Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have upped the ante for the second season of "American Horror Story," their buzz-worthy anthology series. "Asylum" blends stark horror with raw sensuality in a storyline that's so packed with information and characters that viewers need a DVR to catch all the details.
"Welcome to Briarcliff," the premiere episode, opens in modern times as the newly married Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Leo (Adam Levin from "The Voice") explore the crumbling remains of the infamous Briarcliff Asylum. While the couple consummates their marriage (surely not for the first time), Teresa recounts the dark history of the institution and the subterranean passage that's nicknamed the "death chute."
Teresa and Leo aren't the only ones roaming the ruins, though. Bloody Face, Briarcliff's most infamous inmate, apparently is still cutting up people for pleasure.
As the newlyweds deal with the serial killer, the action shifts to 1964, the time when Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) oversees the inmates at Briarcliff Asylum. Sister Jude is hiding plenty of secrets under her habit, especially a curve-hugging red slip and an unspoken lust for Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes).
Sister Jude thinks she's running the show, but Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) challenges her authority at every turn. Arden, unfortunately, is more interested in using the inmates for scientific experiments than actually curing them. He is especially interested in Kit Walker (Evan Peters), a young husband accused of slaying several people, including his beloved wife.
Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), the latest person admitted to Briarcliff, actually is not in need of treatment. A reporter in search of a story, Winters gains admittance to the asylum under false pretenses and now is subject to the tender mercies of Sister Jude. The nun even blackmails Wendy (Clea Duvall), Lana's schoolteacher girlfriend, into signing the commitment papers.
"Welcome to Briarcliff" sets an erotic and horrific tone for "American Horror Story: Asylum." In addition to Sister Jude's lust, the nervous Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) is very eager to expose her buttocks for punishment. Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny also steams up the asylum as Shelley, a woman who has been incarcerated because of her nymphomania.
The big mystery of "Asylum" is the true identity of Bloody Face. Kit Walker has been admitted to Briarcliff for the murders attributed to the serial killer, but he maintains his innocence. Walker has painful memories of an alien abduction in which his beloved wife was butchered by green creatures.
Series creators Murphy and Falchuk made great choices for this season, especially when it comes to music. In a decidedly cruel twist, Sister Jude insists that while the patients are in the common room, a recording of "Dominique" by "The Singing Nun" Jeanine Deckers plays in the background. "Dominique" is a catchy tune, but after repeated playings, it could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
With aliens, a serial killer, and smoldering sexuality, "American Horror Story: Asylum" looks like the hottest ticket on Wednesday evenings.