Sunday, March 15, 2015

Story and Genre

*Just a preface before reading this blog post that there are some dark moments within this episode that will be mentioned throughout this posting.*

A person is typically drawn to particular television shows because of its genre. Certain people want to laugh when they watch television so they will watch comedy shows such as Modern Family and Family Guy. Others like to watch crime investigation dramas such as CSI and NCIS. For me, I tend to be drawn to shows that “stand out” among other television programs. That is why I enjoy watching American Horror Story: Asylum. It is a different type of drama genre on television that leaves you always wanting to know more. 

American Horror Story: Asylum falls under the hybrid drama. American Horror Story: Asylum follows the conventions of a hybrid drama. The format of the show is 60 minutes and is recorded outside and on indoor sets (O’Donnell, 96). The drama characteristics fuses family drama with mystery or science fiction (96). Characters have lead actors with an ensemble cast. The plot of a hybrid drama typically has a dilemma that “may or may not be solved within the hour, may be crime, espionage, or interpersonal conflict” (97). These conventions lead the audience to have certain expectations of this genre. The audience expectations of the hybrid genre includes being able to anticipate the outcome and possibly being able to identify with the characters. They also expect to identify with certain conflicts within the show. In the case of American Horror Story: Asylum, the audience expects some elements of horror within each episode. Some audience members might enjoy being scared and being fearful of the unknown (Bell). 

The audience also have certain expectations when it comes to how the story is told in American Horror Story: Asylum. In order to have these scary and horror elements, the structure of the narrative must be structured in a way that will bring these emotions to the audience. I have chosen Episode 10, “The Name Game” as a way to show how the narrative processes in this episode. The narrative of this episode follows the progression of events of the characters inside the asylum. The episode opens with Kit being revived by Dr. Arden where he asks if there was any visitation (from the aliens). Dr. Arden tells him no but in actuality he has been interrogating Pepper who has been charged with protecting a pregnant Grace. Back in the common room, Sister Mary puts a new jukebox in the room and dedicates the song “I Put a Spell on You” to Sister Jude who is now a patient at Briarcliff. Dr. Thredson enters the room and sits with Kit and Lana. He reveals to Kit about Lana’s failed abortion attempt and how he will continue to imprison them since he has been hired as the full-time therapist.
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These events help to set up the rest of the narrative. During the episode we see Kit get a surprise from Dr. Thredson which is seeing Grace with a baby, Sister Jude receiving poor treatment due to Sister Mary and the growing tension between Dr. Thredson and Lana Winter. Throughout this episode, the main narrative progression is seen through the events with Monsignor in them. He is warned at the beginning of the episode about the Devil being inside Sister Mary. This leads him to take action and try an exorcism but it does not work. This worsens the problem and leads him to see advice from a delusional Sister Jude. She tells him to “kill her.” When Monsignor is confronted by Sister Mary again she begins to talk out loud on how he plans on killing her. “He reiterates his intent to return her host to a state of grace, which angers the nun to the point of loss of control and the host emerges. He takes the opportunity to throw her from the balcony at the top of the staircase” (“The Name Game”). 

Time is presented in multiple ways for American Horror Story: Asylum. Some episodes go back and forth in time such as the pilot episode going from the present back to the 1960s. In this particular episode, the events presented are successive. Something that happens earlier in the episode leads to something else later on. An example of this would be when Dr. Arden is out in the woods with Sister Mary and goes to kill himself. He ends up not doing it and Sister Mary says that he is pitiful. At the end of the episode, we see that Sister Mary has been killed and this time Dr. Arden does commit suicide by “climbing onto the tray and incinerating himself along with Mary Eunice's body” (“The Name Game”). 

Another way to look at how the story is told within this episode is to use Propp’s Narrative Theory and see how disequilibrium is created and how equilibrium is restored in the episode. Disequilibrium is created throughout the episode through the conflict between characters. The equilibrium for Lana Winters and Kit Walker at the beginning of the episode is that Dr. Thredson is no longer at the asylum. Disequilibrium is created for them when they see that Dr. Thredson has returned. Equilibrium is partially restored for Kit Walker by the surprise in Dr. Thredson’s office. It is Pepper and Grace with a newborn baby in her arms. Dr. Thredson tells Kit that Grace says that the baby is his. Though Kit might be confused by this, he is happy to see Grace again. Equilibrium is restored when Lana catches Dr. Thredson trying to find the tape. Her equilibrium is restored by blackmailing him with this tape (this also creates disequilibrium for Dr. Thredson). Disequilibrium is created for Sister Jude when Sister Mary puts a jukebox in the common room. This lack only gets worse when Sister Mary orders her to get electroshock therapy which causes her to become dazed and forget people’s names. Equilibrium is restored for Sister Jude when she tells Monsignor to kill Sister Mary and he follows her advice. This equilibrium is similar for Monsignor. Disequilibrium is created for 
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him when he realizes that the Devil is inside Sister Mary. Equilibrium tries to be restored when he attempts an exorcism on her. Disequilibrium is created again when Sister Mary retaliates and violates him. Equilibrium is restored for Monsignor when he throws Sister Mary off a balcony that kills her. 

