Before we dive into the expansive, oddly touching and hugely successful series finale for American Horror Story: Asylum, let me just say that it’s been an honor sharing a hydrotherapy tub with y’all for the past 13 weeks. This season has been totally batguano insane, and it’s been a riot navigating the murky corridors of Briarcliff Manor with you.
I’d also like to thank the folks behind this season’s unhinged sprawl for delivering, in this finale, an homage to one of my most favorite horror subgenres: the “Matron in Peril” film, or as I like to call them, “Final Nana” movies. You know them well and love them better: horror films that pass over hot teens in short-shorts in favor of slightly more seasoned leading ladies. Eyes of Laura Mars, The Fan, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Visiting Hours are a few of my favorite examples, and Miss Lana Winters would have fit right in with their septigenerian survivors.
NOW: Let’s finish what that abortionist started back in 1965, shall we?
We start in modern day, where Johnny Face (Dylan McDermott) is breaking into the ruins of Briarcliff, popping in his earbuds and listening to his mother read from her book Tales from Briarcliff. He also very nearly lops his right ear off with the machete that he brought along:
That boy sure knows how to pack for a picnic!
He wanders the halls, and imagines running into Miss Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) herself in the tub room:
She calls him an abomination and says that he was conceived out of hatred, not love. And also, someone who’s not his mother dresses him funny.
Johnny Face continues on, watching ghosts of the past dart back and forth like characters at Disney’s Haunted Mansion. It’s delightful. Eventually Lana’s audiobook turns to Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto), and Johnny sees his papa enter.
Oliver tells Johnny that he loved him even before he was born, and he touches his face. Aww. Just then, Johnny hears voices that aren’t coming from his earbuds or from somewhere in his own twisted skull: it’s Adam Levine and Jenna Dewan Tatum! Okay, so it’s “Four Months Ago” and we’re back at the opening of the first episode. Well done.
Adam and Jenna go about their naughty business, and Johnny hides out in a cell smoking crack. As you do. When Adam sticks his cameraphone through the slot in the door, Johnny pulls on his Bloody Face mask, hauls out his machete, and chops off his arm:
Okay, well… mystery solved. Although, considering we already knew he was in there it’s really not a big surprise – was anyone else hoping that there was some leftover from the Dr. Arden Collection still hanging out in the ruins? Ah, well – at least they didn’t just leave it dangling, and we get to see Maroon 5 bite it again.
We then move to the impeccably-appointed, tomato-red sitting room of an elderly (yet still badass) Lana Winters, who is welcoming a camera crew into her home for an interview to be used when she receives a Kennedy Center Honor. Well la-di-dah, Lana Banana! Lana spars gently with the interviewer, a young woman preposterously named April Mayfield (Camille Chen), until from out of nowhere the LUMINOUS former supermodel and erotic thriller goddess Joan Severance (The Love Boat: The Next Wave) emerges with a glass of chardonnay for her lady love:
April tries to get Maria to appear on camera, but these ladies are too clever for that. She’s a famous opera singer, from the sounds of it, and before she pops off to her fabulous appointment, she plants a kiss on Lana and reminds her that they have “that Sondheim thing” that evening:
If I had eggs, I think I would have just released them. All of them. At once, like a broken gumball machine.
So Lana’s made quite a name for herself as a tough-as-nails television reporter and interviewer. Good for her. Unfortunately, she won’t talk on camera about Bloody Face, because she’s tired of him being famous because of her. She won’t give him another minute of air time.
Oh, before we move on, I want to point out that Joan Severance isn’t the only special guest star this episode. There’s also a fantastic supporting performance by a fish-eye lens:
Seriously, it must be the hardest working lens in Massachusetts. Stay tuned for lots more.
Anyway, Lana and her plastic surgeon-curated face take us back in time to her big break: the expose that shut down Briarcliff. Now that’s more like it – this is the Lana Winters that we came to know and love. I don’t know who that chick barking about almonds and Tab was last week, but it’s good to have ol’ Bananas back.
We get a peek at Lana’s first television “Special Report”, which looks awesome:
Totally feeling the iron-on letters. Actually, that title sounds a bit like a porno, doesn’t it?
Oh – well here we go:
Okay, okay – technically that man is suffering horribly from mistreatment and lack of proper psychiatric care and we shouldn’t be ogling his farter.
But let’s face it, this probably qualifies as porn to someone, somewhere:
Anyway, Lana managed to get back in to Briarcliff with a film crew using the death chute. Which is the way she got in to begin with – actually, why didn’t she try that earlier? Sigh. Anyway, she tells the guys to keep filming no matter what – “I wanna put America IN the asylum.” They find that the asylum is, predictably, a complete mess – patients flail about in their own crap everywhere and there is no supervision to be had – it’s basically a few two-way mirrors short of the Big Brother house.
It’s really just a disgusting, sad sight. Lana is SUPER happy to be back, though:
They eventually find an employee, which isn’t easy. So Briarcliff became a Bed Bath and Beyond? [SHUDDER]
Lana demands to see Judy Martin, and the beleaguered yet handsome orderly takes her to the solitary cells. He confesses on the way that there’s just not enough staff to keep anything in order anymore.
