Monday, July 15, 2013

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Asylum

An asylum is also known as a sanitarium or a "psychiatric institution."  In some cases, it is also known, in unflattering terms as a "madhouse" or "lunatic asylum."

In cult-television history, the asylum has recurred frequently as a setting for major stories; stories that delve into insanity, madness, and feelings of isolation and entrapment.

The Star Trek franchise occurs in a universe in which insanity has ostensibly been "cured," but at least two episodes of the original series (1966 - 1969) feature asylums that house those individuals that suffer from the diagnosis.  

The first episode, "Dagger of the Mind" takes place at an underground facility called Tantalus.  The second episode, "Whom Gods Destroy" involves the asylum on Elba II where former starship captain Garth of Izar is treated.  This asylum exists inside a protective dome, surrounded by a poisonous atmosphere, increasing the atmosphere of isolation and alienation.

In the 1990s, Batman: The Animated Series (1992 - 1995) often featured stories regarding Gotham City's home for the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum, named after a city in Massachusetts featured in the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Both Chris Carter's The X-Files (1993 - 2002) and Millennium (1996 - 1999) featured stories involving the insane asylum during their runs.  

The clone Eve 6, for example (in the X-Files story "Eve") spent out her adult days in one sanitarium, and the episode "Our Town" commences with Mulder (David Duchovny) examining footage of a patient in an insane asylum.  This patient went mad after seeing the "foxfire" of Dudley, Arkansas.   

On Millennium, a second season story "The Pest House" involves an insane asylum, and its connection to urban legends.

For the duration of its ten season run, the Superman prequel Smallville (2001 - 2011) featured stories set at Belle-Reve Sanitarium.  Over the years, many "Freaks of the Week" were remanded there, and for a spell, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) also called a padded cell at Belle-Reve home.

Recently, the Briarcliff Mental Institution, administrated by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) proved the central setting of American Horror Story, season two.

Also, the opening episode of Doctor Who season seven (2005 - ) featured one of the weirdest sanitariums in cult-tv history, an asylum for the killing machines known as Daleks.  The episode was titled "Asylum of the Daleks," and it was also the story that introduced the Doctor's current companion, Clara.

1 comment:

  1. John interesting analysis of the asylum.