Every week in Slate’s American Horror Story TV club, J. Bryan Lowder will have an IM conversation with a different AHS fan. This week, he rehashes episode 2.8 with web developer and AHS super-fan, Bryan W. Reid.
J. Bryan Lowder: Well ho ho ho Mr. Reid! Welcome to the chat—I hope your holiday season has been warm thus far, though hopefully not the kind of warmth that comes from fresh blood. We sure saw a fair volume of that spilled in this twisted Christmas spectacular! I know from offline conversations that you've been a little unsure about this wild season of AHS; did this rather unpleasant visit from Santa Claus change that at all?
Bryan W. Reid: I’m not sure his appearance marked too much of a change for me! While I did love the Salvation Army Santa getting shot in the face within the first 5 minutes of the episode, I was a little confused as to why we had an entirely new character to deal with, weren't you?
Lowder: Ha! Yes, I believe I recorded in my notes some particular glee at the brashness of that shooting. But you raise an interesting point—in an asylum already filled to the brim with characters, why add more? I suspect that it had something to do with: 1. Getting the delightfully gruff Ian McShane into the show, and 2. Providing a way to jazz up the episode’s Christmas coco. Am I to take your confusion as disapproval for the character in general, or just for the added stress he brought in his sack of keeping up with everything?
(I have to say, I found his sick rape joke about the real Santa "only coming once a year" grotesque and delightful.)
Reid: Oh, he was totally fun and twisted! What's better than completely ruining Christmas in such a spectacular fashion? Actually, what I loved most was when he turned out to be something of a punishment for Sister Jude, who over the last couple of episodes we've started to feel really sympathetic for, in my opinion. Having a bad Santa give some corporeal love to a slap happy nun seemed somewhat fitting for how terrible of a person Sister Jude was previously.
Lowder: Excellent point—that’s how I read Sister Jude's moment of terror, too. A taste of her own medicine. Indeed, that scene of utter fear and abjection, paired with Lana's near-death yet again at the hands of Dr. Thredson, had me thinking that this episode (especially following on the last) represented a kind of rock-bottom moment for our two heroines. At the end of the hour tonight, both seemed to be taking control of their lives again and I, for one, hope the upward trajectory continues.
Additionally, I was starting to sense some doubt in Sister Mary Eunice/the Devil's claim that she has everything "under control." With Sister Jude on the exorcism path, she must be wondering if her time is limited…
Reid: Yes, let's talk about Mary Eunice/Devil! How amazing was she with that Christmas Tree? I don't know if I agree that she doesn't think she has everything under control; you are a serious HBIC if you're stringing someone’s dentures up on a tree. Also, her using Arden as a double agent at least allows her to think she's got it down.
Lowder: My goodness, wasn’t that tree trimming scene just pure camp magic from the moment Eunice starting listlessly air-conducting the Christmas carols to the use of the patients' hair as ornaments? And the Arden double-cross, though not surprising, was a stroke of genius. I almost believed he was genuinely trying to help Jude after that crazy scene with the ruby earrings. Eunice clearly has some cards left to play, but, to mix my metaphors, I'm wondering how long she can keep all the plates—Arden, Jude, the angel of death, etc—spinning.
Speaking of the earrings, what did you make of that moment? I loved that Arden was testing Eunice's purity with something tainted, but my eyebrows raised at little at his flippant mention of a "Jewess in the camp" and how hard the jewelry was on her intestines. Maybe that story went a little too far?
Reid: Yeah, I wrote down something along the lines of, "Gross stomach earrings are gross." That was a pretty disgusting scene but also perfect—that little moment where he describes the story and Eunice looks down for a second and then shrugs off any second-thoughts was kind of amazing.
But on a more serious note, I’ve been incredibly uncomfortable with Arden's Nazi storyline, and this moment in particular seemed over-the-top and callous. I think maybe the reason is that we don't really know why Arden is so evil other than the fact that he's a Nazi—he’s not possessed and doesn’t seem to have some seemingly traumatic past. He's just a complete monster and his anti-Semitism is exceptionally upsetting because, unlike some of the other monsters in the story, it just comes out of seemingly nowhere.
Lowder: I love that theory. It's true that Arden's evil is, unless I'm mistaken, the only example for which we don't have an elaborate back-story. He just seems rotten and that is scary. In fact, it's even scarier than killer Santa because at least he had this crazy origin in a prison rape by carolers. (Which is totally bananas, but whatever.)
Speaking of nonsense, I know that you're not the type to abide much of it—so I have to ask, are you about done with these aliens? Tonight, they randomly appear to take Grace's body from Arden, and then the scene is over, and I find myself not caring at all. I say either give us more meat on this storyline, or dump it!
Reid: These aliens are totally exhausting. I still want to know what they implanted in Kit! It seems like the aliens are just a stupid deus ex machina. I really hope they end up being utilized in a better way, but I won't hold my breath for too long.
Lowder: Yes, don't do that (though I can understand why given Santa's rotting teeth and foul mouth)! OK, well, before we go, can we just agree that nothing goes better with murder than a little boy soprano singing Christmas carols? Makes me want to have a Christmas party myself…Bryan, would you like to come? Ha. Ha. HAHAHAHAHAHA.
Reid: Only if I get to put bottles of booze and lockets of my hair on your Christmas tree. But what will we do with the Menorah?
Lowder: I won't even touch that. AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!
Thursday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 8.