American Horror Story
Compared to last season’s finale, this year’s seemed relatively low-key and subtle. Since the beginning of the season, I wasn’t really a fan of the modern-day story, and when it came full circle with a 70-something year old Lana Winters prepping for an interview, I was ready to dislike it. However, and although it wasn’t nearly are great as the first season’s, this finale was surprisingly heartfelt and satisfying.
Excuse me for a lack of details as I only got a chance to watch the episode once the night of, so this recap is purely based from memory. But at least I had a chance to sleep on it and I feel better about the episode. I just needed the time to think about it and mull over what happened. So, present-day Lana has six bestsellers under her belt and is about to be honored at the Kennedy Center for her prolific journalistic work. This interview is the foundation for the episode, as it’s told mostly through flashbacks. Lana asks for a glass of sparkling water and who hands it to her but her own son, Johnny. Wuh oh!
“Madness Ends” served more as an epilogue than a finale. We learn that after Alma died, Kit started visiting Jude at Briarcliff and brought her back to life, so to speak. Seeing how he helped her was heartwarming, especially the shot with him putting his arm around her. He ended up taking her home with him and she helped raise his alien kids, who are blessed with some sort of power that brings sanity to those who are crazy. When Jude was becoming delusional, thinking she was back at Briarcliff, Kit’s children took her by the hand into the woods, where they probably smoked some pot. I’m guessing that’s what brought Jude back to her senses. Yeah, that’s totally it.
Everything was great at the Walker residence. The children loved Jude and she loved them in return. Unfortunately, after six months of bliss and swing dancing, she got sick and passed away. The scene with The Angel of Death (Frances Conroy) was beautifully shot, and I just sat there watching with my eyes wide open, filling up with tears. I know she’s a fictional character, but I’m just glad she got her happiness in the end. Kit remarried later, his kids went on to become a big shot lawyer and neurosurgeon, and when he was about to die from pancreatic cancer, the aliens took him back. I’m glad one of the monsters this season was good. Right? We can all agree that the aliens were benevolent?
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Criminy. Last week’s episode, “Spilt Milk,” rushed us through a bunch of months so that we could see Lana give birth and Jude rot away in solitary. But if that wasn’t disjointed enough, “Continuum” speeds us through years; feeling more like an epilogue to this season’s tale which, up until now, had all taken place in the span of a year. Sure, we’ve also been following modern-day Bloody Face – crack smokin’ Johnny – but I never would have guessed it would have been such a race to the finish in these final two episodes.
Not that anything was overtly awful, but the pacing was such that you could just never get a hold on what was going on. And then, with Jude experiencing three lost years, it just made the entire episode feel like bits of old Tales from the Crypt addendums; the parts of the show where you learn, via a dark, humorous twist, that no one was getting a happy ending.
But which part of AHS is lying to us now? The records held by Dr. Clump, showing the fact that the state took over Briarcliff in ’66? Or the title card that read 1968 right before the scene where Monsignor Timothy told Jude that he’s leaving and that the new owners were going to overflow the place with patients?
Was the point here to play with the format of the show in order to make us feel the sort of disconnect from reality that Jude feels? Are we to assume that most of what we were witnessing were figments of Jude’s fragmented Betty Drake-mind? I mean, I’m assuming there was a reason Frances Conroy popped back up as a bullying, shanking patient and that there was a point to her looking like the Angel of Death that many of our show’s characters had seen and interacted with.
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American Horror Story has never been shy about diving into meta territory, both with its musical cues and in its shooting style. This week’s episode, Spilt Milk, did both of these things with its nods to Candyman (the music was repeated pretty often this week to great effect) and the work of Fake Hitchcock himself, Brian De Palma. I always enjoy when the show gets referential, especially musically, and this week was definitely a treat.
This was, from beginning to end, the most visually interesting episode of American Horror Story this season, thanks in no small part to director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. There are so many clever edits and tricks this week, from multiple time-jumping match cuts involving the Bloody Face gang to a brilliant tracking shot through the asylum as inmates are being fed their meals of carbs and (especially) the way in which Lana’s escape is filmed that if I started naming all of the great camera work, I’d run out of space. Suffice it to say, the show has never used so many interesting angles, filming techniques (Dutch angle, fisheye lens, both in the same scene), and editing tricks (split screen) in the same episode to such great, dizzying effect. The whole thing felt like waking up in the middle of the dream, shocking and disorienting, and it does not let up for a moment.
