American Horror Story: Asylum has made real efforts to engage the audience in an exploration of several themes this season: institutional oppression, innatism and behaviorism, science versus religion, the hazy boundaries between personal survival and selfish ambition. This season - a marked improvement over the first, which can hardly claim to have any themes whatsoever - certainly didn't skimp on the gore and the sex and the fun, but it made the froth stick by having something to say and, even more surprising, by showing a real heart beneath the blood and the butts.
That heart is what made "Madness Ends" such a remarkably effective finale.
Still, "Madness Ends" leaves unanswered the biggest question of the season, that of the aliens that have touched Kit's life in so many ways. We never learn the source of their connection to Kit, their motivation in first abducting and then reviving Alma and Grace, in what ways their interference has empowered those babies. And you know, I guess that's okay. It's tempting to chalk it up to the fact that our existence contains unknowable answers and this is one of life's mysteries, but I suspect it's simply that Murphy and Falchuk attempted too much with this season and had neither the time nor the means to resolve that particular plot point to everyone's satisfaction.
Or maybe I'm wrong - maybe the answer here is that sometimes, there are no answers. As American Horror Story: Asylum deals extensively with the vast gulf between the solutions of science and the acceptance of faith, and as Kit slowly develops into the character most like Christ, persecuted but forgiving, self-sacrificing to the end, maybe his miraculous and mysterious shuffling off this mortal coil is the precisely intended conclusion to that narrative arc. Either way, on an emotional level, Kit's story ends in a tremendously satisfying manner. His beautiful family life, his wonderful children, his poignant closure with Jude: he earned it, and we earned it.
Jude's story also concludes in a lovely way. At first primed as the villain of the story, Jude's tale was one of regret and redemption. She tortured others, she was tortured, she made her amends, she was rescued by those she hurt most, she was healed. Those kids cured her madness in some inexplicable way, and then she danced around with Kit and the children and passed away peacefully, willingly offering herself to Death's kiss. It was beautiful.
Lana - at first our protagonist of the series - had a more complicated arc, but I will still never claim she's the villain. Kit's story was of sacrifice, Jude's was of redemption and Lana's was of survival. She suffered more than anyone on this show (except Shelly), and she survived it through strength of character and sheer ambition. A less ambitious person would have died in Thredson's basement. And a less ambitious person might have been more likable in the end, but Lana's earned her stripes. She's earned that majestic home and her beautiful wife and all of her accolades. She may not be the dewy victim we took her for, and maybe that's who we wanted her to be, but she did fight her way out of Briarcliff and then brought it down, and the Cardinal down with it. (The Cardinal, who deserved what he got no matter what the public thinks.)
That fierce instinct of self-preservation in the end brought her to kill her own son. Is Johnny the real victim here? Lana certainly isn't. He lived his life in painful solitude and growing hatred, and the moment he tracks down the woman he blames for everything that's wrong in his life, the moment he begins to trust her, she shoots him in the face. I don't blame Lana for that. Her plaintive murmur of "No, baby, it's my fault," makes it clear that Lana has regrets. She accepts her culpability. But in the end, she does what she has to do to survive and she moves on. That's why Lana outlasts all of them: Jude, Thredson, Kit, Grace, Alma, Timothy, Wendy, Mary Eunice, Arden, Shelly - they all fall away and leave only Lana standing.
In my review for last week's episode, I asked, "So is this season really going to end with mullet man killing Sarah Paulson in old lady make-up?" I should have known better. Nobody kills Lana Winters.
"Madness Ends" is an outstanding finale because it takes even what we thought didn't work about American Horror Story: Asylum and makes it work. The episodic writing on this show is always uneven, but over the course of thirteen episodes, the narrative of the season worked like gangbusters. Thinking back to the opening moments of the first episode of the season, as the honeymooners have gurney sex in the ruins of Briarcliff, who could have guessed that I'd later be discussing the season in terms of thematic and emotional resonance? I've spent a lot of time teasing this show, but when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong. Well done, Falchuk and Murphy.
See you back here next season! Read the rest of my reviews for American Horror Story and American Horror Story: Asylum here.