Killer Women: "American Horror Story - Asylum"

Curator's Note

I think much of the filmmaking and film-loving community would agree that television is in a golden age and cable shows like Breaking Bad, The Killing, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have not only complimented our cinematic experience, but in some cases replaced the Friday night trip to the cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the movie-going experience, but I appreciate and am even fascinated by television’s ability to engage us for episodes on end with characters that remain with us longer than the giant stars of the silver screen.

American Horror Story: Asylum created by Ryan Murphy is my most recent love affair. The protagonists, Sister Jude played by Golden Globe nominee Jessica Lange and Lana Winters played by Sarah Paulson charge through the gruesome season like heroes rather than the squealing victims horror fans may be used to. No bikini-clad campers or phone-fearing babysitters here.

Langeʼs character straddles between the hardened nun who manages Briarcliff Manor and the once seductive penitent hiding behind the cloth. Paulson nails Lana Winters, the journalist who while attempting to land a big story, finds herself in solitary confinement instead.

Both characters battle face-to-face with sexism, shock therapy, serial killers, personal demons and even the devil herself. Thatʼs right, even the devil. But they are not the only ones. Chloë Sevigny and Franka Potente each make their mark on the show with Bechdel-passing scenes as does Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under and American Horror Story season 1.

But American Horror Story: Asylum isnʼt just a scream-fest. Set in the 1960ʼs, the series tackles issues that have faced generations of women, and not just those living on Shutter Island. The right to choose, rape, homosexuality and motherhood are just some of the themes that contribute to the depth of American Horror Story as well as its controversy.

So, now I wait, breath bated for my Amazon Season Pass to feed me the next and final episode of the series that has simultaneously inspired me as a writer and kept me up at night.

Comments

Rebecca Housel's picture

Great piece!

Terrific clip and equally terrific piece on the “golden age” of television…so true! It’s amazing to consider how something like American Horror Story and cable vehicles like True Blood are so popular on television today. Just twenty years ago, Cheers, Rosanne, Home Improvement, and Full House were in the top ten for TV-ratings. That’s quite a quick-change, thanks in part to technology globalizing our world and changing American attitudes about entertainment. We’re not just focused on caucasian heterosexuality—which is far from funny in retrospect. In many ways, television from twenty years ago resembled the black-and-white features of the 1950’s. One of the only differences between television portrayals in the 1950’s vs. the 1990’s is that the women of the 90’s were no longer wearing dresses and heels, and of course, audiences could now watch their favorites in living color.

Nicely written—kudos! Would love to see something like this in a longer version in perhaps Vanity Fair….

Jennie Webb's picture

Gee thanks...

Now I have something ELSE to add to my DVR list.

Really, though, how fab to get an inside peek at what seems to be a fascinating series. Your take on it is so intriguing; I hope you won’t mind me being bold and muscling in on your latest affair. These characters certainly sound like keepers!

Another excuse to stay home in front of the tube, and you are to blame.

(Thank you!)

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