In many ways, this visual weirdness makes up for the fairly sedate (by AHS standards) dialogue this week. Brad Falchuk’s pen did produce some great lines this week, particularly those delivered by the brilliant Dylan McDermott (who should be a part of the show for its third season, if only because he’s so great at delivering the craziest stuff imaginable) and the always reliable Zachary Quinto. The twists and turns this week’s episode took weren’t tough to follow, but even with all the strange twists the show seemed… strangely serious. That’s not a bad thing, just an odd thing for a show built on insanity and repulsiveness (though it has its moments, all involving McDermott).
The straightforwardness actually helps tie into the interesting visuals by reinforcing the episode’s dreamlike quality. It seems like a strange fantasy, and even when things take a turn at the end, it still seems like something out of, say, Lana’s mind (and they even tease this within the episode). I’m still not entirely sure what we’ve seen over the past two episodes is real, though I really hope it isn’t some sort of post-lobotomy St. Elsewhere moment in the mind of Pepper. I doubt it is; I think I’m just overly suspicious.
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American Horror Story: Asylum kicked off 2013 with a shock ending no one saw coming.
After the last episode’s numerous cliffhangers – Bloody Face’s baby, alien spawn, the Monsignor’s (Joseph Fiennes) possible death, Sister Jude’s (Jessica Lange) involuntary commitment, etc. ? there were a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied up. And Ryan Murphy and Co. did so the only way they know how: death, electroshock therapy and a musical number! No, seriously. It was like Glee meets Asylum. If Lange didn’t already have the Emmy in the bag, she certainly does now. Her 60s-fabulous version of “The Name Game” – a.k.a. “The (Lana) Banana Song” – was particularly weird and memorable.
Not to mention, Briarcliff claimed three more lives by the end of this week’s episode. Yeah, “The Name Game” was definitely one of the season’s more eventful episodes.
After ruining everyone’s lives – and deflowering the Monsignor – Sister Satan (Lilly Rabe) finally got what she deserved. And what a rough way to go! Unfortunately, that means poor Sister Mary Eunice had to bite the dust too.
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It’s a shame when a show decides to take some time off in the middle of a season because of the holidays, or for any reason really. Programmes, like American Horror Story: Asylum, work very hard to build up momentum to a fever pitch during the course of a thirteen-episode season, and to break it up for no good reason seems excessive to me. Just last week I praised AHS for its willingness to confront the holidays, but it turns out that I was wrong and that the show will be taking a break here in the US. Fortunately, it’s only until after the New Year and not for a few months like The Walking Dead.
Still, it’s a bad time to take some time off, because there are only four more episodes remaining in this season and the show keeps getting crazier and crazier. Even when the twists are ones you see coming (thus making them not twists), they’re so cleverly executed and fun to watch that I don’t think anyone can complain. Well, anyone can complain, since this is the internet, but it’s great to see Dylan McDermott back on American Horror Story where he belongs. It’s also nice to see Ian McShane and Frances Conroy back for second appearances.
The thing about American Horror Story is that you can never be sure which characters are officially gone from the show and which characters are waiting to make a dramatic return, because that can be pretty much anyone you don’t see for an episode or two. The show just keeps thinking of reasons to bring people back from the dead-or at least the brink of death-like how Dr. Arden used a particularly juicy hunk of bait to bring the aliens out of hiding. We know that the aliens were there, and probably always are there, but they need encouragement to show up. Kind of like the show’s recurring guest actors.
Writer Jennifer Salt is one of the stronger scribes for the show, and this week she’s really bringing the crazy with her episode. It’s brilliant stuff with some of the best lines of the season, and it’s really brought into full focus by director Jeremy Podeswa. There are multiple brilliant moments this week when it comes to impressive camera decisions, with Lana’s fainting spell being a particularly solid choice on all parts. The camera movement and subtle disturbance is perfect foreshadowing of what’s about to happen, and that’s not the best moment of the episode. The mash up of testimonies about Sister Jude to the authorities is very well done, and the Dutch angles used throughout the episode are employed judiciously and not overused.
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One of the weakest episodes of the first season of American Horror Story was Piggy Piggy. Attempting to inject a little randomness into the show near the end of the first season’s run, it wasn’t entirely successful. It was still a good episode, mind you; it just wasn’t really integrated into the main storyline of the Harmon family, random appearance of Ben and company notwithstanding. It felt like padding and didn’t really provide any extra zing to the story.