Since each episode builds on one another, conflicts from previous episodes can been seen in “The Name Game.” The conflict between Sister Mary and Sister Jude worsens when Sister Mary buys a jukebox for the common area. The two do not get along especially now that Sister Jude has become a patient at Briarcliff. Conflict arises for Kit Walker and Lana winters when they see that Dr. Thredson is back at the asylum and is now working there full-time. The conflict between the three only worsens as the episode progresses. Conflict also arises when Monsignor finally realizes that the Devil is inside Sister Mary. He tries to perform an exorcism, but fails and Sister Mary retaliates by violating him. Conflict is resolved when Monsignor kills her. Not all conflicts are resolved from this episode so the audience stays intrigued and wants to know what will happen next. Conflict can also been seen by identifying oppositions within the episode. The opposition of good and evil is very much present in this episode. Good can be seen in Monsignor who gets a visit from the angel of death and she tells him that the Devil lies within Sister Mary. Good and evil can be seen between Dr. Thredson and Kit and Lana. In the conversation between the three of them, the audience can see how evil Dr. Thredson truly is by saying how he is only keeping Lana alive because she has their baby growing inside of her. Good and evil is also seen with Dr. Arden and how he treats Pepper. Dr. Arden is willing to do almost anything to find out more about the aliens. He wants to take x-rays or perform a c-section on pregnant Grace but Pepper will not allow it because she is to protect Grace according to the aliens.  

Too see how the narrative moves forward in this episode of Asylum, we can use Barthes’s hermeneutic code. This helps to see how an audience interprets an episode as well as follows the story presented. An enigma is a mystery or a question that is trying to be answered in the narrative or story. Some of the enigmas in this episode are “What will happen with Lana now that Dr. Thredson is back in the asylum?”, “Will Dr. Thredson find the tape?”, and “Will Sister Mary be freed from the Devil inside her?” A delay is anything that delays us from finding out the answer to the question or mystery in the story. The audience is delayed in finding out what will happen between Lana and Dr. Thredson because he is focused on getting Kit Walker and his situation with Grace. Dr. Thredson gets delayed in searching for his tape when he goes inside Dr. Arden’s laboratory. He hears someone screaming and finds Grace who is about to give birth. At the beginning of the episode, we see that Monsignor has finally realized of the evil within Sister Mary. He fails at attempting an exorcism which delays Sister Mary of being from this evil. A resolution is when we determine or figure out the mystery or answer to the question. There is no resolution for what will happen between Lana and Dr. Thredson in this episode. Dr. Thredson goes in search of the tape and only finds a book underneath one of the tubs. Much to his dismay, Lana threatens and tells him that she is the only one who knows where it is and she is not giving it up. This question is not fully resolved as well in this episode. Resolution occurs for Sister Mary when she is finally freed from the Devil. This is done by Monsignor killing both her and the Devil in the asylum. The Angel of Death comes and takes both of them away. This episode leaves the audience with some closure from the deaths of Sister Mary and Dr. Arden. However, there are still many questions left unanswered from the audience. The audience will have to come back and watch the next episode to get their questions answered.

It is said that many contemporary television shows have elements of older stories in the narrative. For American Horror Story: Asylum, elements of older stories can be seen a little in the narrative. Many older stories dealt with heroes and villains and good vs. evil. These elements can be seen in this season of the show and this episode. Some of the heroes within this episode are Monsignor and Lana Winters. Villains or the “bad guys” would be Dr. Thredson and Sister Mary. The heroes go against the villains within the asylum in order to try to resolve the conflict between them. This season of American Horror Story also has elements of myths and archetypes within the narrative. Archetypes such as good vs. evil, fate vs. free will, heroic action, and fall and redemption are all seen in Asylum. In this particular episode, we see good vs. evil between numerous characters. We see the continuing heroic actions of Lana Winters in exposing the truth about Dr. Thredson. We also see the fall of Sister Jude in the asylum. This episode also has the mythical elements of the “alien world.” Characters such as Kit and Grace are all part of this myth in the show. These myths and archetypes present in American Horror Story: Asylum can teach us a few lessons about ourselves. The archetypes especially show the audience ways to have courage and to stand up for yourself. They also teach the audience that evil can come in many ways and every person reacts differently to it. 

It is interesting to look at the various ways that a narrative for a television show can be examined. You can learn so much about how the narrative is structured and how its goal is to keep the audience drawn to the show. We were able to see this by analyzing the episode “The Name Game” in American Horror Story: Asylum. This episode provided ways to look at various narrative elements and how they are used in a hybrid drama. These elements in American Horror Story: Asylum show how the story is told and how it keeps the audience coming back for more. 

Works Cited

Bell, Christine. "TV Drama: Stories and Audiences." GCSE MEDIA STUDIES (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

O'Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.

"The Name Game." American Horror Story Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

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