This television series set in the 70s highlights the unexpected twists and interactions–the sheer contingency of factors–that can land someone at Briarcliff, the titular asylum. It’s a thin line between normal and abnormal in this horror story. Unfortunately, in showcasing how easy it can be to be “committed” in a patriarchal, homophobic, and racist society, the series creates a bubble for the story’s protagonists–they are not *really* mentally ill; they do not belong at Briarcliff. But that implies that someone does belong there, and the show does more than just suggest this. Those who “belong” at Briarcliff are the visual backdrop for nearly every scene – they are abused, pushed, ignored, and left nameless and voiceless (except when contributing to the screams, groans, and audible mayhem of the atmosphere of Briarcliff).
That said, “Asylum” had a surprisingly strong feminist message. The series’ “last girl” – Lana – is queer and strong, while Jude, who once acted as handmaiden of the patriarchy, ends her life with a special message for Kit’s daughter — essentially, never rely on a man to set and accomplish goals for you the way St. Jude relied on the Monsignor.
But can the disability rights issues presented by “Asylum” be resolved with a simple revolt against the patriarchy? The true horrors revealed by Lana’s eventual exposure of Briarcliff–neglect and abuse among those held there–suggests not.