Before we start, I have to say that I looooooove me a Christmas horror movie. From Gremlins to Silent Night, Deadly Night to Christmas Evil to Black Christmas to Jaws: The Revenge, I can’t get enough of a blood-spattered yuletide. (The only Christmas movie too scary for me? Christmas With the Kranks. [SHUDDER])
Did American Horror Story: Asylum deliver an advent calendar-worthy Christmas episode? Let’s check our list (twice) and find out…
We begin outside a classic small-town department store in the Christmas Story era. But instead of a Red Ranger power bb rifle, Sugar Motta the little boy heading toward the store with his mom wants a coonskin cap. His mom makes him put some money in the bucket of a bell-ringing charity Santa outside the store, and the Santa reassures the kid that all his capitalist holiday-entitlement dreams will surely come true. The store closes up and the lady drags her kid elsewhere, and a man (wait – is that Deadwood’s Ian F*cking McShane?!) appears from out of nowhere to admonish Santa: “He’s gonna get pretty steamed if he doesn’t get that hat.”
Then he shoots him:
It’s 1962, and Ryan Murphy just ruined Christmas. Again.
A little girl sneaks downstairs to find our friendly neighborhood Santa-killer playing with a train set under the tree. In the awesomest under-12 Bahstin accent IN HISTORY, the little girl asks, “Wheahs ya beahd?” Seriously – I had no idea that Beantown was so overrun with brassy little ankle-biters with Good Will Hunting-certified accents. I LOVE IT.
Suzie then points out that Santa had to break a window to get in, and Christmas is six days away. She notices blood on Santa’s white fur trim, and he tells her that it’s time to wake up mom and dad.
Cut to dad waking up to the sight of little Suzie standing beside the bed … and Santa holding a gun to mom’s head. Yeesh. Santa purrs, “It’s milk and cookies time for you and me, Suzie.”
Later, Santa has mom and dad tied back-to-back with Christmas lights. Ooh – is this the scene where Denis Leary shows up and helps them save their marriage? (I love when Julie Walters gets bombed and tells Kevin Spacey: “Eat. Me.”) Santa says that he picked their house because it was decorated within an inch of his life, which annoys him. He then makes a rape joke, tells them they can pick who dies first, and then snaps and shoots them both in the head, noting, “I’m not feeling very Christmasy.”
You and me both, fella.
Back at Briarcliff in 1964, Sister Mary Eunice Whoopsies del Diablo, BVM (Lily Rabe) turns on the record player in the common room – but for once, instead of the insufferable Singing Nun, it’s the insufferable “Here Comes Santa Claus” that plays. As Whoopsies swans around the mostly unadorned tree, the stage is set for a holiday-themed battle of the sacred vs. the secular the likes of which has not been seen since … well, since South Park had Santa fight Jesus over a decade ago. Ah, that old chestnut roasting on an open fire!
Whoopsies has gathered the patients and she proceeds to collect personal items (dentures, hanks of hair) from them to hang on the tree – pointing out that after “last year’s debacle” Jude canceled Christmas indefinitely and tossed out all the decorations. I’m loving the homespun, DIY feel – she’s like the Martha Stewart of the Roman Catholic Church. Demon and all!
In Dr. Arden’s chambers, Frank (Fredric Lehne) prays over the corpse of Grace (Lizzie Brochere). For a split-second her head turns and she’s looking at him, but is it all in his mind? Probably not. I wasn’t sure for a second why Frank would be so upset about Grace’s death but then I remembered that he was the one who inadvertently shot her. So, yeah, I could see why he’d be a little ruffled.
Arden (James Cromwell) enters and Frank tells him that he thinks that they should call the police – Arden says that he’ll consider it. Wait, seriously? Wasn’t Frank a cop once?
In her new office, Whoopsies enjoys a crackling yule log until Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) appears from out of nowhere to put a straight razor to her throat. You know, for someone possessed by the Prince of Darkness, her hearing’s pretty lousy. Jude says that she knows that the devil chose Whoopsies as a vessel because it knew that her purity would serve as a shield. The demon responds by having all the canes fly out of the cane cabinet and sending the record to shatter on the ceiling.
