“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.