At the completion of the first season of American Horror Story, it was announced that the creators planned to have a whole new cast and story for the next season (and seasons after that), effectively telling an all new American Horror Story. Later on, they confirmed that some of the first season's actors would return in new roles.Season two of American Horror Story, titled Asylum is set in the Briarcliff Institution in 1964, and deals with the administration of the asylum, led by Sister Jude, and its two newest inmates, Lana Winters and Kit Walker. Kit has been accused of being the Serial Killer Bloody Face after his wife's disappearance, but Kit claims that he was abducted by aliens. Lana was going to write an expose on Briarcliff, but Sister Jude got her institutionalized on the grounds that Lana is gay. Meanwhile in the present, the ruins of Briarcliff are still being stalked by Bloody Face.Among the returning cast members are Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Lily Rabe, and Dylan McDermott. The new cast members include Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan, James Cromwell, Chloe Sevigny and Joseph Fiennes.
American Horror Story: Asylum provides the following tropes:
Abandoned Hospital: Part of the series is set in the present. Unsurprisingly, the hospital was worse with inhabitants.
Absentee Actor: A full cast list is run in the opening credits, but Zachary Quinto (Dr. Thredson) does not show up until episode 2, and Joseph Fiennes (Monsignor Howard) does not appear in episodes 3, 5, and 7.
Alas, Poor Villain: Sister Jude and Dr. Arden are both rather pitiful figures by the time their respective stories end.
Alien Abduction: Kit's backstory. Other characters end up being snatched as well.
Alone with the Psycho: Happens so often it might as well be the season's title. Zig-zagged in "Spilt Milk," where the psycho finds himself alone with (and at the mercy of) the victim.
Ambition Is Evil: Lana, Sister Jude, the Monsignor, and even Dr. Arden all play to some shade of this or another.
An Arm and a Leg: Leo's arm gets torn off within the first five minutes of the very first episode.
Dr. Arden assures his latest "patient" of his surgical pedigree after "clipping her wings." Brrr.
Anti-Villain: All of them, with the (possible) exception of possessed Sister Mary Eunice.
The Anticipator: In the episode Spilt Milk Lana plays the Anticipator trope straight; Lana is having an interview on the final episode. Unbeknownst to TV crew someone is hiding amongst them. Bloodyface, Lana's son, is among the crew masquerading as a worker. After the crew leaves someone stays behind, and tells the hiding person to emerge.Lana, who knew Bloodyface was there all along, tells him that he can come out now, as she anticipated his presence.
Batman Gambit: Dr. Arden invokes this in Episode 9/"The Coat Hanger", where he deduces that since he would never let a subject die mid-experiment, the aliens wouldn't either and will intervene should Kit's life be in danger.
Bath Suicide: How Timothy Howard dies when Lana goes public with her Briarcliff documentary.
Beauty Inversion: Elaborate prosthetics were required to transform Naomi Grossman into Pepper.
Bechdel Test: Passes. The series has an unusually plentiful and prominent female cast.
Beware the Nice Ones: Despite being in a horrible setting filled with villains, Dr. Thredson remains surprisingly nice. It's because he's serial killer Bloody Face.
Big Bad Ensemble: The season starts with Dr Arden, Sister Jude and Bloody Face. Later on, this grows to include a possessed Sister Eunice, the Monsignor, and the new Bloody Face. The aliens remain a more remote menace with an agenda rather difficult to parse.
Black and Gray Morality: Sister Jude starts out as the season's power-mad antagonist, but shortly emerges as a surprisingly sympathetic figure. In fact, nearly every villainous character becomes at least briefly more sympathetic when confronted with an even more potent evil.
Camp: While the first season was a standard haunted house story with several homages, Asylum revels in the number of Horror stories it can cram into one setting and play them without irony.
Casting Gag: Several of the recurring actors in season 2 have character arcs that relate back to season 1.
In Murder House, Zachary Quinto played a Camp Gay ghost. In Asylum, he is a psychiatrist on the cutting edge of homosexual conversion therapy.
In Murder House, Jessica Lange's daughter is killed by a hit and run drunk driver. In Asylum, she plays a woman who dons the cloth of over the guilt of her own drunken hit on run of a young girl.
In Murder House, Evan Peters plays an outwardly innocent kid who is actually guilty of committing a Columbine-esque massacre. In Asylum, he plays an outwardly guilty kid who is actually innocent of being a serial killer.
In Murder House, Dylan McDermott played a psychiatrist treating an Ax-Crazy mass-murdering patient. In Asylum he plays an Ax-Crazy serial killer whose first major on-screen action is to murder his psychiatrist.
