‘American Horror Story’ Finale: Death, Ambition, and The End of Briarcliff

American Horror Story RecapWell, it’s over. One of the universal truths of human existence has finally come to pass on Briarcliff: everything ends. And it’s time to seal the doors up once and for all on Briarcliff Manor. Tonight’s American Horror Story: Asylum saw the end of suffering for all our lost and lonely patients — some, with a bang.

If you haven’t noticed already, your regular AHS guardsman, Brian Moylan, is off with the snowbunnies (and showbunnies) at Sundance, so I (Alicia Lutes) am here to fill in the gap left by his numerically-laced recaps. And since numbers are possibly my least-favorite thing in the universe (after Howie Mandel), things will be slightly different tonight. But considering how different this finale was, a new approach seems fitting. Let’s get started!

This season was no doubt a tragic one — dotted by the occasional comedic moment, for sure, but overall: incredibly bleak. There is something truly horrific about the state of mental healthcare in this country (especially following the events of Newtown), and though Briarcliff and its tales are an extreme case, its core still rings true. But sometimes out of tragedy comes success and a life where ambition can be put to good use. We’re talking, of course, about Ms. Lana Banana herself: she’s a real Barbara Walters type, using her unique insight into the male psyche to get famous, disgraced men the world over to open up to her in her interviews. She went from the days of fudging the truth (the good of the story!) to being a real whistleblower on the lies and deceit that get so many in trouble and ruin lives. Her interview for an upcoming Kennedy Center Honors will celebrate her life of achievements, a neatly-wrapped end to all the dark shadows of lives’ past is presented. A crusader for change.

Only the Lana that was introduced to America and made her as beloved as she is, well, she was a lie. The exposé that made her famous (Briarcliff: Uncovered!) was not done by a sense of moral imperative, but rather ambition. One of the myriad of human emotions that creator Ryan Murphy dissects throughout this season as potentially deadly when taken to the extreme. Lana’s ambition, at first, causes her to toss those most important to her to the wayside. It’s Kit ambition — used for good. Always for good — to right the wrongs of the past that end up saving the day.

Kit is the only one who can bring Lana back to earth. When he saw the ambition taking over Lana, he takes it upon himself to get Sister Jude aka Betty Drake out of Briarcliff. Kit has always been the moral center of this show — the guiding light for every single person in Briarcliff, and his compassion and care for everyone around him is perfectly encapsulated in his relationship with Jude. “After all the indignity she made you suffer,” Lana muses. Forgiveness, Kit explains, is what helps him move forward and become the father his two maybe-alien but totally-exceptional children need. The tenderness Kit and his children show Jude is beautiful, elevated by this episode’s incredible director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. The words of Tim Minear drift dreamily and woozily off the page with Gomez-Rejon’s artistic shooting style. Unexpected angles, a vantage point that unsettles. Everything works and plays together so well. It’s no wonder they’re bringing him on to Executive Produce in addition to direct for season three.

It’s interesting to see that in a show centered around a Catholic-run mental hospital, the biggest savior of all was Kit, the one constantly railed-against and scapegoated within the institution. To call this a coincidence would probably be misguided, but it also feels like a refreshing change: a nice reminder that morality and religious belief are not mutually exclusive. In AHS, the mythical unknown is certainly a savior — but it is aliens, not the notorious G.O.D. that bring people back to life, take Kit away from his cancer suffering, and (likely) saved the mind of Sister Jude. In a show that often felt impulsive, cluttered, and sadistic, there was a tenderness to the way Murphy ended these characters and the show. It was this sort of respect for humanity, for the good and evil that defines much of our own lives, that was able to turn a tyrannical, alcoholic hypocrite to the ultimate avenged angel. Murphy and company showed sides of depth to everyone — not one was perfect, and that made them all truly human. It’s an impressive feat when you think about all the (at times outlandish and camperific) blood, gore, and general chaos that these characters were born into. You had to juggle a myriad of feelings about each character during every scene, but that’s what is subtly great about a show that felt at times all-too-erratic for its own good.

That’s not to say the finale was perfect: Kit and the aliens. The black sheep of storylines. Kit is taken back to the aliens while on the cusp of death. Disappeared, according to everyone. But his children insisted there was no reason to mourn. Hoping to see the little green men in all their glory? Wishing the most underdeveloped storyline would finally get played out in full? Wish all you want, my friends, because resolution is not what you’re going to get. But I have a theory.

Kit’s children knew he had been abducted again — but why? Murphy never gives us an answer, and seemingly does so on purpose. Our dear AHS overlord has noted that this storyline caused much confusion for viewers (myself included at first), but upon a second and third viewing, I can’t help but note the connection between aliens and religion. Is Murphy suggesting that worshipping deities is misguided? We all know how Grace’s preoccupation with the aliens held the fervency of a religious obsessive: could there be a connection there? Should we, as a people, be more committed to the good we can learn from the future (and the unknowns throughout the universe) rather than the ancient text of a supposed god? Or would the truth drive us all to insanity (a la Alma)? To me, the alien storyline is about looking forward rather than looking back. Kit was always the ultimate Good on this show: his tolerance, acceptance, love, and vigilance to be that Good above all feels almost holy. Maybe it’s actually Kit who is a savior — literally and metaphorically. And maybe he and his children will change the world. The future has yet to be performed, after all.

The finale opens where it began — the two lovers. The only story that Lana couldn’t tell, even though she birthed it. We see the method to Johnny’s madness, and in the climax of the episode, the two face each other head-on. Lana knows her time with Johnny is limited, but it’s her ambition and will to live that keep her on top: she knows broken, f**ked up men better than anyone — and she clearly knows how this particular nutjob operates. The way she manipulates him into giving up the gun — and then coldly turning it on her son — shows that this ambition is what both hurt and saved her life. It’s the only ending that could’ve happened: even watching Sarah Paulson deliver the words, you can see it within her: she knows he has to die. Paulson’s performance is especially deft — in every word she spoke, you could see the volume of emotions unexpressed behind her eyes. If Studio 60 didn’t put you on Team Paulson, this season certainly did. No surprise Murphy’s nabbed her for next season already: homegirl nailed Lana Winters this season. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this part.

An ending needn’t be happy in order to be right, especially in a horror series. Yet even with all the death, the unknowns, and the tragedy, there’s a finiteness to this ending that feels both appropriate and uplifting. Briarcliff is gone, for good. No more death. Until next season, at least.

What did you think about the finale of American Horror Story: Asylum? Sound off in the comments!

[Photo Credit: FX]

Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes


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