Creators: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Lily Rabe, Sara Paulson, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto; ft. Ian McShane
TV Rating: MA SLV
Genre: television, horror, drama, insane asylum, serial killer, holiday
Scare score: B
Plot overview: The featured inmate on this week's episode is a mentally disturbed former thief (McShane) who landed himself in Briarcliff after murdering several families while dressed up as Santa Claus several years earlier. During Briarcliff's previously banned Christmas party, possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Rabe) urges him to don a Santa costume once again and release his anger as he did years ago. Sister Jude (Lange) becomes involved in a dangerous game of loyalty between Dr. Arden (Cromwell) and Sister Mary Eunice. Lastly, Lana (Paulson) and Kit (Peters) figure out how to handle their knowledge about the true identity of Bloody Face.
It took me a while to realize I liked this episode. I must say the Christmas stuff was almost overkill, but then I realized it was freaking me out and my normal reaction was to brush it off as nonsense. Aside from a bangin Christmas music soundtrack, this episode had fun with the perversion of Christmas traditions: decorating the tree, hanging the star, giving gifts, and the Santa costume in general. I specifically thought the flashback scene of when McShane first uses the costume and breaks into that one house was really disturbing. Playing with Christmas, turning it psychological and dark, was uncomfortable and downright scary at times. Classic American Horror Story, taking things we care about and making them potentially horrifying. And while I don't agree with it, I really loved the line "There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus." Ho ho ho, that was a good one.
Otherwise, what made me really like this episode (once I started putting the pieces together) was how deep it was, especially in the script, and how rich it was in symbolism. Something about the Christmas theme certainly helped, as well as all the exploration into religion that went on - overall, this exploration of faith, the meaning of belief, and the presence of God and/or the devil clearly seems to be a major theme of the whole season. In some weird way, between the alien abductions and talk of the Holocaust, there was something deep about this episode.
A problem I've been having so far with this season is the almost randomness and definite frustration involving each of the various subplots happening within Briarcliff. We have the pact between Dr. Arden and the Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) that we don't entirely understand yet. The dangerous and questionably romantic game between Dr. Arden and Sister Mary Eunice/ the devil inside her. The internal and spiritual struggle of Sister Jude as well as her desire to help free Sister Mary Eunice. Lana's experience with Bloody Face and general presence in Briarcliff. Kit's innocence, search for Alma, feelings for Grace. Kit and Lana's imprisonment of Dr. Thredson. The mutants outside of Briarcliff. The aliens abducting everybody. The fact that we know Briarcliff gets shut down. The fact that there's still a malicious spirit lurking in solitary confinement, as well as an equally malicious Bloody Face roaming Briarcliff in 2012. Like need I go on?
It was a breath of fresh air after this episode to see Kit and Lana take some action, not that it resolves anything but at least Lana didn't fall back into Thredson's clutches. I enjoyed Sister Jude's plight throughout the episode, and I enjoy that she is finally receiving this big calling from above. There was some poetic justice in the abuse suffered at the hands of "Santa Claus" as well as her own switch. Maybe this baptism by blood will only help her on her mission.
Final critique: I understand that this is a TV show and the writers need to make it last a few more episodes. Still- I'm getting restless and I need answers. The plot has been pretty interesting, so what is left in the season had better be satisfying. The terror in this episode wasn't the jumpy, screaming type, but more so a deeper, darker, psychological horror you had to think about and then accept. The perversion of Christmas, the murder and abuse of innocents, the victory of evil over good: these are the situations we were shown today under the tunes of pleasant Christmas music. Good acting all around, specifically for the characters who were allowed to explore a little bit outside of their standard selves. Not a fan of that little girl's "Massachusetts" accent in the beginning... like literally, start setting movies and shows in nondescript places with simple accents. Sorry that I get hung up on these things. Looking forward to next week.