American Horror Story: Unholy Night

Posted on December 06, 2012

It really says something about this show that we considered the episode with the psychotic Santa Claus threatening to rape a nun with a crucifix to be something of a respite from all the craziness going on. We suppose it’s up to the individual to decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. For us, totally a good thing.

We’ve been squirming a bit this season at the “throw everything at the wall to see if it sticks” manner of story-telling, much as we did with last season’s story. But this year, it seemed far more out of control, simply because there’s only so much you can throw at a wall when you’re doing a haunted house story. Since this year’s story encompasses a greater range of horror story tropes – demonic possession, serial killers, torture porn, mutant zombies, alien abduction – we’re dealing with a much bigger wall. The result has been an often confusing but never boring mess.

But this episode felt surprisingly calm, despite all the insanity going on. It’s like the Ritalin kicked in for the writers and they suddenly realized they could keep telling a story with so many out-there elements, but not have to sacrifice linear story-telling techniques to do it. We wouldn’t want every episode to be crafted this way, because the show would likely lose the energy that makes it what it is in the first place, but it was smart to give the viewer a minute (or an hour) to catch their breath and assess what’s going on.

We have to laugh at the idea of this episode being a respite, since THIS is what’s going on: Sister Jude is clear-eyed and full of purpose, as she comes to the realization that she is a soldier of God, put in the fight to save Briarcliff from the clutches of Satan. Sister Mary Satan, on the other hand, is having the time of her life running Briarcliff to her heart’s content, doing everything she can to bring even more chaos to a setting that’s practically made out of chaos. Lana and Kit are teaming up to take down Doctor Thredson. And Dr. Arden has chosen sides (as if there was ever a doubt), letting his penis and his corrupt moral code take over as he teams up with Sister Mary Satan to destroy Sister Jude.

Yes, that all sounds as nutty and chaotic as ever, but it represents a throat-clearing moment for the show, as the main players are all put in place on the chess board. It’s Sister Jude vs. Satan and Dr. Nazi. It’s Lana and Kit vs. Dr. Thredson.  Of course, the aliens are still lurking about and we have no doubt they’ll have a major role to play before it’s all over, but the many disparate storylines have essentially been boiled down to two different good vs. evil conflicts and that makes it a lot easier for the viewer to remain invested in the outcome going forward.

Even better, nothing in this week’s story made us roll our eyes and go “Oh, come ON.” Sure, we would have liked to have seen Sister Jude unleash her considerable wrath on Killer Santa, but it was enough for us just to see her dispense with him. We were starting to find Dr. Arden’s seeming change of heart a little difficult to take, but we should have known better, since the operative word here is “seeming.” As for Lana, yes, it’s a bit much to accept that she didn’t just kill Thredson when she had the chance, but we suppose it makes some sort of sense for her to keep him alive, if she ever wants to get the hell out of Briarcliff and get Kit exonerated. We have a feeling that last plot point is going to go on longer than it should, straining credibility all over again.

One thing that seems obvious to us now: it’s not likely that any of these people are going to make it out of the story alive. That’s of a piece with the show’s history, since the entire cast was happily dead by the end of last season. We suppose Lana might make it out, since she has to give birth to Bloody Face, Jr. at some point.

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  • TLJezebel

    Ian McShane is one bad-ass mother of a Santa Claus.  Love him!!!

    • http://twitter.com/foodycatAlicia foodycatAlicia

       Oh is that who it is? From the picture I thought Al Pacino!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/DNWEFT2SVBX5T3NPMROQCT4U2U jennyv

      He is the best, period!

    • Squarah

      Ian McShane is everything. Excuse me, I have to go rewatch Deadwood now and bask in the awesomeness of Al Swearengen.

  • SassieCassy

    There is something about the imagery of shit-stained rubies and Ian McShane literally chewing someone’s face off that is not leaving my brain. Say what you will about this show and its spastic quality, but it does there. Not that ‘there’ is a particular place I want to be, but still.

