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“There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus.”
During the holidays at Briarcliff Manor, you must eat, drink, and be merry, for you might die in like, a few minutes. Kicking off the holidays weeks ahead of time fits right into the time-morphing drama of AHS, and it’d be mighty tough to think of a better way to exemplify Christmas than a straight razor-wielding Ian McShane in a Santa suit. You know how horror anthologies like Tales From the Crypt and Outer Limits make it fun to pick out current celebrities in early roles? I think if this series last a few more seasons, it will become the exact opposite of that, a place where established stars can be homicidally extroverted for a televised hour or two.
And it’s a good thing he was there, adding mania to what was a rather dull and talkative episode. Was some of that talking insanely fun? Absolutely. In particular, Dr. Arden proves to himself that Mary Eunice isn’t the pure-at-heart sap she used to be, because she doesn’t shudder in repulsion after he reveals her ruby earring gift used to pass through a Jewish female prisoner’s digestive tract, to be pulled out from her feces and swallowed in a daily cycle. Now, a James Cromwell scene usually needs back-and-forth conversation that rises in volume in order to truly please me, but I’m mentally overjoyed that this depraved story was his Plan A. “Shit-stained earrings” is not an everyday phrase.
Let me go back. It wasn’t necessarily a dull episode, but it’s the eighth episode of something comprised of a bunch of story parts that lack structural cohesion. It’s like walking through someone’s backyard haunted house; impressive as a whole, but can be broken down and sourced to a dozen different retail stores. Where I originally thought “Religion vs. Science” was going to be the central battle, it just looks like the two religious poles are the opponents, with science siding with the evil, Anti-God faction. The discussion that evokes is intriguing, but the show itself isn’t really saying anything substantial about it.
When Arden first appeals to Jude’s graces by renouncing whatever evil was muffling Mary Eunice’s purity, it was a move out of leftist field. All of a sudden he sides with the enemy for assistance? His whole “we got off on the wrong foot” introduction to his plight was laughable. But as I thought about what it would mean for the show itself, to be a strong example of popular fiction where the morals of Christianity and the rigidity of science could possibly coexist on the same side of the playing field. What a novel concept for a show that’s usually more novel in ways to describe genitalia. But then the cheese-cloth curtain is pulled back, and we find that Arden set Jude up, and was working with Mary Eunice all along. It isn’t a twist so much as just a flip around to the only other option the story choice allowed. What I thought was bad writing turned out to be merely not good writing.
And so while on the brink of suicide after being cast out of the asylum last week, Jude discovers she never murdered a girl with her car, and spends this week’s episode in a nun’s habit, and talking to the Mother Superior. So after losing her religion and subsequently finding out that the thing that originally drove her to religion wasn’t real, she dives right back into religion? I suppose it was discovering Mary Eunice was actually possessed that reinvigorated her fire and brimstone approach. Seeing as how Jude thought Mary Eunice was a sap beforehand, I’m not convinced that she would risk life and limb to save the purity of her soul.
Onto the Santa story, which is mostly a hodgepodge of exploitative perversion. Mary Eunice delivers the exposition. Santa, real name Leigh, was arrested for shoplifting bread, and was accosted by five jailed caroling rapists who played the “Little Drummer Boy” in his backside. “..five men took your virginity. Well one man took your virginity. The other four took your dignity.” He eventually snapped in the outside world, getting existential with a street corner Santa before putting a bullet in him, later following similar behavior with entire families, though with anti-consumerism joining in on the rape talk. In total, he killed 18 people in one night, and was sent to Briarcliff, where Jude’s strict brand of punishment – solitary confinement without exceptions – decayed his brain further. His antics from the previous Christmas included biting a guy’s face open just as a photographer showed up to take a group picture, so Jude banned Christmas at Briarcliff.
Only Mary Eunice is in charge now, and she’s decorating the tree with dentures and hair ribbons with the chopped off hair still attached. A real Tree of Life, you could say, with a big shiny sharp star to put on top. She’s interrupted the constant flow of “Dominique” to play instrumental Christmas music. In fact, the entire show is filled with all the classics. Setting her and Arden’s plan in motion, she brings Leigh a new Santa suit, and allows him to join the festivities, where he soon stabs a guard in the neck with the tree-top star. Frank beats the shit out of him and stands guard at his cell, but Mary Eunice slits his throat and opens the cell door.
