'American Horror Story': A Christmas gory
With backs against walls, Briarcliff residents find holiday fighting spirit in 'Unholy Night'
By Kenny Herzog Dec 5, 2012 10:00PM
Last week, "Asylum" treaded on some of its shakiest ground since "I Am Anne Frank, Part 1." While the introduction of Frances Conroy 's Dark Angel provided the season's most poignant scenes, the cycle of abuse Lana endured became overwhelming and difficult to watch.
Fortunately, "Unholy Night" has jollier happenings in mind. Not that you'd guess from the opening flashback, which features "Deadwood" badass Ian McShane as the baddest of Santas, a loony tune named Leigh Emerson, on a Christmas murdering spree circa 1962. The chilling sequence echoes and one-ups cult classic horror flick "Silent Night, Deadly Night," with a bit of probable inspiration from Robert Zemeckis' formative "Tales from the Crypt" episode, "And All Through the House."
Reference points aside, the "AHS" writers deserve extra points for this sterling chestnut from Saint Emerson as he ties up a suburban couple: "You know the difference between that Santa Claus and me? He only comes once a year.”
Otherwise, tonight was mostly about comeuppance, empowerment and the beginning of a long, hellacious standoff between sorta evil/slightly nuts and alpha evil/bats--t crazy. So without further, "Hi, I'm an alien, and I'll be taking your slain inmate from this pitiful death chute to my intergalactic torture craft now," here are the five things we learned while making our lists and slashing them twice throughout "Unholy Night":
THE MONSIGNOR HAS A DEVILISH CRUSH
Men and women of faith at Briarcliff all seem to possess a bit of the devil inside. Or that could just be indigestion. But Monsignor Timothy (a returning Joseph Fiennes) in particular has demonstrated a curious attraction to evil incarnate. Let us not forget that his naive gesture of confidence toward Dr. Arden helped precipitate all this "Asylum" chaos to begin with. Now, he's got a little mental-ward crush on Sister Mary Satan, so much so that he interprets her morbid tree ornaments as modern art and neglects to see the danger in liberating psychotic St. Leigh from solitary to share in Xmas tidings. Whereas Sister Jude arrived at the church to be rescued from a life of inescapable sin, the once-pure Monsignor appears inexorably driven toward the darkness. Then again, given what Dr. Arden experienced while carting Grace's corpse off the premises (more on that below), who really wants to know what lurks behind the light?
YOU SAW THOSE ALIENS TOO, RIGHT?
While carting poor Grace's bullet-punctured body through one of his insidious underground tunnels to nowhere good, Dr. Arden encounters blinding streaks of light that send him cowering for protection. Meanwhile, one of those pesky E.T.s snatches Grace's carcass and makes haste for the source of said light, rendering Nazi Maniac M.D. speechless and bewildered. As we're reminded when he double-crosses Jude to assist Sister Mary McScary, the surgeon formerly known as SS solider Hans Gruper doesn't scare easy. But damn if he didn't soil his grandpa boxers at the sight of this otherworldly creature. Even though Arden, Jude, Kit and Grace have now all seemingly encountered these pesky space invaders, we may never discover their true purpose or whether they exist beyond collective imagination. Sometimes, when we're forced to do battle with real monsters—whether they function internally or seek to ruin us from arm's reach—the only way to cope is by manifesting evil that surpasses our scope of comprehension.
FRANK WAS ONE OF THE GOOD ONES
It didn't quite add up when Frank (Frederic Lehne) pulled the trigger that catalyzed the bullet that killed Grace to conclude "Dark Cousin." After all, it appeared he had a solid couple seconds to register that Grace had stepped in front of her escaped-convict lover, Kit. Yet, he couldn't gather enough composure to pull his weapon back and at least wait till she stepped out of the way. Truth is, that's cause Frank's a big softy hiding behind an armed security guard's badge and gun. If nothing else, he'd always been a diligent, well-meaning employee of Sister Jude's (and now, Dr. Arden and Mary Eunice) who even demonstrated some leniency and compassion with Pinhead and the other patients. And his tears for Grace as she lay on Arden's table were no doubt genuine, his remorse palpable. Which is why, naturally, he was dead meat. After surviving a nasty ladder-dive while appointing Briarcliff's Christmas tree star and fending off a feral attack from Leigh (all staged cannily by Mary Eunice), Frank dragged Bad Santa back to his hole, safe for now. Until Switchblade Sister came up from behind and made confetti of his jugular. Oh, Frank. May you rest in however many pieces Dr. Arden deems necessary to feed his mutants. You were a pal and a confidant.
FASTER, JOURNALIST! KILL! KILL!
Lana finally had Dr. Thredson cornered. The tables had turned on account of his panicked arrogance. After ridding his home of any murderous evidence, Briarcliff's favorite Bloody Faced head-shrinker came back to finish what he started by skinning Lana alive and rebooting his handy work anew. Luckily, Kit was behind unlocked door number one and knocked Thredson out cold. Only before Lana could put an end to her ordeal once and for all, Kit persuaded her to keep their mutual enemy alive until proof of the twisted therapist's crimes exonerates him. Lana, Lana, Lana. Something about Kit has always smelled suspicious, and not just because Briarcliff rarely allows for inmate bathing. That violent outburst against his attorney came a little too instinctively, no? And just why is it that a police manhunt had yet to lead them to his obvious whereabouts? Wait, is Kit actually an alien? Whatever the case, good for you to render him bound, gagged and defenseless, but learn from every horror movie ever and don't leave that room until you see the life go out of his eyes!
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE OUT....
Out of hope, out of options, out of fortitude and out of strength. Who could blame Lana, Jude and Kit in particular if they'd had their fill of spiritual crises, abuse, regret, self-loathing and a dwindling path back to goodness and innocence? That's not to say they're all without sin in the "Asylum" universe, whether by Briarcliff's rigid code or anyone humane person's standards. But hell, a viewer's gotta root for someone or something amid all this nihilistic mayhem. Which made it pretty sweet when Jude thwarted Eunice and Arden's fiendish collaboration by mortally wounding Leigh just before he could violate here. Ditto for Lana and Kit's neutralizing (for the time being) of Dr. Thredson, even if everyone watching lunged at their TV sets, screaming, "End him! End him!" And how badass was Jude holding a switchblade (clearly the mid-'60s' weapon of choice) to Sister Satan's throat, outing her cowardly inhabiting of Mary Eunice's saintly vessel? Things are bound to get worse going forward before they get even remotely rosy again, but in a pitch-black work of television with no true protagonists, it was nice to see somewhat-good briefly triumph over super-bad.
HONORABLE-MENTION OBSERVATION, RE: BLOODY FACE 2.0
So, is it possible that at least one of the modern-day Bloody Face re-enactors is the unholy offspring of Lana and Dr. Thredson? Old-fashioned romantic Grace had her uterus removed, devout nymph Shelley was disfigured into oblivion, but perversely enough, Lana was presumably capable of fertilization while kidnapped and assaulted by her demented captor. Not sure what the message would be there, or if there needs to be one, but purely in terms of narrative possibilities, it's not unimaginable.
"American Horror Story: Asylum" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX. And don't forget to check back here every Wednesday after each episode for the five things we learned that week, and feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.