Last year, American Horror Story struck gold with a brilliant viral marketing campaign. A gorgeous mansion, decked out in red, was disturbed by the presence of a mysterious figure in a black rubber suit. Sometimes, it was a man; other times, a pregnant woman. And still other times it played the cello violently while characters were engulfed in flame. I was hooked before the first episode aired.
This season, FX is going for viral gold again and it’s a mixed bag. Since the gimp suit and fire played such a large role in season 1, horror and TV sites alike are obsessively posting every video they can find. The problem is that the visual just isn’t as compelling.
Gone are the almost art deco meets noir tones of the season 1 promos. Their replacement is a milky hodge podge of ghostly cliches set in a mental hospital. Yes, I’m curious to know what, exactly, is going on in the facility, but seeing a nun drop meat in the forest or a poor looking spiderwalk (but really, even the original spiderwalk looked terrible) under a stairwell isn’t drawing me in.
Part of this is an intentional device. The religious asylum is most likely going to be a period story to allow for maximum shock value. Furthermore, the inclusion of religion at all allows for a number of possibilities: cult, sisters of satan, possession, Antichrist, hellholes, conspiracy. The story isn’t going to be as clear cut as the tragic haunting of season 1. Religious horror is, at its best, ambiguous and (dare I say?) offensive. It’s meant to be shocking because you’re suggesting that a belief structure could be harmful or dangerous. It’s meant to be ambiguous because you cannot prove faith. If you could, it would be science.
Even still, I think the haze is a step too far. Whether it’s a literal manifestation of doubt is irrelevant. If the promos don’t pop, they’re not going to grab big ratings like the first season.
Certain elements are coming through as clear themes. This is going to be a chamber play/upstairs & downstairs drama. The nuns are surrounding the patients, but the patients are isolated from the nuns. It could be a physical separation–the alcoves, the bath, the padded rooms and straight jackets–or a psychological one–trapped in a rose, drowning in purity, flipped upside down. The promos are trying to get us to think about opposing forces and the ways in which we choose to focus on ourselves.
If I have to hazard a guess, I think the Asylum is a facility that houses genuinely ill people and some of society’s undesirables. The child’s jacket and young adults presented in the promos so far lead me to believe that some of these people might be there for upsetting their families. Could their be a pregnant teen on vacation until the baby can be left with the nuns? A young man who needs an attitude adjustment so he’s punished with a trip the asylum? Rebellious heirs who need to be knocked down a few pegs? It would be another way to draw the line between the people running the facility and the people visiting and introduce some unique power struggles.
Let me put it another way. There is no way Ryan Murphy is going to do 13 episodes of straight forward nuns taking care of actual mental health patients. There will be twists. I will be shocked if a man this obsessed with camp does not do a storyline about satan pursuing a young vibrant nun. There has to be at least one patient who should not be in the facility. There has to be at least one child living there because they were abandoned. Suicide? Fights? Failed escapes? Actual dangers outside of the walls to keep patients in line? All strong possibilities.
I only wish the promos for Season 2 were a bit bolder in their look. They’re a little to clinical and clean for a season subtitled Asylum. I have high hopes for the environment in the context of American horror and eagerly await the season premiere.
What about you? Any idea what’s happening in the promos? Or why the promos are faded visions of the facility? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.