American Horror Story: Asylum "Unholy Night" Review: A Very Briarcliff Xmas (PHOTO RECAP)
What are your most treasured holiday traditions? Sipping hot cocoa at the Christmas tree farm just before cutting down your very own Douglas Fir? Braving mall traffic to find that perfect gift for your special someone? Traversing the neighborhood and serenading the block with a selection of festive carols? Murdering upwards of five families for little to no reason? Well, it takes all kinds, but for the most part Christmas-themed entertainment has unfairly neglected the mass murderer angle of this particular holiday, so thank the Baby Jesus and all His pet farm animals for American Horror Story, one of the very few TV series to really and truly GO THERE. That's right, "Unholy Night" found the Briarcliff Asylum in full yuletide spirit, but in my opinion it was not the most heartwarming Christmas episode of a TV show I've ever seen. No, this was actually one of the most deeply unpleasant episodes of the show to date. Bad things happening all over the place and to almost everybody, with very few twists or surprises to break up all those grim proceedings. I love a Christmas episode as much as the next guy and I particularly love Christmas-themed horror (Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night are movies I would drop anything to watch), but for some reason I didn't love this episode of American Horror Story. If I had to hazard a guess, I think it's because not very much happened, plot-wise, so it felt mostly like a grim, drawn-out exercise in wheel-spinning. On the other hand: Deadwood's Ian McShane was FANTASTIC as a demented Santa-themed psycho. So yeah, there were some bright spots in "Unholy Night." Let's talk about it!
So just from the cold open I had a sneaking suspicion that this episode would be pretty light on story, since we were made to witness at least four different scenes of Ian McShane's psycho character terrorizing innocent people before the opening credits even began. First he straight-up gunned down a Salvation Army Santa in front of a department store, then later he invaded a family's home and opened their presents before waking up the parents and yelling at them a ton.
It wasn't clear if this guy was excited about Christmas (hence dressing up like Santa and yammering on and on about all the traditions) or if he really hated it (choosing to murder families based on their overly elaborate yard decorations). I don't know, but the sight of him tying up a husband and wife in Christmas lights before unceremoniously murdering them seemed pretty on-the-nose to me. Anyway, after a harrowing five minutes of this stuff we got the point: This dude was not well in the head.
So in one of the weirder things this show has ever done, we finally got to see what it's like when a DEMON FROM HELL is in charge of decorating an insane asylum for Christmas. Because there were no Christmas ornaments on hand, Sister Eunice decorated the tree with impromptu alternatives: pee cups, syringes, rubber gloves, dentures, and weirdest of all, locks of the inmates' hair. Who knew demons were so crafty??? [Martha Stewart joke to be added, I'll get back to you on this.]
Anyway, the security guard was sad about shooting the French lady.
Elsewhere, Sister Jude showed up and threatened Sister Eunice with a straight razor. They exchanged tons of acting (one-liners, poses, and strong choices in general) but then got interrupted by Dr. Arden who, though he despised both nuns for different reasons, ended up being Team Demon and had Sister Jude thrown the hell out of there.
Because when a nun threatens to kill you via straight razor, don't bother having them arrested. Just let them leave peacefully. But we could tell by Dr. Arden's conspiratorial tone that he and Sister Eunice would have to kill Sister Jude (as well as that sad security guard because of his loose lips or whatever). Anyway, this whole thing was now turning into an elaborate conspiracy to keep anybody in the outside world from discovering that the Briarcliff was under the control of a Nazi and a demon. [Political joke to be added.]
In a charming flashback we learned that the Santa dude had ruined Christmas the year before by biting someone's face off just before a group photo (and, to Sister Jude's mortification, in front of a newspaper photographer!). So ever since then he'd been kept in 'the hole'.
But because demons are nothing if not rascals, Sister Eunice paid him a visit and offered to give him a brand new, freshly dry-cleaned Santa suit! But would he accept the suit and her implicit endorsement of murder?
Yes, yes he would.
Then in another truly hilarious scene, Dr. Arden presented Sister Eunice with a Christmas gift: Extremely expensive-looking ruby earrings!
Which, first of all, that's just a good gift for a co-worker right there. But the kicker was when she was enjoying her new gift, he explained where he'd gotten them:
HAHA Dr. Arden you crazy for this one! Apparently he'd stolen them from a woman in a death camp who'd been systematically swallowing them over and over in order to hide them from her captors. So yeah, I think the technical term for this gift is "butt rubies." But the really funny part was that Sister Eunice DIDN'T CARE. As it turns out demons are hella into jewelry that comes out of butts. Honestly that makes sense. Dr. Arden was NOT happy that his gag gift (a gift to make someone gag) was actually accepted with gratitude, so he was a little hurt about that. Poor Nazi.
Lana was puking in a bedpan, which seemed to verify many of you guys' theories that she was probably now pregnant with Bloody Face Junior. I may not be a scientist, but how long do you have to be pregnant until morning sickness kicks in? Hadn't this been just a few hours since she escaped from Dr. Thredson's basement? I don't know, I will never know, let's move on to whom Lana was sharing a room with in the infirmary:
Aw, Kit! Sleeping like an angel.
