Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Unholy Night"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's an American Horror Story Christmas, complete with serial killer Santa courtesy of Ian McShane (Deadwood). As Eunice enjoys her new authority at Briarcliff, Arden reaches out to Jude, who feels she has a renewed mission from God. Lana finds another ally at the asylum.

A much more restrained and even hour coming off the erratic nature of last week. While entertaining, it felt like a lot of set up for future episodes, with the Christmas narrative (and Ian McShane as the killer-of-the-week) providing the glue. For some reason a great actor like McShane didn't blow me away as I'd hoped it would. Perhaps because he felt like stunt casting, much like Frances Conroy last week. 

Plots felt like they were in a relative holding pattern. However, it was still enjoyable and a suitably discomfiting Christmas story, with some convincing twists and ongoing developments for Lana, Jude and Kit. 

Spoilers Now!
Christmas, 1962, a girl comes downstairs to find serial killer Santa, Leigh, playing with a toy train in her living room. He gets her to take him to her mom and dad, so she wakes them up and he ties them up downstairs. He chose their house because of their garish Christmas decorations, he explains, and finally shoots them both.

Eunice has carols playing in the common room and announces Christmas is back. Though Jude tossed out all the ornaments due to an earlier infamous seasonal celebration at the asylum, Eunice has them improvise, which includes dentures and ribbons cut out of patients' hair. 

Frank is devastated that he shot Grace and prays over her body. He vows to make things right and wants to call the police about Kit, Sister Felicity and the monster. Arden doubts he wants to bring in the authorities given Frank shot an unarmed woman. 

Eunice sits down by the fire and Jude sneaks up behind her with a knife to her throat, revealing she now knows the Devil is at work through her. Eunice throws open her closet full of canes with her devil powers, but Arden interrupts them by coming to the door. Eunice instructs him to have Jude taken away. Jude warns him he can't see the Devil is in front of him. 

Arden cautions Eunice of their other problem, Frank. But she shouldn't discount Jude either. Eunice has it all under control and goes to see one of their patients—Leigh. 

Flashback to 1963, Jude is preparing the patients for a group photo for the newspaper. Leigh is complaining about his handcuffs, but she won't release someone who killed 18 people in one night. She intends to have him front and center shackled and under control to ensure the public knows what they're keeping from them. But as the photographer arrives Leigh bites off the face of one of the orderlies and provides a better photo.

Eunice is happy to provide a Santa Claus suit, despite what happened the previous year. She's later visited by Arden who has come with a gift of his own. Eunice opens it to find ruby earrings. They belonged to a Jew who was constantly complaining about her stomach problems, he recounts. He would later learn she had swallowed the earrings every day so she would never lose them. She died from internal bleeding as a result, and Arden retrieved them, thinking he would meet someone who was worthy of their beauty. Eunice is ecstatic. Arden isn't impressed—he was hoping she would throw them in his face in horror. But there's no glimmer of the innocent girl he knew. Eunice reminds him he's either with her or against her. And God can't help him if he's against her.

At the convent Jude's Mother Superior doesn't know how to help her get back into Briarcliff. But Jude feels she's been reborn as a soldier in God's army and won't let the Devil have Eunice. Mother Superior vows to do what she can. 

Jude then gets a visit from Arden. He suggests they got off on the wrong foot from the beginning. Though their ideologies differ, he believes they're both committed to Briarcliff. He admits she's right about Eunice, and he has no medical explanation for it. He confesses he doesn't believe in God but he does believe in evil. He's seen it up close. Her purity had meant so much to him, but her light's gone out. He begs Jude to help him. She agrees to do it for Eunice as long as he follows her every instruction.

Kit wakes up to Lana's voice, who has found him sharing the hospital ward. She's been in there herself throwing up. She realizes no one knows he's there either. Lana takes out his IV of drugs and tells him Thredson is the murderer and they have to stop him before he does it again. She promises to come back.

Arden lets Jude in through the bakery while Eunice hosts the Christmas party. Jude asks him to bring her to her office and lock the door. 

Father Timothy presents a star for the Christmas tree. He's pleased Eunice has renewed Christmas at Briarcliff and is impressed how she's stepped out from under Jude's shadow. Even Leigh seems to have found his soul, he notices, as he's wearing his Santa Claus outfit.  Frank climbs the ladder to place the star on the tree. That's when Leigh tips it and slashes him with the star. Frank starts beating him up and Eunice directs him to take Leigh back to solitary. Arden advises her a matter requires her in her office.

Frank locks up Leigh and runs right into Eunice, who slits his throat. Leigh watches from the door and delights when she gives him the razor to go on a rampage.

Lana gets to a phone but finds Thredson behind her. Her capture was in all the papers so he came for her. He was forced to kill off Bloody Face because of her, cleaning up all evidence of his existence. But since she betrayed him he plans to kill her, and her skin will be the start of a new Bloody Face. As he drags her to the door Kit comes in and knocks him out. Lana wants to kill him, but Kit reminds her he's all that stands between him and the electric chair. Lana wonders why Briarcliff never turned Kit in yet. She sends him back to the infirmary before they realize he's gone, but they've secured the room with Thredson in it, vowing to bury him.

Leigh shows up in Jude's office instead of Eunice, who locks the door behind him. Arden trusts his loyalty is no longer in question. As they listen from outside, Arden excuses himself to dispose of Grace's body, which he takes through the tunnels in a cart. But he's abruptly ambushed by flickering lights and aliens, only to wake up and find Grace is gone. 

Jude tries to flee but Leigh taunts her with all the things he'll do to her, reminding her of the torture she inflicted on him. Leigh throws her into the closet and finds all the canes that she beat him with. He thinks it's a sign for retribution, so takes one to whip Jude. But Jude manages to get her letter opener and stabs him in the throat. 

The Verdict:
These two last episodes felt like a double-header of stunt casting over genuine plot development. However, if Frances Conroy makes a return appearance to impact the narrative I'll change my mind. McShane was quite disturbing and a successful Santa killer, but felt a little like a train on an inevitable collision by the end of the episode. So it came as no surprise that he didn't last beyond Unholy Night. I don't even want to think what happened to the little girl that was noticeably absent when Leigh had the parents tied up in the living room.

It was a great episode for one-liners and zingers, including Arden's disturbing story of the ruby earrings. I admit he had me fooled with his apparent turnaround. But what exactly does he believe is going on with Eunice? He's been witness to some extraordinary abilities which is beyond what he can dismiss with science. So perhaps his natural inquisitiveness is wondering how he might exploit the Devil's power. Will Grace be back from the dead?

One of the established conceits is that everyone seems to be able to come and go at Briarcliff without much notice, including Jude and Thredson. It's looking like the tables may be turning and he'll end up as Lana's secret prisoner, which is a twist I like. It's refreshing to see her and Kit finally on the same page. Her stay in the infirmary lends more credence to my theory that she's suffering morning sickness, and pregnant with Oliver's baby, one that will grow up to be the future Bloody Face.

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