In Murder House, Frances Conroy plays a ghost tormented by her inability to pass on. In Asylum, she plays the Angel of Death Shachath, guiding others peacefully into the afterlife.
In Murder House, Sarah Paulson plays a medium who immediately indicates that she's a Rich Bitch. In Asylum, her character eventually morphs into one.
Dr. Arden, a former doctor from a Nazi concentration camp, kills himself by climbing into a crematorium. Alive.
Grace, killed in the same manner in which she killed her parents - by axe murder.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: The views of homosexuality, miscegenation, and sexual freedom are a far cry from today. For example Kit has to hide his marriage to Alma for fear of violence from the town folk.
Played with in the case of Dr. Thredson's views on behavior modification and corporal punishment for homosexuality, as he finds it too severe despite it being commonplace at the time.
Demonic Possession: One of the patients is brought to Briarcliff because his parents think he's possessed. Turns out they're right, and in fact they've just delivered a huge problem to the asylum.
Disposable Sex Worker: Averted; it seems like Dr. Arden is going to rough up and possibly kill the call girl he hires, but instead she nails him where it counts, gets away, and sics the police on him.
It's inverted in an interesting way though: the possessed Sister Mary Eunice is terrified of Shachath since she's a powerful angel who never fell. Though the angel of death never attacks the possessed Mary Eunice, she does ultimately cause her death by telling the Monsignor about her, and takes both the sister and demon.
Doomed by Canon: We already know that Lana won't successfully terminate the pregnancy even before we find out she's pregnant.
Two occurrences during the "Nor'Easter" episode, neither of which are serious. The first one is when Sister Jude confronts Dr. Arthur about giving Sister Mary red lipstick, and the second is when the group is about to watch The Sign of the Cross and Jude drunkenly mentions that she heard that Charles Laughton might have been a whoopsie.
Driven to Suicide: I like to call this "American Horror Story's Season of Suicide." The members of the church were not having a good year.
Monsignor Howard slashes his wrists while taking a bath.
Sister Eunice enlists Monsignor Howard to assist in her suicide when she has a brief break from the literal Devil inside of her.
Sister Jude fantasizes about killing herself. The way Shachath talks to her hints that this has happened before.
Dr. Arden's reason for living was Sister Eunice herself. After she killed herself, he found that he had nothing to live for any longer. He climbed atop her body as it slid into the fire of the crematorium.
There's some irony in that suicide is considered one of the worst sins anyone can commit, yet everyone in the church either kills themselves or considers it (with the exception of Mother Superior.) Sister Eunice and Monsignor Howard also die "outside a state of grace" and cannot be buried the way Catholics are supposed to be buried.
Lana and Thredson's son, who admits to spending his pre-teen years skinning animals both dead and alive.
Enemy Mine: In Episode 8, Dr. Arden agrees to help Sister Jude. He also saves both Kit and Grace, albeit for his own purposes. Sister Jude and Lana eventually rescue one another as well.
Epic Fail: The Monsignor uses almost this exact term after his failed exorcism attempt, which given the period setting pretty funny.
Evil Versus Evil: The story has many antagonists, each with their own agenda. The primary one for the first half of the season is the fight between Sister Jude and Dr. Arden over control of Briarcliff.
Eye Scream: A flashback to Kit being abducted cuts away just before a needle enters his eyeball.
We also get that delightful icepick lobotomy scene.
Fan Disservice: Zachary Quinto's beautiful rear end turns out to be a rather unwelcome sight.
Foreshadowing: Lots of foreshadowing is present in the cast poster: the noose around Arden's neck with the end held by Sister Eunice, Leo's positioning on the bed ([showing only one arm), Monsignor Howard possibly giving last rites to Shelley, the blue coat, and ( Bloody Face being in Dr. Thredson's shadow ).
First Episode Spoiler: Lana is committed in Briarcliff against her will. And Second Episode Spoiler: Sister Mary Eunice gets possessed by the devil.
Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Interestingly zig-zagged. Lana subverts this when she fails to abort her unwanted child in "The Coat Hanger", but when given the chance of a more sterile and safe backroom abortion after she escapes, she plays it straight by backing out at the last minute.
Honorary Uncle - Kit's kids call Sister Jude "Nana" (an affectionate term for grandmother)
Human Resources: Used in a light-hearted-albeit-creepy fashion in the Christmas episode; due to a shortage of decorations, Sister Mary Eunice decorates the tree with clippings of patient hair and dentures.
Interrogation Montage: Inverted in "The Coat Hanger." A small number of officials, plus the Monsignor and Dr. Arden, question Leigh about why Sister Jude would try to kill him.
