FX’s return of the “American Horror Story” series has set up the perfect forum for not only chills and thrills, but acute and accurate insight into the treatment of the mentally ill in a more barbaric era of medicine. The show does an outstanding job of showing how the world discarded individuals they didn’t understand or want, and the abusive and inhumane methods to attempt to instill sanity in the “insane.”
The show does a superb job taking the same actors from the first season and transforming them into new characters for a completely different story in season two. This season started out with Kit (Evan Peters, who played psychotic teen killer Tate in the first season) who has some kind of mind altering episode. He wakes up to find he’s accused of being a serial killer who targets women, including his wife, drains their blood, cuts off their head and whom the media has dubbed “Bloody Face.”
Unfortunately for Kit, he is an alleged innocent man in a no win situation. He claims he had some kind of UFO encounter and the aliens have his wife hostage while he is being held responsible for the murders. However, try telling a physiatrist that aliens abducted you and framed you for murder. It doesn’t exactly bode well for seeming as if one was in a sound mind. So no matter if Kit is insane or guilty he would either rot away in Briarcliff Manor or be put to death in the electric chair. Kit is not the only seemingly innocent individual being made to suffer for their misunderstood behavior.
Briarcliff Manor not only houses the criminally insane, but members of society that are unwanted and have no place in the strict and “moralistic” era of the early 1960’s. Chloe Sevigny plays Shelley, a nymphomaniac who rebels against the institution in every sense of the word. Shelley was thrown into the asylum by her husband because she slept with two sailors and claimed it was her patriotic duty. She says, “He (her husband) decked me, knocked me out flat, threw me in the car and locked me in a nut house, and the sick part is, they let him.” She is a shining example of how being a misunderstood woman in a man’s society left her without any options to protect or defend herself. “Men like sex, and no one calls them whores,” said Shelley.
The 1960’s was the beginning of the sexual revolution and Shelley is a woman who discovers form an early age of 5 that she enjoys sexual pleasure, not so much the act of sex. However, because she is a woman she is seen as a “whore” and is referenced to over and over by the staff of the asylum. Her spirit is vivacious and refuses to be broken, which in the case of the oppressive circumstances she lives in creates much pain and suffering for her lack of submission. Because she is seen as a whore who needs saving by the religious zealots who run the asylum, she is physically and mentally abused to force the so-called “sin” out of her. She is beaten with a cane; her head is shaved partially, and physically smacked around by the doctors and nuns who run the facility. None of which are today considered standard medical practices for treating mentally ill patients. However, this show also shines light on another important theme of separating church from state, or lack there of.
Jessica Lang returns as Sister Jude in season two and completely steals the spotlight in every scene. She gives a commanding performance as the harsh and sadistic boss of the asylum. She takes joy and pride in reprimanding the slightest of offenses with harsh retaliations. Ironically, Sister Jude has a secret life of sin and societal shame in her past as many of the patients do, she is simply a more convincing actress than the patients to masque her sins and reign supremely over them. During a random inspection of the women’s rooms, Lana (a lesbian reporter who attempted to sneak into the asylum and get an undercover story about the abuses, and ends up being committed by Sister Jude in the process) has notes for her expose of the asylum in her pillow case and is punished with electric shock therapy.
During the course of the canings and shock treatments, the court appointed therapist played by returning powerhouse Zachary Quinto, makes note that the treatment of the patients is unacceptable. He says, “Sister your hospital still uses electric shock therapy to treat homosexuality, it’s barbaric. Behavior modification is the current standard.” It would seem that in the eyes of the church that all sin and it’s “treatment” is contained under the same umbrella of rigidity. No matter what the patient is suffering from three things are the cures in the eyes of Sister Jude: productivity, prayer and purification.
Season two brings to light not only the terrifying conditions of an insane asylum, both supernatural and otherwise, but the types of people that were made to suffer those conditions. Although the treatment of mental health patients has come a distance from the savage theories and practices of just a few decades ago, it is still a shining example of the complexity and difficulty of how to treat someone who is “crazy.”
Many of the characters in the show are not crazy at all, but misunderstood. Because no one can or will attempt to understand them, everyone; poor, unwanted, crazy or just plain misunderstood, are all lumped together and tortured in some ancient and inhumane fashion to purge the “sin” out of them. The most terrifying thing about this show is not the ghouls and ghosts that pop out to scare the viewer, it is the knowledge that history is being played out on screen; the history that misunderstood or unwanted individuals were tossed aside like trash with the truly insane and tortured until their spirits and lives were stolen. With more heart wrenching and horrifying torture scenes to come, season two of “American Horror Story” will have viewers locked in each week waiting to view a little piece of unimaginable history being played out for sadistic and gratifying entertainment.