Unholy Night is proof that Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and writer James Wong have learned from the mistakes of the first season. Given Wong’s experience working on The X-Files, if anyone could pull off a monster-of-the-week story while still integrating said monster into the plot, it would be him. He does this brilliantly, thanks in no small part to the sheer brilliance of Ian McShane, who takes on the role of Leigh Emerson, a Santa-suited multiple murderer who killed dozens of people during the holidays circa 1962 and ends up in Briarcliff for his troubles.
I will freely admit to thinking Ian McShane is one of the best actors to ever appear on television, thanks in no small part to the unadulterated brilliance that was his Al Swearingen on the late, lamented Deadwood. However, he’s just so gleefully evil during this episode that I can’t help but feel like he’s a major part of why this week’s episode of AHS: Asylum was just so good from beginning to end. Perhaps I’m biased by the creative use of the Murder Santa trope or the way the show has gotten so good at teasing particular moments (deaths, in this case), then circumventing that tease just long enough to make you believe a character has been given a reprieve, then offing said character in spectacularly gleeful fashion.
Even without McShane’s crazed brilliance, the episode was a great one. Every aspect of the show’s multiple plots seemed to work, and as the episode proceeded, they all seemed to hit high points at the same time, be it Lana, Kit, and Thredson or Emerson and Jude and the plotting of Sister Mary Eunice. The show both focused on its brilliant guest star (as it did last week with Frances Conroy) and also advanced the show’s central narrative forward in a relatively seamless way. Or, at least, doesn’t detract from the episode while offering up an awesome opponent for Sister Jude (and a great scene partner for both Lily Rabe and Jessica Lange; the entire scene with Frank, Killer Santa, and Sister Eunice was brilliant, if only for the awesome way Ian McShane leered out of his cell peephole).
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I may be crazy, but tonight’s episode of American Horror Story: Asylum might just be the best yet. It was pulpy, it was soapy, it was creepy and gory; everything you want this show to be! Perhaps it was the demise of one of this season’s characters or the continuing downward spiral of everyone else on the show. Maybe it was the return of one of my favorite actors from season one, in a bold role that looks like one hell of a lot of fun to play! Whatever the trigger, it worked.
American Horror Story: Asylum stars Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe, along with newcomers Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes, Chloe Sevigny, Lizzie Brochere and Clea Duvall. Hit the jump for the recap and review of tonight’s episode, “Dark Cousin.”
Making her first appearance in American Horror Story: Asylum was season one stand-out Frances Conroy, who visits our characters as the Angel of Death at various times. She appears to Grace when a botched hysterectomy causes her to almost bleed out, to the briefly introduced Miles who summons her with blood, to Lana whilst in throes with Dr. Thredson and to the disturbed driver (William Mapother) who “rescues” her, to Mr. Goodman (Mark Margolis), Sister Jude and finally, to Grace, whose death completes this episode. Was that one of the crazies last minute sequences or what?
I’ll get to the ending in a few moments, but man was it nice to see a return to form from the Nip/Tuck days when 59 minutes could crawl by only to have the last minute be completely insane. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break down the episode a bit. We started off with Grace bleeding out in her bed which triggered the arrival of the Angel of Death/Woman in Black. It seemed like Grace was more than happy to be taken out of the world, though it’s interesting that the writers allowed Death to give her victims a choice in how they went out. Apparently you can just summon Death to have a chat and then send her on her way, which happens a number of times in this episode. (How tiring!)
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A creepy little girl visits Briarcliff and Sister Mary Eunice lets her hair down in this week’s ?American Horror Story: Asylum.’ Oh, and those pesky present-day scenes have unfortunately returned.
Well, we just knew Thredson had to have mommy issues, right? Can’t have a serial killer who murders women and wears their skin without a little maternal influence. As much as I’ve admired Ryan Murphy’s willingness to have absolutely no discerning taste when it comes to adding any number of horror tropes to his plot stew, falling back on something so generic is just unfortunate, given this season’s daring attitude.
With that in mind, also troubling is the addition of the creepy little girl, who hasn’t proven to be anything other than your garden variety, apathetic killer kid. I will concede that watching little Jenny interact with the (literally) devilish Sister Mary Eunice was entertaining, and it gave us a peek at Mary Eunice’s back story, in the form of a ?Carrie’-esque flashback to when she was invited to a pool party by her high school peers and tricked into stripping naked in front of everyone.