Ironic Echo: After current day Bloody Face is revealed to be Thredson and Lana's son, he mentions that he was placed in an adoption/foster system that didn't work, and blames it for his condition. Several scenes later, and Thredson warns Lana she needs to keep the baby as the adoption/foster system doesn't work, and it's the reason he is Bloody Face.
Jack the Ripoff: There are not one but several modern day Bloody Face copycats.
Kill 'em All: Not every character dies. But close. Very close.
Jerkass Has a Point: Thredson's point about the foster care system turns out to have some weight to it.
Knight Templar: Sister Jude is utterly convinced of her righteousness. She is also the coldest thing to run a mental asylum since Nurse Ratched.
Like Parent, Like Spouse: When Dr. Thredson kidnaps Lana, he explains he captures women because he wants bodily contact with someone like his mother, who abandoned him. A few episodes later, and Thredson is shown raping Lana.
Also invoked with modern Bloody Face, who hires a lactating prostitute to pretend to be his mother.
Madonna-Whore Complex: Dr. Arden. At one point, in a truly bizarre scene even by the standards of this serial, he puts makeup on a statue of the Virgin Mary, calls her a whore, then pushes the whole thing over.
Male Gaze: The camera spends a rather long moment focusing on Grace's naked behind during "Tricks and Treats".
In this case it's really more of a female gaze, since Lana is the only character in the hydrotherapy room with Grace. She is a lesbian, after all.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Evan Peters' Boston accent that he affects for Kit is completely strong at times and then will totally disappear at others.
Other viewers have noted that Jessica Lange's Boston accent sounds just as wobbly.
Though with Lange it seems more deliberate, as her accent picks up the strongest when the character is drunk or suffering some kind of overwhelming emotional turmoil, implying that she represses it in her day-to-day life to sound more professional.
Soundtrack Dissonance: "Dominique" by Sœur Sourire, the French song that plays relentlessly in the asylum.
The pleasant-sounding orchestral piece that plays during the lobotomy scene.
Bilingual Bonus: "Dominique" is a song from the 60's written by a group of French nuns, also used in a Gen2 episode of Skins with Pandora. Besides the very light-hearted tone, the lyrics are about a joyful, pious, innocent man (Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order) who goes around everywhere spreading the word of God. This obviously contrasts sharply with the characters of Sister Jude and Sister Mary-Eunice, and accentuates the already jarring Soundtrack Dissonance. Then there's the fact that the song has become something of a Camp hit in contemporary France because of the phrase "Dominique-nique-nique..." being repeated at each chorus; "niquer" being one way to say "to fuck", the song sounds like "Dominique fucks, fucks..." and thus tells a very different story.
Thirty Gambit Pileup: There are several villains in the show, with all their plans colliding. Sister Jude is a Nurse Ratchet Expy who wanted to use brutality and Old Tyme Religion to cure people, even if they don't need curing. Dr. Arden is an mad doctor who wants to create perfect humans, even if his only results have been cannibal monsters. Bloody Face is a serial killer who wants...well, you can figure this one out on your own pretty easily. The aliens want to keep kidnapping and studying Kit and his lovers/children. And the Devil is just in it For the Evulz.
Those Wacky Nazis: A woman claiming to be a still-living Anne Frank shows up and accuses Dr. Arden of being a death camp doctor. She isn't really Anne Frank. But she's right about Arden.
Trauma Conga Line: A lot of characters have shades of this, but from the moment we see him Kit probably gets it the worst.
Unreliable Expositor: In "Continuum", the Monsignor promises to return for Jude, and she finds herself top of the patient hierarchy and best friends with Pepper. Cue the return of the Dark Angel/Shachath as an inmate, and Jude soon discovers several years have passed, the Monsignor is now Bishop and left over two years ago, the escapees have forgotten her, Pepper is dead, and everyone is calling her Betty Drake.
Wham Episode: "I Am Anne Frank, Part Two": Sister Jude cracks up, the truth of Anne Frank's identity is revealed, Grace meets the aliens, Bloody Face's true identity is revealed, Kit is arrested, a lobotomy is performed, and we may finally get some clue who Dr. Arden really is.
"The Coat Hanger". In the present day, the new Bloody Face is revealed to be the son of Thredson. In 1964, Lana discovers she is pregnant with Thredson's son, Jude is admitted to Briarcliff and forms an alliance with Lana, and Arden, after realising the aliens are real, teams up with Kit to make them return. This works, resulting in the reappearance of the previously-disappeared Pepper, and the previously-dead Grace, who is now pregnant. Also, Leigh crucifies the Monsignor, and the episode ends with him begging for help from The Angel of Death.
Yank the Dog's Chain: Between the fake-out escape, car crash, and reincarceration, "Dark Cousin" is basically just an excuse to mess with Lana even more.