Lana goes into the cell and finds Judy Martin (Jessica Lange), who is by now a shaking, wild-eyed mess. It’s really tragic. Lana tells Judy in her “I am serious reporter” voice that she is Lana Winters and she is there to get her out.
Jude barely manages to get to her feet and shuffle with Lana out of the cell.
Back in the present, August Moon notes that she doesn’t remember that scene from the report. Lana says that it’s because it didn’t actually happen – when she got back into Briarcliff, Jude was long gone. She asks for a break, and they call for a PA to grab her a sparkling water. A man hands Lana her drink and she looks up and gives him a dry “thank you.”
Yup, it’s Johnny Face, your crack-smoking unaborted serial killer son who wants to kill you and then treat your bosom like a couple of chardonnay-filled Caprii Suns. Enjoy the seltzer.
We jump back to the 1970s to see Lana visiting Kit (Evan Peters) at his house. He’s happy to see her but not happy that she has a camera crew with her – what gives? She wants to know who Betty Drake is, and whether or not she’s at his house. We flash back to Briarcliff, as Lana rifles through the piles of patient files that are lying all over the place (accidentally uncovering a man underneath them, giving us the only true scare of the episode) and finds a form showing that Kit Walker signed for the release of this Betty Drake. Lana knows it’s Jude.
Kit says that after Alma died in Briarcliff he continued to visit Jude, mostly to play checkers and keep her company. Eventually he was able to get her released, and he brought her home to live with him and his kids. Hey – who the hell is this lady, by the way?
Seriously, who was that in Kit’s kitchen? She gets a close-up and then vanishes into thin air. Who does she think she is, Sunshine Corazon?
Kit helps Jude to detox from all the horse tranquilizers and for a while she seems to be doing well. But every now and then she snaps, thinking that she’s still in Briarcliff (and still Sister Jude). One such episode finds her swatting a broom at Kit’s alien spawn, thinking that they’re the murderous little brat from earlier in the season. Little Julia and Thomas aren’t afraid:
In fact, even though Kit tells them to go outside and play, they tell him that it’s okay, and each of them takes one of Jude’s hands:
She calms down and walks with them outside, into the woods:
Kit tells Lana that he never found out what happened out there, but when they came back Jude was different. She seemed alive again – she taught them all how to swing dance and cuss like sailors:
She also encouraged the kids to defy ascribed gender roles – she taught Thomas to sew and gave Julia trucks to play with. For six months, she was vibrant, alive, and happy.
Lana is happy to hear the news, and she nods approvingly above the most godawful bowtied getup I’ve ever seen. Oh – by the way, from this point on the episode basically turns into a nonstop fashion show for Lana. It’s like a rack of McCalls patterns became sentient and went on to win a Peabody. It is amazing.
Eventually, though, Jude’s new lease on life ran out. She knew it was coming, so she left the kids with some final words of wisdom (“Don’t ever let a man tell you who you are;” “Find something that you love”) and turned away Kit’s mushroom barley soup (which, to her credit, sounds vile). Kit tells her that he’s there for her and she’s not alone, but Jude tells him that she knows – “She’s here for me.’
Jude looks past Kit at Jafar, the Angel of Death (Frances Conroy), and in a beautiful bit of dreamery her bed floats across the room towards her. Jafar reminds Jude that they’ve done this dance for years now, but Jude insists that she’s ready. In a rapturos, spiraling push-in, we see the two of them suspended in the inky beyond, and Jafar gives her a final kiss.
It’s an incredible sendoff. Did Judy Martin deserve it? We’ll get to that later.
In the present, January Jonquil presses on, asking Lana about her next big expose, in which she took down Cardinal Timothy Howard (Joseph Feinnes), blowing the lid off his involvement in Dr. Arden’s human testing scandal. They found the bones of Mr. Spivey (tiny, sparrow-like bones) in the woods and they want answers! Lana – in her proto-TMZ style – ambushes the Cardinal in a parking garage (what, the Cardinal of New York has no security? or at least underage attendants?) and apparently the exposure is enough to drive our dear, power-hungry Shelley-murderer to do this:
Is this episode a Staples? Because that was easy.
April mentions that people still blame Lana for the Cardinal’s suicide. Lana replies that “lies are like scars on your soul – they destroy you.”
You know what’s like a scar on my soul, Lana? That necklace:
Seriously, what the hell is that thing? Did she gold-plate part of Oliver’s skull and throw it on a laniard? CREEPY.
Speaking of lies, Lana decides to come clean about one thing: she didn’t abort that baby that she was pregnant with after Oliver raped her. She gave him up for adoption but then she became obsessed with him and managed to use her “sleuthing skills” and best fur coat to track him down:
Turns out little Johnny was a bookish kid who got beaten up by bullies, who called him “fag” and made untoward overtures about dinosaur dongs. He also looked a bit like a tiny Joseph Gordon Levitt:
Lana stands up for the kid and leans in to touch his little face. She’s serving some serious Lee Remick in The Omen realness here:
Not that that’s deliberate or anything, I’M SURE.