Later Sister Jude asked Mother Superior to let her take back Briarcliff, but the meeting was interrupted when Dr. Arden showed up to declare a truce.
He claimed that he needed Sister Jude to help take down Sister Eunice, which seemed pretty plausible seeing as she had used demon powers to shove him into his beaker garden last week. Sister Jude was not immediately won over by his proposal, but finally agreed that they had a common enemy and she was 'bout it.
Be careful, Sister Jude, he is not very trustworthy!
Then Kit had an obvious dream sequence in which he brought home a Christmas tree and flirted with his pregnant wife about how much he hoped she'd squeeze out a boy-child. But then dream logic dictated that the wife would morph into the French lady and Kit immediately started kissin' on her:
Even though there was no pretense that this was a real thing that was happening, it was still pretty poignant, you know? Kit had had a rough go of it lately, so whatever joy or comfort he could derive from dreams was much deserved.
Leave it to Lana to go and interrupt it!
I have never related to a TV character more than I did to Kit in this moment. Waking up is the worst thing that I ever have to do and that's how EVERY DAY begins.
It made me laugh when the Briarcliff Christmas party was underway and the Monsignor singled out Sister Eunice for doing such a perfect job as the new head of the asylum, and then almost immediately the psycho Santa started stabbing everybody with the Christmas star:
I mean, we already knew the Monsignor was shady, but wouldn't he have even the slightest objection to a mass murderer (who typically strikes on Christmas) being released from solitary confinement and allowed to roam free in a Santa outfit? In my opinion that was a bad call on Sister Eunice's part and should go in her annual evaluation.
After Lana deduced that both she and Kit were being kept at the Briarcliff without anybody in the outside world being aware of it, it was only a matter of time before Dr. Thredson arrived for a reunion.
Like, UGH. Enough, Dr. Thredson. Get a new hobby or something. But yeah, he was there, and apparently he'd burned all traces of his murder dungeon and skin furniture and whatnot, thereby rendering Lana's testimony against him pretty questionable.
At this point Sister Eunice murdered the security guard and I didn't know why, but then I remembered it was because he had been feeling guilty about killing Grace and was going to go to the outside police and Dr. Arden didn't want that. I know, complicated, but here we were anyway: A security guard with a gushing neck wound.
Haha, even the psycho Santa was taken aback by this incident!
But then we realized why exactly Sister Eunice had had designs on freeing Santa: To somehow arrange for Sister Jude's murder! Because remember when Sister Jude cut a deal with Dr. Arden to take down Sister Eunice? Apparently the plan had mostly to do with sneaking into her old office and sort of chillin' in there until a psycho Santa could come in and try to murder her.
Dr. Arden had BETRAYED Sister Jude! Although, to be fair, maybe it's best not to trust a murderous Nazi mad scientist? In general, but also specifically in this situation.
So yeah. Live and learn, Sister Jude.
Meanwhile Dr. Thredson was threatening to make a new Bloody Face mask out of Lana's face, but Kit had woken from his stupor just in time to bust in there and hit him with a fire extinguisher.
Lana wanted to finish the job, but Kit convinced her to keep him alive so that he could properly take the fall for the crimes he'd committed. Frustrating but sensible!
I liked this part: Dr. Arden decided to feed the French lady to the mutants, but his chore was interrupted by aliens. (I can't believe that is a sentence I wrote. This show!)
Aw, they reclaimed their victim! How charming!
So back in Sister Jude's office, after a super long and not-super-entertaining tussle (which involved Sister Jude getting beaten up, flashbacks, and a caning), Sister Jude finally planted a letter opener in Santa's neck and killed him good.
She looked pretty worse for wear, but all I could think of was, "Were you expecting this NOT to happen?" I mean, Sister Jude knows first hand just how effed up Briarcliff is. It was frankly her bad for coming back in the first place, but also for not bringing a samurai sword with her. At this point I'm holding out for nothing less than a House of Blue Leaves-style massacre up in this joint.
Here was a bad idea! Kit and Lana decided to stash a very-conscious Dr. Thredson in some kind of supply closet behind some old mattresses. A fool-proof plan, basically!
Seeing as Lana herself somehow escaped from legit SHACKLES in a DUNGEON, it's hard to fathom how she thought a necktie gag and a propped-up cot would keep the guy contained, but whatever. We still got five episodes to go, so things can't be TOO easy right now, you know?
Well gang, this episode was weirdly distressing to me, but not the fun type of distress I've come to enjoy. I think there were too many setbacks and too much straightforward brutality for me to truly enjoy myself. When it comes to horror, I'm more about tension and suspense than people being shot in the head or middle-aged women getting beaten senseless. Call me old-fashioned! But "Unholy Night" still had plenty of insanity to make for a particularly memorable holiday episode. Can't wait until this thing becomes the next It's a Wonderful Life, complete with annual Christmas Eve screenings in every household!
ALL RIGHT BYE.
... So how many babies are in Lana right now?
... What will the aliens do with Grace's body?
... Was Ian McShane the scariest Santa you've ever seen (not counting the mall Santas in your childhood photos)?
... Okay now I'm really worried: Pepper wasn't even in the FLASHBACK? WHERE IS SHE?
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