And I’m starting to agree with a fellow critic friend who believes that Lily Rabe is the MVP of the show. Her performance of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” while dressed in Jude’s red nightie, throwing her rosary beads at a crucifix and singing to Jesus was inspired. Disappointing that the sequence had to come to a halt for her to answer the phone, intercepting a call from the priest helping Jude and heading over to murder him before he and Jude have the chance to publicly out Arden. With that, Jude has seemingly lost her only chance to expose the Nazi doctor (whose name is sadly not Hans Gruber, but Hans Gruper).
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If there was any doubt, 1964 (especially at Briarcliff) was not the year of the woman. I’m not sure if this show is an impassioned indictment of how women were disempowered decades ago or just an excuse for mutilating some of them on screen, but the truth is that this episode was probably a rough one for anyone — male or female — to watch.
Sister Jude, so moved by Anne Frank’s claims about Dr. Arden, takes Mother Claudia’s advice and connects with a Nazi hunter. Mr. Goodman not only promises to look into Sister Jude’s suspicions, he thinks Anne Frank’s complaints could be dead on. “Have you heard of Operation Paperclip?” he asks, before describing how some SS scientists ended up stateside and how all of them have a tattoo of their blood types on their upper bodies. But don’t be trying to get Dr. Arden half naked, Sister Jude! The one thing Goodman doesn’t want her to do is collar him herself. If he is who she suspects he is, Dr. Arden is far too dangerous to bring down alone.
Unfortunately, Anne Frank hasn’t gotten that memo. Having already shot Dr. Arden, she’s ready to blow his brains out — until Sister Mary Eunice shows up. “I’ve waited so many years for this, I can wait a few more minutes,” Anne Frank says, stupidly. Unfortunately, a few more minutes means a lost opportunity. I always wonder why anyone hesitates to either get away or kill someone in a TV show or movie. Take the shot! Run! Come on! Anyway, Anne Frank is disarmed, and we soon learn that Anne Frank may not be Anne Frank anyway. Her husband shows up at the asylum and reveals her name is actually Charlotte — and after their baby was born, she became obsessed with the famed diaries and definitely disinterested in her colicky kid. It’s a perfectly logical explanation which I don’t entirely trust.
Dr. Thredson happens to walk by and pops in with his diagnosis — postpartum psychosis! Her husband, however, thinks she’s just a “very emotional person” who doesn’t like to hear babies crying all day. Even though Dr. Thredson seems to have the stronger case, he is not her doctor, as Sister Jude handily points out. Rightly fearing that Anne Frank/Charlotte will be murdered if she stays in the asylum, the sympathetic (in this case) sister releases her to her husband’s care. Whether or not Anne Frank is who she claims to be, it doesn’t matter. Dr. Arden is probably already plotting his revenge as some unlucky medical professional excises the bullet from his leg. Can’t keep a bad man down!
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Briarcliff has a new patient and she claims to be the infamous Anne Frank who died during the Holocaust. Only she didn’t die, she says. She continued her life in America so her martyr status would open the world’s eyes to the injustices occurring in Germany.
Now she’s in Boston beating up anti-Semites. The woman does have a mark on her arm to prove she was held in a concentration camp. So she may be being honest, or she just knows a good tattoo artist. With so many asylum patients claiming they didn’t kill their families and fabricating false stories (more on that later), it’s hard to tell who is telling the truth.
For Anne Frank, Briarcliff Manor may be an upgrade to Auschwitz, but it’s a dangerous place with Dr. Arden running around. The patient claiming to be Anne Frank outs Dr. Arden as a former Nazi. She says he would flip a coin to determine which girls to “treat” in Auschwitz. Then he would bring them back to camp poisoned.
Sounds like the lovable, great humanitarian Dr. Arden that we’ve come to know. Adding to the evidence of Arden’s criminal activity, the call girl he nearly killed reports him to the authorities.
The poor doctor has to take time away from dismembering Shelley to defend his reputation to two homicide detectives. “This is utter hogwash,” Arden says before walking away. “I have no idea what I’m even being accused of.” That response seems to satisfy the detectives, who were probably in a rush to get back to their homes in time to catch the newest episode of “Bewitched.”
No need to check the forest full of man-eating zombies or the store room hiding a patient who looks as if her face were dipped in acid. Speaking of which, Shelly’s days as our favorite nymphomaniac are numbered.
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