“American Horror Story: Asylum” wrapped up its second season Wednesday night with a look at the future, where Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is the sole survivor.
“I think Season 2 was really cool,” says Creator/Executive Producer Ryan Murphy. “I think it was about something cultural and social, but it was very dark and it was very unrelenting and it was by design.”
The “Aslyum” finale also revealed happy endings for Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and Kit Walker (Evan Peters), although there was an “AHS” twist to both.
“I always thought Lana was the smartest cookie in the jar,” Murphy adds. “That is how I told Sarah to play it. I liked that the hero of this season was a heroine, I liked that she was a lesbian and that she had an arc to her sexuality and that she got a happy ending.”
Read on for the rest of Murphy’s wrap-up on Season 2 of “American Horror Story: Asylum.”
With the finale, what were you trying to say about the season and all the characters in the end?
The thing that we were the most interested in writing about this season was the stuff in the last episode, which was the documentary series that Lana made about shutting down Briarcliff. That was one of the first things when the writers landed on the idea of “Asylum.” During that period of time those documentaries that were made there was a very famous documentary that Geraldo Rivera made in that time period that this is a loose homage of. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that, but it is on youtube, and it is quite fascinating. It made his career.
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Also, there was a brilliant movie that we were influenced by for the last episode — a documentary called “Cropsey” — that was also about the unraveling healthcare system in our country. So many people were dumped there and left to rot there. All those abuses that you see, we studied pictures of and recreated all that stuff, so we did a lot of research. That was our jumping off point for the whole season. We knew we were going to have that character go in there, become a prisoner, do her shock corridor tenure and then go back to tear the joint down. That was the ending we actually had from the very beginning.
The rest of the stuff … what we do with a show like this is, we started working on Season 3 with the writers, I start working with them on Monday and I already know what the season is, so I will work with the writers and we flesh it out. Then I go talk to John Landgraf, Nick Grad, Dana Walden, Gary Newman and John Solberg is in those meetings and I will pitch the whole season. That is a really great thing to do. After we pitch it, we start writing it.
So you always knew from the beginning that Lana would survive the season?
Yeah. I knew Lana would survive. I did not know how fantastic her wigs would be. That was a lot of fun, too, working with Sarah Paulson, who had so many dark days, but she loved it. She was actually weepy when the show ended because she said she never had a character that had a beginning, middle and end like that. We took extra care in those last episodes with Sarah to give her the Jackie Susann wigs and the jewels and the fur. I also liked that meditation on fame, which was loosely modeled after all that Truman Capote In Cold Blood stuff that I had always been obsessed with when I was a journalist.
She was kind of that corruption of fame stuff that I thought was really interesting. I know a lot of people were very furious with Lana after [last week's] episode because they felt she left all those people there to rot. But I love that she goes back and I love that even after all that Sister Jude had done, she does go back to get her. She does succeed in closing down that place. I thought it was a very heroic ending for her.
This was the happiest episode of the season and the most straightforward. Was that always the intent?
I think so. It is always the trajectory of the show. I think the show starts off with three to five areas of interest that are so-called horror that shouldn’t go together that we put together. I think the show usually has a very strong, whirligig energy when it starts because you have to launch all that stuff. I felt the same thing last year that probably the most successful episodes were the last three and I feel that about this year. I think what happens is it became a very meditative, grounded, emotional story about these three people who started — Kit, Lana and Sister Jude.
I don’t know how people will react, but I think Sister Jude got a great, happy ending. I know Jessica felt that. I think Kit got a very strange, happy ending. That character was very influenced by Richard Dreyfus in the last scene in “Close Encounters” where he gets off and he will probably live forever. I always imagined that as a happy ending. I think Lana having her Barbara Walters ending was great. I thought it was happy endings for not everybody, but most people.
Can you talk about the song-and-dance number– “The Name Game”?
We do map the show out. We do and we know where we are going. That happened because Jessica was so tired of sweating in that outfit and the oppression. It was a very dark thing for her to do as an actor. She came to my office one day and said, “You need to give me something fun. I can’t take it anymore.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “I want to sing again,” because we had done a thing early on where Judy Martin was a failed lounge singer, so we came up with that. There was a very organic thing we did with that. I thought what the song was about fit that episode perfectly. It was about how this asylum was run by the Catholic church and then the state came in and took it away and people became not individuals but numbers, so that really worked well. Then we showed her a picture of Dusty Springfield and she loved it and we copied that. And Paulson loved it and Evan loved it.
The thing about this season that I just loved — and I was worried about it — we had a lot of extras this year who were those mental patients. We were really specific with the casting of them in the first two episodes. We got like 20 of them and they played the same characters. Jessica would go up to them and thank them profusely, because they came with characters. They made all that stuff up themselves and they would stay in character during the lunch break. They were really great and dedicated. That number lived and breathed by how game they were to do that dance with her. I would love to always do something musical with Jessica Lange.
Are you going to scale back some of the more gratuitous aspects of the show, particularly things like violence? This show pushed a lot of envelopes — and bravely so — are you thinking of scaling back a little bit?
I think it is a very personal thing. I think movies and TV reflect the culture, but I did just have a kid, so for the first time, I have been in the position to have a parental feeling about my work, which is very cool and unusual for me. So, I have been thinking about that lately. Would I want my kid to see this? All of this season was written and, for the most part, directed before Sandy Hook. But we are doing a horror story, so I will never say never. I think for me personally, and I don’t know how the other writers feel, because we haven’t had the opportunity to talk about it, I feel that if you are going to tell a story with a gun, take a step back and think about it. That doesn’t mean we won’t do it, but we will try to do it responsibly.
In Season 1, we did do a Columbine-esque story with Evan, which I thought was very moving. It did upset a lot of people and a lot of people felt it was too much to be on television, but we were making a comment on the culture with that story in particular. It is something I am thinking about, but I don’t claim to have any answers. But it does bother me and I think there are a lot of ways to convey horror and violence without semi-automatic weapons for me, but that is just for me.
When Lana gave her son (Dylan McDermott) the drink, it looked like it was going to be poison and he would just keel over. Did you ever consider that?
Maybe, but it all feels so different for me now. That episode was written in October. Who knows how I would feel about it now. That whole story was so of a piece and … there wasn’t a cultural conversation like there is now…
“American Horror Story has always been very sensitive about that. It is not that you can’t do it, but we have had scenes where you might want to talk about how you re-frame the violence — maybe it is too much. We always shoot them in a way you can edit it down. I think we will talk about it even more as we move forward. I know I will. I think the story we have cooked up [for Season 3] probably doesn’t involve as much gun bloodshed as before.
Season 3 of “American Horror Story,” which has yet to be named, will again star Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters.