American Horror Story: Asylum, S2:E8, “Unholy Night”

“It’s how the Devil works. Bit by bit, he turns our eyes away from God.”

Poor Lana

Murder? Baby!

A holiday spirit of an unexpected sort has filled Briarcliff, to the delight or dismay of its residents.

1962. Leigh Emerson shoots a Salvation Army Santa, steals his suit, and goes on a rampage. He’s got a vendetta against Christmas, tying up a couple with holiday lights and ranting about terror and rape before killing them both. “You know the difference between that Santa Claus and me? He only comes once a year.”

1964, Briarcliff’s halls are being decked. To the tune of conspicuously secular holiday songs, Sister Mary Eunice ornaments a tree with patients’ belongings, including dentures and ribbons holding locks of their hair (remember Jenny? She collected hair too). “We all make a little sacrifice for the greater good.”

Frank prays over Grace, swearing to make it right. Her accidental death at his hands is not sitting well; he’s hallucinating her eyes on him. When he tells Arden he wants to confess everything to the cops Arden tries appealing to Frank’s sense of self-preservation–he has, after all, killed an unarmed woman–but Frank insists he’ll face the consequences.

In what’s now her office, Mary Eunice enjoys a roaring fire until Sister Jude shows up to threaten her with the straight razor she left for her. Wondering aloud how the devil could wear a crucifix and other pious trappings,  she realizes, “You’re using Mary Eunice, her purity, as a shield.” But Dr. Arden arrives. As Jude is escorted away like an intruder, she insists Arden is making a mistake; “Because you deny God, you can’t see the devil right in front of you.” Unmoved, he tells Mary Eunice about Frank.

She delivers a Santa suit to Emerson, who has been confined in solitary since the mishap of Briarcliff’s 1963 Christmas; as Jude arranges a group photo Emerson attacks an orderly in a Santa hat. Though the group photo was meant to remind people that “without Briarcliff, [Emerson] would be out there living among them,” the picture of him ripping flesh from a man with his teeth would’ve done the same. Emerson questions Mary Eunice’s judgment. “You don’t know what Christmas means to me.”

But she does–Emerson was raped in prison by five men while the guards sang Christmas carols. On his release he slaughtered eighteen members of five families (the guards’?) in one night before being locked away. In that bloody Santa suit he knew who deserved to live and who deserved to die. Mary Eunice sympathizes, “You had the power, Lee. You can have it again. Who do you want to be? The victim, or the victor?”

She retires to her office. Since she’s now become his ‘family,’ Arden gives a gift of dangling ruby earrings that “belonged to a Jewess,” who swallowed them each day and retrieved them from her feces to keep them safe in his concentration camp. When she calls him a sap, Arden confesses, “I was hoping there’d be a glimmer of horror… a glimmer of that precious girl who was too nervous even to take a bite of my candy apple.” She warns that if he’s against her, even God can’t help him.

Sister Jude rails to the Mother Superior about the secularization of Christmas. “It’s how the Devil works. Bit by bit he turns our eyes away from God.” To her surprise, she’s visited by Arden, who shares concern for Mary Eunice. “I don’t believe in God but I do believe in evil. I’ve seen it up close and personal…. That’s why her purity meant so much to me.” He swears to obey Jude if she will help Mary Eunice.

Monseigneur Timothy delivers a star for Briarcliff’s tree, delighting in decorations “filled with the daily icons of their lives.” He likens Mary Eunice to Marcel DuChamp and lauds Emerson’s ‘renewed soul’ before offering reconciliation with Arden, reaffirming his faith in Briarcliff and the work happening there. Mary Eunice entreats him to stay to see the star in place before a screening of Rudolph (as mentioned in Jude’s tirade).

After vomiting in the infirmary, Lana finds Kit sedated. He’s dreaming of a pregnant Alma at Christmas (“Hands off, woman. I’ve got a bun in that oven.” Adorable.), but as he kisses her round belly she becomes Grace instead. He wakes to Lana; she realizes no one’s coming for them, and as she tells him about Thredson being Bloody Face, he asks, “Lana, are you really here?”

Arden lets Jude in, agreeing to isolate her with Mary Eunice in her office. “I never thought I’d see it… the day you and I would work together.” Meanwhile, Timothy praises Mary Eunice, saying she’s “stepped out from the shadow of Sister Jude.” Frank ascends a ladder to install the star, but Emerson tips it and tries to stab him. Mary Eunice shrugs it off as “two steps forward, one step back,” and has Frank deliver Emerson to solitary. She follows and slits Frank’s throat with the straight razor while Emerson watches, wide-eyed. “I pray we’re not looking at a rampage.”

