A weekly investigation of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” as well as, when applicable, the “American Horror Story: Asylum” bakery. Spoilers lie ahead.
Joyeux “American Horror Story: Asylum” Noel, everyone. It’s time to deck the halls with boughs of mental-patient dentures and fa la la la la with devil-nuns and psycho Santas.
Seriously, this week’s “AHS” Christmas episode — “Unholy Night” — was one of the more twisted hours of seasonally themed programming to ever air on broadcast television. It was “Silent Night, Deadly Night” meets “The Bells of St. Mary’s.” It was like one of those live-action Rankin-Bass specials that Sister Jude so disdains, except in this version, Burl Ives was replaced by Ian McShane and wound up biting off the face of Hermy the Misfit Elf. It was even more disturbing than an Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta holiday-oriented music video.
As dark as it was, the episode also was one of the funnier ones of the season. I don’t think I’ve laughed this much during a Christmas show since that time I drank four glasses of spiked eggnog and decided to live-tweet a screening of my VHS copy of “Christmas Comes to Pac-Land.” (All tweets have since been removed from the Internet.)
Let’s direct our sleighs straight to our weekly series of 10 questions about “American Horror Story: Asylum,” and let’s do it quickly. I have a ton of holiday shopping to do, and I’m also really busy writing a new Christmas carol. It’s an updated take on “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Working title: “Did You Celebrate Christmas in Your Nazi Household?”
1. The first and obvious question: Ian McShane, where have you been all my “American Horror Story” life?
In a season populated with delicious performances both large (Zachary Quinto as a serial killer) and small (William Mapother as a guy who rescues women from serial killers, then shoots himself), McShane as the Santa-fixated psycho Lee Emerson stood out for its complete, creepy embrace of all that is indecent.
Within the first five minutes of the episode, via a flashback to 1962, the former “Deadwood” star shot a Santa’s helper, stole his outfit, tied up a nice couple in a string of soft, white lights and, unfortunately, killed them. He also said the words that every child longs to hear when she discovers Santa underneath the tree in her living room: “No, no, no, this isn’t Santa’s blood.” It was unclear what subsequently happened to poor young Susie (Lou Who), the girl whose parents were murdered by Emerson. But I’ll go ahead and assume that the psychological trauma ultimately sent her to Briarcliff or somewhere like it.
Still, Emerson has reasons for engaging in such horrifying behavior during the most wonderful time of the year . He had issues with Christmas because he was imprisoned for stealing bread (like Jean Valjean) and then was violated in prison by a bunch of jailbird Christmas carolers (much like Ziggy in the 1982 holiday special “Ziggy’s Gift”).
In summary, this guy:
Made this guy:
Look like this guy:
I am weirdly sad that he bit it, even though he clearly deserved to get knifed in the neck by Sister Jude.
2. Seriously, aside from shock value, did McShane’s character serve any purpose?
Actually, he did. On a practical level, he was the logical person for Devil Sister Mary Eunice to put in charge of icing Sister Jude since, as a murderer of 18 people — 19, counting the dude who lost his face in 1963 — he clearly had no qualms about ending the lives of others. And from a symbolic point of view, the fact that Jude defeated him was a triumph of the spirit — the Christian part of Christmas — over the godless and secular, Santa side of the holiday, the one that, in Jude’s words, has turned this country “toward unadulterated blasphemy.”
The War on Christmas is over, and it’s all because Jessica Lange knows how to wield sharp objects when she needs to. All is calm, all is bright, everyone.
3. Speaking of Sister Jude, why did she suddenly return to Briarcliff and think she could take out demonically possessed Lily Rabe?
After she was nearly framed for the death of Mr. Goodman — and, technically, still could be framed — she finally put two and two together about Mary Eunice being possessed. Evidently, the loss of her guilt over that hit-and-run accident has emboldened her sense of spiritual mission, compelling her to return to Briarcliff, challenge Beezlebub-in-a-Habit and attempt to reclaim her role as Cane-Wielding Dictator in Chief.
4. Fine. Do me a favor then and explain why Briarcliff wasn’t shut down, or at least thoroughly investigated, after McShane ate that dude’s face off in front of a newspaper photographer during the Christmas Picture Debacle of 1963?