Arden interrupts – Whoopsies tells him to call security, and Jude is dragged screaming from the building. As they watch her go, Arden mentions Frank’s guilt over Grace’s death to Whoopsies, and she says that she’ll take care of it. Uh-oh. Frank, I think your freshness date is about to expire.
We then move to a cell in the solitary wing, where dirty former fake Santa sits in the corner looking very much in need of a Christmas miracle. Sister Whoopsies hands him a big wrapped box containing a Santa suit.
We flash back to the debacle of Christmas 1963, where Jude is prepping the patients for a photo op with the local paper. Santa – in chains – complains that he doesn’t want to participate in her holiday charade, but Jude tells him that the real point of the picture is to reassure the public that scum like him remains safely behind bars. She notes that he killed 18 people from 5 families on his little Santa spree.
Jude notices that one of the orderlies is wearing a Santa hat as he passes things out to patients. She doesn’t like this. Whoopsies brings in the photographer before she’s supposed to – ah, classic Whoopsies! How I miss her so… – and just as the cameraman sets up, Santa takes a bite out of the orderly’s throat. Just as Santa spits out part of the orderly’s face, the cameraman snaps his photo.
Ladies, this is your best shot:
Turns out Lee (Santa) was a petty criminal who was jailed, Les Miserables-style, for stealing a loaf of bread. He was then raped by five men in prison as the guards went Christmas caroling. Jeez – and you thought your office party sucked!
We then join Whoopsies back in her office, where she is smoking and listening to “Jingle Bell Rock”. Yes, we get it: she is the personification of evil because she singlehandedly took the Christ out of Christmas. Arden stops by to give her a present, and she laughs, remembering that with so many kids in her family growing up she sometimes only got a tangerine and socks. Hey, wait a minute … where was I just reading about tangerines…
A-HA! Mystery solved: The secret to this season is tangerines. You’re welcome.
Whoopseis gets excited that the present might be “Taboo perfume”, but it’s even better: a set of ruby chandelier earrings. She rhapsodizes over them like a cloistered Holly Golightly (“Rubies are the most glamorous of all!”) as Arden shares their terrible history: they belonged to “a Jewess” in the concentration camp who was always bragging about how wealthy she was. She had chronic stomach problems and one day Arden followed her to the latrine and found her digging through her own crap for the earrings, which she was swallowing and passing every day in an effort to keep them safe. She of course died from it and he of course stole them.
Whoopsies is initially given pause by the poop jewelry story:
But it’s a short pause:
Whoopsies can’t be bothered, asking, “Don’t they look beautiful on me?” Hmm. Where do we think they’re going with all this self-obsession, starting with the lipstick and lingerie and now this? Either Mary’s vanity will be her downfall or she’ll get her own show on Bravo.
Arden is put off by her lack of disgust at the blood rubies, noting, “I’d hoped that you’d throw the sh*t-stained earrings back in my face” and show a shred of the innocence and purity that he’s once so admired in her. Whoopsies responds: “You’re either with me or you’re against me.”
St. Elsewhere, Lana (Sarah Paulson) is puking in bed with a bedpan assist from last episode’s Sister Smiley. Smiley mourns that the cook doesn’t wash his hands like he should before preparing meals, but Lana points out that she hasn’t eaten. Uh-huh – countdown to Baby Bloody Face!
In a moment straight out of the horror classic Suspiria, Lana spies the silhouette of someone lying in a bed beyond a cloth partition:
She asks who it is but Sismiley doesn’t answer. Lana also starts to put together that no one knows she’s there. We see that the person behind the curtain is Kit (Evan Peters).
Jude is begging Mother Superior to let her back into Briarcliff so that she can save Sister Whoopsies. She now understands her true calling: she is meant to be a Ghostbuster soldier in God’s army. She rails about the fact that NBC is airing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer instead of stories about Jesus – hell, lady – just wait until they start airing The New Normal! Jude mourns “the country’s turn toward unadulterated blasphemy,” which means she’s probably just seen the recent episode of The Donna Reed Show where Judy briefly considers wearing pants to school.
