honeymooning couple come a cropper at the hands of a ‘something’ inhabiting the ruins of the asylum, ‘Welcome to Briarcliff’ sets up a range of characters and situations quickly, but perhaps lacks the sheer insane bravura of the show’s debut last year.
Stealing the acting honours once again is Jessica Lange as Sister Jude, although James Cromwell’s mad surgeon Dr Arthur Arden looks set to keep pace with her in the insane acting stakes. While the ‘repressed nun’ and ‘mad doctor’ are well-worn archetypes in horror, both actors do a fine job in bringing their characters to life in fresh ways.
Perhaps the most startling moment was the inclusion of an alien abduction scenario in what purports to be a ‘horror’ series. For much of the episode, Kit’s (Evan Peters) experience can be seen as hallucination or false memories, until Dr Arden removes what appears to be a nano-bot probe from his neck. Unless he’s hallucinating as well, we have to take it as a depiction of reality…
Several major actors (Zachary Quinto where are you?) haven’t appeared yet, so it seems not all the players are yet in place, suggesting many more spooky storylines are yet to be revealed.
Verdict: Perhaps not as ‘out there’ as the previous series, Asylum has laid a solid foundation for shocks yet to come…
Episode 1 “Welcome to Briarcliff’: 7/10
Brian J. Robb