|Jessica Lange as one weird sister|
"Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sins." -- Sister Jude.
In this at times very suspenseful and superior second season of the hit horror show, most of the action takes place in an asylum, Briarcliff Manor, run by nuns. The lead characters include Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange), who is in charge of the place, although that opinion isn't shared by the psychotic Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), who conducts sick experiments on the inmates. One of these inmates, and the heroine of the show, is Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a lesbian who has supposedly been incarcerated for inversion therapy [the main storyline takes place in the sixties] but who actually had been threatening to dig too much into how the miserable institution was run. A present-day framing story has to do with the reappearance of a maniac, Bloodyface, who once had something to do with the Manor, and whose first victim is that annoying mouse, Adam Levine. Other characters include the "nympho," Shelley (Chloe Sevigny); Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes); sympathetic Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto of Star Trek into Darkness); Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who undergoes a startling change in personality; and deceptively calm serial killer Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane of Young and Willing). Along with a compelling storyline which pits Lana vs. Sister Jude (until everything gets switched around), there are alien abductions, weird monsters in the forests surrounding the asylum, a winged angel of death who makes periodic appearances, and even a self-indulgent but fun rock video with the sisters and patients dancing to "The Name Game." In other words, almost everything but the kitchen sink, but mostly it works. While the show occasionally comes close to veering into "torture porn" territory, it is very well-acted by all mentioned, with a truly marvelous Lange making a much better impression than she did in season one. One could say this season of American Horror Story has the spirit of E.C. Comics.
Verdict: Very entertaining, creepy, and with some excellent performances. ***.