  • xmixiex

    I am WILDLY confused about Dr. Arden.  I thought he DID have his change of heart, after the incident with the earrings, until he could clearly hear Sister Jude screaming for help and he did nothing.  Still, that doesn’t seem like the most solid evidence that he’s teamed up with Satan… maybe I missed a bit that makes it more obvious? 

  • Inspector_Gidget

    I was just happy to have Al Swearengen back and chewing up the small screen.  It’s been too long!

    It seems weird that they have given the aliens such a throwaway part in this story.  I’m sure they’ll be part of a big climax, but at this point they seem like such an afterthought.  Makes me wonder what horror tropes will even be left for next season.  Giant bugs?

    • MilaXX

       Fekkin Al was the highlight for me.

    • Jennifer Coleman

      Al Swearengen in a Santa Suit killing people was wonderful. The scene where he propositioned the inmate sitting on his lap brought back such Deadwood nostalgia….

      • Inspector_Gidget

        Has to be the best villain on TV.  Heck, one of the best ever!

    • Squarah

      Give this man all the roles and awards! He is a far more talented actor than a lot of our recent Best Actor nominees.

  • Terrie_S

    Talk about throwing things at a giant wall — did anyone else catch the little Les Mis/Jean Valjean reference in Bad Santa’s back story? So random. So like this show.

  • JANE LANE

    Am I the only one who saw the killer Santa and immediately thought of Silent Night, Deadly Night?

  • notterriblybitter

    I screeched when I realized who was playing the lunatic santa. It was kind of embarrassing, really; thank God no one was around. I was a little bummed when she killed him at the end because that means he won’t be back. 

    So for season 3, how about Jessica Lange and Ian McShane and a diabolically evil power couple trying to take over the world? 

    • Inspector_Gidget

      He should absolutely return in a bigger role!  That would be awesome.

      • MissMariRose

         According to an article on EW.com, he’s not dead. He and Jessica Lange are going to have another big scene together in an upcoming episode.

    • PaulaBerman

      OMG, having McShane and Lange team up next season as an evil super-couple would be AMAZING. Someone please, please contact Murphy and Falchuk and pitch this to them. We must get McShane back on TV regularly, and he would be awesome in a recurring bad guy role on this show.

  • http://twitter.com/CesaMitchel22 Chelsea Mitchel

    Did I completely miss how the staff of Briarcliff rationalized the mutant zombies at the end of the last episode (last week)? Were they not wondering what the hell happened and more importantly, what attacked that nun?! I was waiting for this to be addressed last night…no such luck.

    • Terrie_S

       There was a quick aside from Frank about it, which was apparently part of why they killed him.

  • Sarah Tyrchniewicz

     I think in that first paragraph you hit the nail on the head for me as to why I don’t like this season. Seriously, too many horror tropes in one setting! I would have liked the insane asylum/serial killer probably to be the only thing. UFO’s can be a different season. Demonic possession can be a different season. It’s just all too much.

  • rkarooney

    Is it wrong that Sister Mary Satan plucking some guy’s dentures for the Christmas tree made me laugh out loud, but clipping their ribbon-tied hair made me sad?  Her performance never disappoints me!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZMU2QQUTAUEPU23MUTZBQ5W2PI Peter

    I think I’m done with this show now. (By which I mean I’m not at all done with it — I can’t NOT finish out the season, if only to put an end to all the what-the-fuckery that’s been bouncing around my brain since probably the third episode.) It’s all too much. Beyond the endless parade of horror tropes that everyone’s mentioned (I almost screamed “boooo” at the TV when the alien appeared last night), there’s just so much going on that there’s no way for this to come together as any sort of cohesive whole.