This is when Arden plays sorry to Jude and lures her back to the asylum (for the second time this episode). He leads her to the office, where she meets up with old Psycho Santa instead of Mary Eunice like she thought. After referencing shoving a gigantic crucifix up her ass, Santa knocks Jude around for a few before stumbling upon her cane cabinet. He flashes back to being disciplined by these same canes, and in the height of his own drama, Jude stabs him in the side of the head with the straight razor. And without a single Deadwood “cocksucker” reference, I think. I don’t believe he’s dead yet, though, because he’s supposed to be back next week.
The other truly interesting thing to happen tonight is Arden’s walk through the tunnel to dump Grace’s corpse. (I’m assuming he was going to feed her to the mutants.) Before he can get outside, however, the ground rumbles and bright lights appear, and alien arms instantaneously take Grace away, leaving a stunned Arden lying on the ground. And now that he’s seen them, you can bet that black computer chip he got out of Kit will reappear next week.
And finally, tonight’s ping-pong match involving the good absurdity vs. bad absurdity aspect of the Lana/Thredson storyline. Lana is sick with worry, slow to catch on that Mary Eunice had no intention of sharing Lana’s adduction to the police. She rouses Kit from his dreams of Grace and Alma to tell him that Thredson was responsible for the murders. “He murdered those women, not you!” How humbled a person you must be to sincerely tell an innocent person that they’re innocent. The manhunt is still out for Kit, which means no one alerted authorities about his re-capture.
Thredson appears from the shadows and tells Lana a confession wouldn’t matter anyway, since he’d spent all his time since her escape eradicating his house of all things Bloody Face. “You made me give you my intimacy,” he accuses her during a rapid mental deterioration. She betrayed him, but also made him realize he had to burn Bloody Face once so he could be born again, starting with her skin.
Out of nowhere, Kit runs in and knocks him out, and Kit and Lana tie him up and lock him in a room. I don’t even know what part of the hospital they’re at by this point. He has to stay alive in case he somehow flips his story and allows Kit to get off innocent. “One day, I’ll burn you,” Lana tells him in a nearly chilling ending. So for once, the good guys end the week with the upper hand. Of course, it’s just their one upper hand beneath mounds of oppressive and Satanic forces, but you gotta find that silver lining.
So here are my predictions for next week. Arden tells Marcy Eunice about the aliens, but she doesn’t believe him, and the two share an affectionate touch before she insults him. Kit comes out of nowhere and disturbs Monsignor Howard’s tea party in which Beatles records are being burned. Grace is resurrected as a gnat that Kit accidentally kills just before learning the secret to the universe. Jude tells a sad story about the time her father intentionally didn’t catch her while they were performing their trapeze act, and she uses a Chinese accent to tell it. An alien calls Jude “mom.” Lana discovers a time machine, but soon realizes the only time she can go back to is right before she gets caught inside the asylum, and the cycle begins anew.
The Inane Asylum
I tried keeping count of all the New England soft “R” sounds, as in “Stahr Mahrket.” But I ran out of computer memory. And after all that, Santa pronounces “schnapps” as it would rhyme with “naps.” Dialect coaches are burned at the stake after each episode finishes filming. “Advent calendahr.”
The rapid editing in the cold open dampened the harsh violence involved, but could not sift the dirtiness out of most of McShane’s lines, such as saying the difference between him and the real Santa was “that Santa only comes once a year.” As well, I hooted when he asked a fellow patient if she wanted to “savage a few elves and suck on each other.” Points against him though for saying the ancient “Are we having fun yet?”
Did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer become the devil at some point? Was he the icon of anti-spiritualism back then? Everybody be hatin’.
Arden and Mary Eunice’s first conversation was hilarious. Mary Eunice, smoking and waving her limbs as casually as can be, referring to her past Christmases where “all we got was a tangerine and socks,” before asking Arden, “Did you celebrate Christmas in your Nazi household?” I may be falling in love with Lily Rabe’s devil-infested self.
When Mary Eunice asks Arden if hearing Jude beg for her life went against his morals, Arden called it tedious and said he had more pressing matters to tend to. What is more pressing than setting up someone to die?
When Thredson catches Lana on the disconnected phone, he says, “Hope you’re not planning on making a toll call,” or something like that. It would be a clever line had they already established that Thredson, while not working for Briarcliff in any fulltime capacity, takes care of their utility bills.
Was I the only one waiting for Santa Leigh to come up with a Christmas carol parody about anal rape? Something like, “Jingle bells. Just the tip. Please not all the way. Oh what shame I have to hide and I promise I’m not gay.” Send all donations to the Bernie Taupin School of Lyrics.
Get out your Dylan McDermott foam fingers, because he’ll be here next week! I only used an exclamation point right there so I could use it to give myself one of Dr. Arden’s famed lobotomies.