I can’t, because it makes no sense at all. Would Lana need to even write an expose after the less gruesome images captured during that incident were splashed across A1 of the Gazette? And why would a guy as dangerous as Emerson be sent to a place like Briarcliff? He would have gone straight to the electric chair, or at least to a maximum security prison. Then again, if he hadn’t wound up at Briarcliff, he would not have gotten to hit on his fellow patients by suggesting they “blow this pop stand and go savage a few elves.” So, I can’t complain.
5. So were Sister Mary Eunice’s Christmas tree decorations really, as the Monsignor suggested, reminiscent of the work of Marcel Duchamp?
Well, in the sense that they were surreal and kinda sorta examples of found objects turned into art . . . um . . . sure. Personally, I found her choices very conventional. Our family has been hanging dentures, rubber gloves and gauze on our Christmas tree for years.
Seriously, though, props to Mary Eunice for snipping off the patients’ hair as a sacrifice to the tree. That was a very nice, twisted take on O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”
6. Hey, let’s talk about Dr. Arden. Was anyone else convinced, briefly, that he might actually be on Sister Jude’s side?
There were a few — just a few — seconds when I thought he genuinely was soliciting Jude’s help to save Sister Mary Eunice from Satan’s clutches. That could be partly because James Cromwell is such a good actor, and also because I think Arden actually believed what he was saying. He seemed genuinely dismayed that the light in Mary Eunice had gone out. But he was also smart enough to know that he needed to keep the freaky, ruby-loving nun on his side at all costs.
And if that meant luring Jude to her own demise, then so be it. What can I say? Nazis aren’t always the best about following moral compasses.
7. What was the significance of Kit’s dream?
He saw a vision of a pregnant Alma because, I believe, she is still alive somewhere and, indeed, with alien-child. As for Grace, she also got knocked up by ETs and not sterilized as Kit believed. And per her trip with Dr. Arden to the Death Chute, her dead body seemingly got snatched back into alien custody. Presumably, we’ll see both women again and — as we did toward the end of the first “American Horror Story” season — get a chance to meet a pair of undoubtedly cherubic freak-infants.
8. So, what really did happen in the Death Chute?
Well, the simplest explanation is that aliens showed up and snatched Grace, which is pretty typical of the sort of thing that goes on in Death Chutes. (Ask anyone.) But the flashes of light also made me wonder whether — and just work with me here — there may be some time travel element at work in the tunnels beneath Briarcliff. It would provide a bridge between the present and past time lines in this season. And given all of Arden’s work on X-rays, it might make sense if the excessive radiation exposure allowed people to sometimes jump across decades, or at least come back to life after death.
Hey, it worked for Desmond on “Lost.” And as we all know, everything that happened on “Lost” was based on hard science.
9. Also: how did Dr. Thredson/Bloody Face get back into Briarcliff so easily?
Because he had to, for popping-out-of-the-shadows-to-scare-Sarah-Paulson purposes.
Once again, this didn’t make a lot of sense. The security at Briarcliff is worse than at a college dorm where the front door is constantly propped open by freshmen expecting late-night booty callers. But it’s a good thing Bloody Face did make it back inside because — yay! — it allowed Evan Peters to knock him unconscious.
10. Lastly, let’s repeat the question Lana asked of Kit, without getting an answer: “If there’s still a manhunt, why haven’t they turned you in?”
The police still think Kit is Bloody Face. Kit is on the run. So wouldn’t the cops very likely be beating down the door at Briarcliff to see if he’d gone back there? Or, alternately, wouldn’t the Briarcliff staff have a responsibility to turn him in?
A possible reason that isn’t happening: because Arden, who wants to keep an eye on Kit and his alien bugs, has instructed everyone not to alert police. (That also might explain why he so quickly and effectively talked Frank out of calling the authorities.)
Another reason, which I shall refer to as the Slater from “Dazed and Confused” Explanation: It’s because of the aliens, man.
Could they be controlling the minds of law enforcement in addition to impregnating women that Kit is attracted to?
That sounds preposterous, right? Although, is there such a thing as preposterous in the world of “American Horror Story”? Maybe you all can sort it out — while trimming the denture tree, of course — in the comments.