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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