    I get that Ryan Murphy’s style is all about seeing what sticks to the wall. I should be used to it after last season. But he has this tendency to establish ideas and immediately abandon them without any further exploration. He gives us Santa Valjean (was that ten-second throwaway about the prison and the loaf of bread meant to make Ian McShane more sympathetic?), Holocaust victim jewelry, those goddamn aliens again, Santa Lecter and his face-noshing… but none of those things really *went* anywhere. No one’s even talking about the forest-dweller (have we established what they are yet? zombies? humanoid wolves?) that showed up last episode. We’ll probably get answers eventually, but I don’t think they’re handling the storytelling with any sense of grace or tact. (Cue everyone: “You’re looking to a Ryan Murphy show for grace and tact?” I know. Dream big, son.)

    I will admit that Mary Eunice’s “Ah well — one step forward, two steps back” pretty much made my night. You win, Lily Rabe.

  • http://twitter.com/mk_patter Megano!

    Lana could still die giving birth to Bloody Face Jr. 

  • Louise Bryan

    This was a respite, eh?  I had to watch the episode twice to figure out what all was going on, and even then, I apparently missed a bunch of stuff.  I’m curious about how the monsignor will justify locking up Sister Jude (for murdering the evil Santa?;N.B. I’ve never seen Deadwood), and I suppose the aliens could just swoop in a take out any remaining characters in the finale.

  • mozzer0906

    The reason I keep watching AHS despite its completely ridiculous story lines is because of the amazing acting that occurs week after week.  Jessica Lange commands the screen.  Ian McShane made a perfect bad Santa.  Cromwell, Paulson, Conroy, Rabe, they are all magnificent.  You can’t stop watching because they are SO GOOD at what they do with crazy story lines.  It is like a master class in taking a pile of shit and turning it into a ruby. 

  • http://promiscuouslola.com/ Cate

    Someone said this last week, and I didn’t agree then, but I think I agree now: All of the violence against women is getting very uncomfortable. How many rapes/ near-rapes does one season need? I feel like they’re just tossed in for fun, and that Santa/Sister Jude scene was really uncomfortable for me (the whipping especially). I’m loathe to say that Ryan Murphy hates women or whatever, but this is getting too heavy-handed to be okay anymore :(

  • janierainie

    Okay, I’ve seen the first episode of season 1 after my grown daughter told me and told me how great it was. I cued it up on Netflix and I just didn’t like all the violence and misery. So, I thought “maybe I’ll just read this recap and see if I should go ahead and watch some more episodes”. 
     I must say reading the above recap is really entertaining without knowing what the hell (no pun intended) is going on.  I think watching the show might ruin the recaps, so decision made. It won’t take and hour out of my life either.

  • http://twitter.com/theclarinetist Donald Hite

    I have to admit I’m growing kind of bored with this whole show. It seems to be too repetitive. Lanas in Briarcliff, she out, then she’s in again… Kits in, out, then in… Sister jude is in, out, in and looks like a “patient” in the coming weeks… And I personally find sister Judes behavior inconsistent. When the show started she was a cruel monster who would imprison Lana and blackmail her lover for her own selfish preservation. Then all of the sudden she’s some crusader for the Lord? I understand a character should be multidimensional, but that change just seemed too abrupt and not really supported by events in the story.

    In the first season it seemed like something of significance happened each episode. In a 12 episode season, a hell of a lot happened. In AHS:Asylum, it seems like very little happens (I mean, stuff happens, but it seems like the story hasn’t really moves forward in a meaningful way considering how much stuff has happened). Maybe they’re just setting up all the pieces for a grand showdown and in retrospect it will all fit perfectly together. I’m hoping…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5UQHEKG5EDX4T6NMARUC565TPQ Amy

    I agree it was a respite but I just checked and there are FIVE more episode to go. FIVE. That seems like an eternity considering there has been so much “plot” to take in already!!

    Ian McShane was phenomenal to watch. He and Jessica Lange were on fire with all sorts of Oscar worthy theatrical energy!!! Hooray!