Anyway, as she rhapsodizes about the little angel that she gave away, we cut to what might be my favorite shot of the entire season: Johnny Face eating a chocolate-frosted Long John in the other room:
I don’t think that you necessarily need to share my personal passion for donuts to understand just how delicious that moment is: it’s equal parts menace and banality, and it cracks me the hell up. Serial killers: they’re just like us! Plus, Dylan McDermott looks really hot with a Long John in his mouth. No, that’s not a euphemism.
Lana changes outfits for the ’80s, this time throwing on a Dynasty-ready number to fill us in on what became of dear, sweet, dumb Kit Walker. Turns out he got married (Yaaay!) and then got pancreatic cancer at age 40 and became very ill. (Aww!) That’s sad. Lana visited him:
Then something strange happened: that fish-eye lens came back!
Oh, and also the aliens.
Yes, the aliens took Kit back. His kids said that his disappearance was nothing to be sad about. Speaking of the kids, they grew up to be a Harvard professor and a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. Are we supposed to be comforted by the fact that alien babies are infiltrating the halls of our higher learning institutions?
At last, the interview is over and Lana sends the crew packing. After they’re gone, she pads over to the bar cart and takes out two glasses. She asks the room, “Can I fix you a drink?” Ooooooh SNAP, Baby Face – you got BUSTED!
Johnny comes out from hiding. She could probably just smell the chocolate icing. She tells him, “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Lana gives Johnny his drink and tells him she always knew this would happen. She asks how he got on the camera crew and he tells her that he waited outside and killed the first guy to arrive – the guy with the donuts. Okay, you know what? I don’t like you any more.
Johnny asks how she knew it was him and she coos, “How could I not recognize my own baby boy?”
Touche, Mother Courage.
Turns out she’s playing him – she knows his face because earlier she was visited by the crotches of several detectives who brought with them Johnny’s photo and resume:
Yes, that shot was upside-down. No, I didn’t do it.
Lana asks how he found out that she was his mother, and he says that she gave it away on the playground that day. After he saw her on TV and recognized her he did his research – even finding Oliver’s taped confession (on eBay!) in which she goaded Oliver into admitting his crimes by threatening to abort the baby in front of him. Not exactly the best first impression, I gotta admit.
Johnny stands and approaches Lana and she looks up, asking, “What’s it gonna be, Johnny?”
He sits across from her and pulls out a gun, which he points at her head:
It’s the moment of truth: can the woman who could get any man to open up on camera talk her own, not-aborted serial-killer-wannabe crackhead son out of shooting her in the head? Can the woman who survived a serial killer, electroshock, conversion therapy, warm Tab and Lois the predatory lesbian possibly survive her biggest regret with a loaded firearm?
The answer right after this word from our sponsor, Dolly Madison!
In their final exchange, Johnny cries about not being able to live up to his father. Lana insists he was a monster – and he can’t live up to him because he has part of her in him, too. He relinquishes the gun and confesses to his mommy that he’s done bad things. She tells him that it’s okay – it’s not his fault: “It’s mine.”
So that’s that then, eh?
We then revisit the first meeting between plucky Lana Winters and Sister Jude, way back when Lana tried to gain an audience with the man that they thought was Bloody Face and they all had equal access to hair and makeup. Jude warned Lana that a life centered around ambition would be a lonely life indeed, and Lana seemed okay with that.
Jude’s final advice: “When you stare evil in the face, it’ll stare right back at you.”
She smiles and sends Lana on her way, noting that she doesn’t think they’ll have the pleasure of one another’s company again. Jude turns at admires the still-intact statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Dominique” swells on the soundtrack.
Wow. That was … exhausting.
But also pretty damned good, I have to say, and a satisfying end to a season that seemed impossible to resolve. Sure, some of the plotlines were DOA (Dr. Arden’s experiments), some of the characters were seriously underdeveloped and underused (Monsignor Howard, Shelley), but for the most part I feel very satisfied with the outcome of this particular Horror Story. I think that Jude – a woman whose own guilt and desperation turned her into a monster – paid dearly for her actions, and that she deserved the tiny sliver of happiness and rest that she enjoyed, thanks to Kit’s unflagging charity. While Kit may have been one of the least interesting characters, he was in the end one of the purest and most dependable. Lana’s nightmare journey would have broken pretty much anyone else, and it nearly broke her – it felt right to see her find her even ground after last week’s WTF personality quick-change.
Which leaves us with poor Johnny. So is this story an argument in favor of abortion? Is it a parable about aliens being the true higher power? Is there meaning to be found in any of these fates?
I haven’t decided yet. But the fact that I’m even still thinking about it tells me that the folks running this here Asylum did their jobs, and well.
I’m going to stop there, other than to give the finale a solid nine out of ten Nutses:
So what did you loonies think of the finale? The season as a whole? Lana’s runway collection? Johnny’s Long John?