Jude’s prayers are interrupted, not by the expected Mary Eunice, but Emerson. “I’m here to open my present.” Outside, Arden says he hopes his loyalty is no longer in question, and Mary Eunice touches his face fondly. Emerson is wild, regaling Jude with his revenge fantasies of jamming a ‘giant crucifix up her ass,’ or the one where “I take my rotting teeth and my foul breath mouth and chomp down on your dry…”

Lana’s attempted phonecall is interrupted by the return of Oliver Thredson. He’s found her via news reports. He’s “been in mourning. You made me kill Bloody Face.” He accuses her of betrayal, painting himself as the victim when he raped her. “You made me give you my intimacy and that is a wrong I need to make right.” He’s ‘set adrift,’ but Lana makes him feel found. Like the phoenix, he’ll rise from ash. “Bloody Face had to burn so he could be born again. Your skin will be the start of a whole new Bloody Face.” But his attempts to capture her are thwarted by Kit, who helps Lana subdue Thredson and stops her from killing him.

Emerson takes a cane to Jude. Just as she said she wanted to soften him up “so God doesn’t have to work so hard to enter you with his light,” Emerson responds, “There is no God… But there is a Santa Claus…. Are you softened up enough to receive the light? Actually, it won’t be God, and it won’t be light.” He forces her down on the bed. She’s defrocked, her hair loose and wild. There’s a moment of almost-intimacy between them, but before Emerson can rape her she stabs him. She looks exhausted; being “a soldier in [God’s] army” has not borne the fruit she expected.

Arden pushes Grace’s body through the tunnel in a cart, presumably to the incinerator that disposed of the tuberculosis victims. With a blinding flash alien fingers remove her, and Arden is left with an empty cart looking bewildered.

Kit and Lana lock Thredson in a junk room. Lana wonders why they haven’t turned Kit in, but that momentary despair is pushed aside as she promises Thredson, “One day I’ll bury you.”

Frank has been given the opportunity to fall in line with the new order at Briarcliff. He is stalwart, prepared to admit his wrong and face consequences, and this courageous conviction makes him a threat Arden and Mary Eunice must swiftly dispose of. Much in the same way Thredson covered his tracks by framing Kit Walker, the pair mask their attempts to dispose of Frank and Sister Jude with Emerson; it’s a perfect fit, given Emerson’s pattern of being triggered to extreme violence by Christmas and its trappings.

The fireplace, first shown blazing in “I Am Anne Frank, pt. 2,” is treated with prominence, a symbol of Briarcliff’s descent into the hellish control of the devil in Sister Mary Eunice. Just as Thredson’s glasses are worn or not in accordance with his grasp on sanity/reality, and Jude’s hair is tucked away behind her habit or long and waving like her devotion to her calling (sex, drinking, or in this case murder), the nuances of the show are brilliant. This was another episode when other music has played in the common room, and it was met with chaos (a sensible correlation, given that the common room song was theoretically chosen to keep the residents calm).

Then there’s Lana. Poor Lana. She’s vomiting though she hasn’t eaten anything, and between the segue from Kit’s pregnant wife and lover to her concerned face looming over him, and Thredson’s insinuation that Bloody Face will be ‘born again,’ it’s a pretty reasonable leap that she’s pregnant. Seeing how Jude accused Kit of trying to make a ‘murder baby‘ and Thredson being the true Bloody Face… It’s not looking hopeful for our long-suffering ‘Sapphic reporter,’ especially with Thredson’s mommy issues.

As for Arden, I suspect his words to Jude were genuine, that he does see evil in Mary Eunice, and will use his unquestioned loyalty to plot against her free of suspicion. His revulsion at her, smoking, legs up on the desk, bare thighs, wearing rubies that had been fished from feces, seems too sincere, his mourning of her purity too acute. With it gone he’s lost something too, even if it’s as small as a glimpse into an unsullied heart he could never hope to have. With Frank dead and Sister Jude forced to sneak into Briarcliff, Arden is the only person of authority who can stop Mary Eunice; even the Monseigneur has been thoroughly charmed by her efforts.

10 thoughts on “American Horror Story: Asylum, S2:E8, “Unholy Night”

  1. alisahathaway says:

    I read up on this season so much before it started, and it’s going somewhere I never could’ve guessed. That’s what I really enjoy about this show. I’m constantly impressed when they take horror conventions (demonic possession, the asylum setting, the secret Nazi doctor, the normal guy who happens to have a torture-and-kill chamber in his basement) and make them something fresh. Also, after taking a Holocaust fiction class, stories like the Jewish woman who swallowed the ruby earrings every day tend to affect me really powerfully, and sometimes bizarrely – I started laughing and really freaked Evan out. It was more out of discomfort than amusement, but it was still totally inappropriate.


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