'American Horror Story: Asylum' episode 13 finale recap: 'Madness Ends' closes the book on Briarcliff

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After enduring a season full of torture, rape, murder and all around depravity, both the characters and the audience were treated to a graceful denouement in the grand finale of "American Horror Story: Asylum." Who expected the final chapter to be this ... sweet?

Aside from one key act of violence, "Madness Ends" was largely a simple and restrained hour devoted to closing the book on Lana Winters, Kit Walker and Sister Jude. And there's no question that this finale clarified that "Asylum" was first and foremost Lana's story.

It's Lana's television interview, tied to her pending Kennedy Center Honor, that catches us up to the present day. We learn that after Kit paid her a visit and let her know that Jude was still alive, Lana finally did return to Briarcliff and filmed a documentary expose that finally shut the hell hole down. She also chased down Monsignor (now Cardinal) Howard and threatened to expose his support of Dr. Arden, which caused Howard to take his own life. But she wasn't able to save Jude.

It turns out that goal was already accomplished by Kit. After Alma died, he visited Jude on a regular basis and eventually got her released from Briarcliff. He took her home to live with his two children and she spent half a year with Kit's family until dying peacefully in her bed (with a kiss from the Angel of Death, of course). "I don't know if those last six months made up for a lifetime of horrors but she sure seemed happy," Kit says, in the first sign of the show's determination to give its three heroes their unconventional happy endings.

Kit's death comes next, though Lana reveals there's no proof he actually died -- no body was ever found. Although "Asylum's" alien storyline remained mysterious to the end, the episode provided two clues which suggest Grace's theory about the aliens (that they're benevolent and evolved beings attracted by Kit's dignity and empathy) was correct. The first was a short but beautiful scene of Kit's children taking Jude into the woods to help "detox" her of the horrific memories of Briarcliff. The second is Kit's final scene. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer but disappears into a white light, presumably carried off by the aliens to some unknown place. The ambiguity of the alien subplot is one of "Asylum's" biggest loose ends, but a fitting one that allows viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Once Lana has explained what happened to Jude and Kit, there's only one more thing for the series to resolve: Johnny's need for revenge. He killed his way onto the crew that arrives at Lana's home for the interview, and after everyone else is gone she calls for him to come out. During her interview, Lana confessed that she lied about the death of her baby with Thredson and that there was a point when he was a young boy that she attempted to seek him out. She spoke with him on a playground after he was bullied and it's that single encounter that caused Johnny to realize who his real parents were.

Decades later she never would've recognized him, but the police had already alerted her to his murder spree and the possibility that he may be after her. Johnny's ready for his revenge, but Lana is ready too. In a conversation reminiscent of Lana's final talk with Thredson in "Spilt Milk," she flatters him while gently prodding into his psyche. She knows that he's a killer but points out that there's some of her inside him too. Just not enough. As she gets Johnny to lower his gun, her final words to him are: "It's not your fault, baby. It's mine."

Lana shoots him in the head, killing him just like his father and finally ending the horrible legacy of Briarcliff.

An epilogue follows bringing us back to the day Lana first met Jude, an event neither quite realized would dramatically alter the rest of their lives.

The combination of the climax at Lana's house and the epilogue at Briarcliff make for an elegant ending to what has been an overstuffed (in a good way) series, and one that does justice to its core characters. While "Madness" wasn't on the level of "Asylum's" high point -- "Spilt Milk" -- it was still a fitting conclusion.

Now that the series is over, I'd rank "Asylum" slightly above "Murder House" in terms of consistency and overall artistry, but with back-to-back seasons this compelling, surprising and wonderfully acted, I can't wait to see what "American Horror Story" gets told next.

What did you think of the "American Horror Story: Asylum" finale?
Photo/Video credit: FX
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