Monday, August 14, 2017

AHS INFERNO: Part 2 ~ Asylum

I'd say I'm steaming through American Horror Story faster than I thought I would, but the truth is I'm going pretty much exactly as fast as I thought I would. 6-10 articles per day standard as my day job, plus social media for two conventions, plus writing multiple short stories and novels, means a couple things. One, I'm constantly busy. Two, I'm constantly trying to find ways to slack off.

Asylum rolled out of Murder House very easily; while the two are not directly connected, the mood and tone are very similar. Coming into Coven is a bit more of a whiplash feeling. And while I'm enjoying it, it's taking me a little more time to recalibrate and appreciate it as part of the anthology. Asylum needed no adjustment time.

However, I'm only on my second step down, and already my theories from my first blog post are being stretched. A bit, but not entirely. As you'll recall, I posited that the theory of AHS being an Inferno parallel meant that each season went in order through the Circles of Hell -- and if they most definitely did not, then we would have to rethink our viewing order once all nine seasons were complete.

While many people (understandably) pair Asylum with Wrath, I believe that we can still continue our downward journey in order... though I feel there are other elements to look at, too.

Asylum as the Second Circle of Hell.

In Dante's Inferno, the Second Circle is Lust. Now, so far, it's fair to say that all seasons of AHS get some serious sex on, so the mere presence of sexual content is not enough to label it as the primary trait of the season. Else we'd be banging around -- pun intended -- in the Second Circle for nine seasons.

That said, there are a couple of ways that Asylum does fit the mold here. The first that jumps to mind is that the lust in question is non-sexual: a lust for power as seen with Monsignor Howard and Sister Jude, a lust for notoriety that inevitably reveals itself in Lana. This is taking the meaning to a metaphorical level... but as with Murder House, the literal and metaphorical can coexist.

However, there is an argument for the underpinning of this season to be Lust in the common sense: the fact that there is a clerical element. What we see in many cases -- especially with Dr. Arden and his dealings with Sister Mary Eunice -- is the image of the extremely pious simultaneously shielding and abetting lustful actions. The rejection of the "Ravish Me Red" lipstick, Monsignor Howard's purity being taken from him aggressively, and Dr. Arden's bizarre fetish for pure women are all hard-line rejections of anything at all sexual. In other words, the extreme opposite of lust. A fear of it, like an alcoholic going cold turkey. In other words, an environment that suggests lust via its extreme rejection. Thus, when it appears even as a tube of lipstick or a piece of clothing, it is powerful and terrifying to the characters.

Another thing to bear in mind is the storm: a single-episode event, but one that's constantly harkened back to. In Dante's Inferno, residents of the Second Circle of Hell are punished by being blown back and forth constantly by strong winds. Symbolically, this is meant to suggest how their lust has trapped and occupied them so much that they are whisked from Point A to Point B without a chance to lead their lives properly. The centerpiece of the storm in the series, the point at which the asylum's infrastructure began to collapse from within, is what finally led me to believe that this is probably the way to go.

Is Evan Peters Still Our Virgil?

In Asylum, Evan Peters takes the role of Kit, an innocent saddled with the accusation of being the mass murderer known as Bloody Face after his wife Alma was allegedly found mutilated in the same way as other victims. Evan, like others, eventually makes his way out -- while having occasional run-ins with aliens, which kicked this whole thing off.

Kit does eventually make his way out and tell his story... but as tempting as it is to cast the same character as Virgil from season 1 to season 2, the journalist Lana Winters -- the Last Woman Standing -- is our obvious winner here.

She ventures in, then ventures out. She survives. She literally tells the story. And while she guides an audience rather than guiding an individual, her role is much more defined. Kit, while important, ends up another member of the body count... albeit later than many.

Sarah Paulson appeared in Murder House as Billie Dean Howard, a "Lee Press-On Nails psychic" who assisted Constance and others in dealing with the house in question. But retrofitting the Virgil role to Billie Dean, an ultimately low-importance character, would be more for show than anything else. For now, we may have to acknowledge that our Virgil changes every season. Or that there's something we're missing.

The Continuation of Jessica Lange

As with Murder House, we see Jessica Lange's character -- Judy, now Sister Jude -- suffering a heavily metaphorical version of the literal pains of those around her. She has left behind a life managed by sex appeal, trading it for hard religion, and even the sight of certain items can drive her into a downward spiral. The Demon in Sister Mary Eunice places her temptations within reach, but her responses are far more internalized.

Which begs the question -- are the characters connected by actor? Could Constance and Jude -- both women seeking a remedy for their past by laying themselves a lifelong trap -- be the same soul suffering on two levels? Tate and Kit could be much similar: a young man led by his love for a woman.

Delving too deep into this could lead to a variety of dead ends, but it seems it might be worth eyeing actors whose characters' motivations and actions are similar across seasons.

Circles and Spheres

Most interesting, though, is the fact that the Second Sphere of Heaven also fits Asylum. In the previous entry, I mentioned that the First Sphere of Heaven was a decent fit for Murder House and that I might want to continue glancing at that.

The Second Sphere of Heaven is home to the ambitious: those who did good during their time on Earth, but did so out of ambition rather than a sense of justice. There's a great deal of that running through Asylum, with Lana Winters being the most obvious fit. Sister Jude and Monsignor Howard also fall alongside this. The Asylum was eventually shut down, but the original motivations become less and less pronounced as the seasons go on, until finally the end of Briarcliff is more an afterthought than a task.

So what does this mean? It could mean coincidences are awesome. It could also mean that AHS  really is based on Dante... but we should be looking up rather than down. And the idea of a gruesome horror series taking its cues from Heaven over Hell is, quite frankly, a bit terrifying.

Next up is, of course, Coven. Following the Circles of Hell, we should be looking for elements of Gluttony, and perhaps the presence of Cerberus. And looking up, the Third Sphere of Heaven is the sphere of lovers, who were kindhearted but lacked temperance.

Who knows, at this point.