In a rare display of dramatics (KIDDING), Jude squeals, “The devil can’t have her!” but they’re interrupted by the news that Jude has a visitor.
Jude finds Arden waiting for her in the chapel. He’s there to make a truce in the name of saving Whoopsies’ soul. Jude is skeptical at first but he convinces her by admitting that he doesn’t believe in God, but he believes in evil, and he knows it when he sees it. Considering his resume, it’s a rather convincing argument.
Back at Briarcliff, Monsignor Tim (Joseph Fiennes) – hey, remember him? – passes out Bibles and commends Whoopsies on turning the joint around so quickly with only a wraith of pure rage and destruction to help her. He also name-drops Marcel Duchamp and the “found object” school of art in complimenting her demented tree:
Isn’t that a bit forward-thinking for a priest? I mean, some of Duchamp’s earlier dadaist work, MAYBE, but his “ready-made” period is pretty avant garde for a man of the cloth, can we agree? I mean, honestly.
He brandishes a cut-glass star for the tree that he’s gotten on loan from the Archdiocese and which in no way has “instrument of spectacularly fatal accident” written all over it:
Yep – seems like a perfectly good decoration for an asylum for the criminally insane to me. Now where’s that razorwire tinsel…
Father Timmy also commends her on her unorthodox decision to let Santa have his suit back – it’s clearly good for the patient’s rehabilitation, as evidenced by the fact that Santa currently has another patient on his lap and is whispering to her that they should sneak off somewhere “to suck on each other.”
Whoopsies asks Frank to grab a ladder to install the tree topper before Rudolph comes on. I’m sure this will go well.
We then return to the home of Kit and Alma (Britne Oldford), where Kit is bringing home a massive, snow-kissed evergreen for the holidays. Alma is pregnant and happy, and this is clearly a nativity-based hallucination. On cue, Kit – who is sure that the baby is a boy – listens to his wife’s belly, but when he looks up at her face it is Grace that he sees. Hey – there’s a stranger in the manger!
Grace asks, “Dance with me” and they dance, but then Kit is roused by Lana, who tells him, “No one is coming for either of us – and he’s still out there.”
Lana adds, “Grace is dead,” and tells him that she knows that Thredson coerced his confession and is himself Bloody Face, because he kidnapped her and she saw everything. Way to bury the lead, lady reporter! Kit asks if she’s real. “I’m really here. And I’m coming back.” Someone clearly has never seen Scream, which will be released in 30 years.
Arden sneaks Jude in via the kitchen (which, considering what happened last week, they should really monitor more carefully) and she tells him to get Whoopsies to her office.
Over in the common room, Papa Timmy foreshadows compliments Whoopsies yet again on her whip-cracking prowess, and right on cue, Santa emerges from behind the tree, brandishing the Extremely Pointy Nativity Star of Death and knocking Frank off of his ladder. Frank gets the upper hand, though, and he beats the crap out of Father Christmas.
Lana finds a phone in an empty office and she starts to call the police. But the office isn’t empty … it’s got Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto)!
Frank throws Lee into his cell, and when he turns to leave, Whoopsies is right there. She slits his throat:
Awwwww! Poor Frank. I was getting to like him. He cried in public, and he had that handsome Irish cop thing going on, too.
Santa, peeking through the slot in the door, gets a kick out of the whole scene:
Fingering the bloody straight razor, Whoopsies muses, “How did this get in the building? I pray we’re not looking at a rampage…”
Jude prays in her former office … and Santa drops by to open his present…
Whoopsies locks the door behind him … and turns to Dr. Arden, who teases, “I trust my loyalty is no longer in question?” Ah, Jude – if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times: Never trust a Nazi mad doctor experimenting on human subjects against your wishes. Even on Christmas.
Santa tells Jude that he wants to “ram a crucifix up her ass” (okay, here we go…) and points out that Sister Whoopsies must not like her very much. He punches her. She cries for help.
Outside, Arden excuses himself, calling the sound of human misery “tiresome”. Whoopsies says something vaguely evil and yet vaguely reassuring at the same time.
Over in Oliver’s old office, he berates Lana for forcing him to “kill” Bloody Face and actually clean his basement for the first time in, like, forever.
He unplugs the phone and advances on her slowly with the cord taut between his fists. He says that she betrayed him but that now he understands why they are linked – she is to be his new Bloody Face. Well, her skin, anyway.
You know what, I think I finally understand what those poor dogs were going through in 101 Dalmations.
Oliver drags Lana to the door, but then he turns just in time to see Kit and the bottom of a fire extinguisher. BANG. Ha! Nicely done.
Back in Jude’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Santa throws her into the cane cabinet and it swings open, giving him a whole new idea. He cracks, “Maybe there is a God!” Turns out Jude did not spare the rod on old Lee back in the day, telling him that she was “softening him up so that God may enter him with less effort.” Honestly, Jude – have you never heard of poppers?
Santa picks out a cane, throws Jude over the desk, and spanks her holy butt, growling, “Guess what? There is no God – but there IS a Santa Claus”:
Lana wants to kill Thredson, but Kit begs her not to, saying that Thredson is the only thing between him and the electric chair. It’s a good point, and Lana takes it.
We then catch up with Dr. Arden, who is wheeling Grace’s corpse down in the death chute in a bin:
As expected, the aliens arrive and take snatch her out of it. Dumpster-diving aliens?! Well, in this economy…
Santa throws Jude on the bed and makes some strongly-worded overtures that I’m not comfortable repeating with ladies present. He then tries to pork her. But Jude – having grabbed the letter opener from her desk during her candy caning – stabs him in the neck. He rolls off, onto the floor, gasping and wheezing. She looks at the blood on her hands and realizes that she’s probably on his “naughty” list for good.
Downstairs, Kit and Lana stash a bound and gagged Oliver in a forgotten, dusty closet. Before leaving, Lana hisses: “One day I’ll bury you.”
Oliver’s all like “Whaaaaaah?”
Notably Dead: Frank (sniffle!), 18 holiday observers (including, I’m assuming little Suzie?), and probably Santa Lee
Notably Absent: Pepper (still), Mr. Spivey (unless he was the test subject that Kit killed last week – but I don’t think he was), NuBloodyFace, Jenna Dewan Tatum
I’m going to go ahead and add a fourth B to our weekly tallies, as the goal of the season has clearly become how to be as offensive as possible to the Christian faith. With that in mind…
Blood – 9/10
Frank and two dead Santas offered plenty of red (and some white fur trim for a pop of contrast!).
Beasts – 3/10
Not a creature was stirring – not even a mouse! A brief alien encounter was all we got in the critter department this episode.
Buns – 0/10
Santa had nothing in his sack for us naughty boys this week.
Blasphemy – 10/10
The declaration that “there is no God but there is a Santa Claus” was probably the most aggressively sacreligious the show has been so far this season – even the barbs that the demon spat out during his exorcism at least acknowledged the existence of God while insulting him.
Whew. Okay, that was … interesting. But I can’t say I loved it. The Santa stuff was a little rote and heavy-handed for me, and really kind of unnecessary – I mean, Whoopsies is murdering people left and right at this point, and even legitimately accidental deaths and failed experiments get swept under the rug like so many dropped pine needles. Why bother going through the trouble of activating a murderous Santa Claus when she could easily just kill Jude (whom, let’s face it, nobody would miss)? Or is her endgame something more sinister than simply death? At this point Whoopsies is approaching Bond villain levels of needless elaboration and overall ridiculousness – somebody get her a cat to stroke.
At the end of the holiday, I think that last year’s yuletide moment – with the dead Harmons happily decorating their tree as the bad ghosts watched through the window – will probably remain the definitive image for the American Horror Story Christmas card. But maybe that’s just me. As for “Unholy Night,” my unprofessional opinion would be: Seasonal affective disorder with a mild vitamin C deficiency. (Somebody get these kids some tangerines!!)
Or, as patron saint Barbra would say, “six out of ten Nutses“: