American Horror Story: Asylum 2.08 "Unholy Night” TV REVIEW
Writer: James Wong
Director: Michael Lehmann
THE ONE WHERE Santa Claus is coming to town… or Briarcliff at least. Jude returns with plans to take down Eunice, but hasn't counted on her nemesis setting a spree killer loose in the asylum.
VERDICT This week, American Horror Story: Asylum embraces the holiday spirit with an episode full of yuletide spirit.
Oh, who am I kidding? It's more slashed throats, demonic powers and sexual violence. Only with a Christmas tree, tinsel and Santa hats!(opens in new tab)
Last time I was grumbling about Asylum 's odd need to introduce a new crazy person each week, instead of focussing on the core characters. “Unholy Night” does it again, but few could grumble about Ian McShane as Leigh Emerson – a mass murderer with a nasty Santa fixation. There's not a lot of depth to his character (he kills people, he likes Christmas, that's it) but as a one-shot maniac, he's brilliant: funny, sleazy and genuinely quite scary. American Horror Story has been attracting some serious acting talent this year.(opens in new tab)
With all these yuletide shenanigans, it’s an episode light on major plot developments. The biggest is Jude’s return to Briarcliff, all fired up and ready to take down Eunice – but not before a hilariously off-topic rant about CBS airing Rudolph on Christmas Day (and it's a lovely touch that Eunice turns out to be a fan of the red-nosed reindeer). For a while it looks like she's willing to go all the way: she considers cutting her former colleague’s throat, and even joins forces with Arden. He, in the world’s most obvious twist, sells her out straight away of course. Never trust a Nazi.
Eunice herself is having a very merry Christmas, cheerfully slashing Frank's throat and devising an amusingly ominous tree, decorated with syringes, dentures and other asylum detritus (who else was just waiting for that star to end up embedded in someone's skull?). But despite her bold claims, she still clearly sees Jude as a threat, hence sending Emerson after her. Is the fight between the two of them going to be dragged out over the next five episodes? That could get old quickly.
Thredson barely gets a look in this week. His appearance at the end is pretty alarming and, for a brief moment, I was convinced that Lana was a goner. Happily, Kit actually does something useful this episode and saves her. The episode ends with Thredson bound and gagged, and with our two heroes planning to expose his craziness to the wider world. What's the betting that all goes tits up ten minutes into next week's episode, eh? I mean who would you believe - the accused murderer or the respectable doctor? Especially given that Thredson claims to have "killed Bloody Face" and destroyed all evidence of his alter ego's existence.
Despite the ongoing storylines – and Arden's blink and you'll miss it encounter with one of the aliens – “Unholy Night” had a self-contained quality. Good, nasty fun, but not exactly essential to the main series. Still, you suspect the chance to turn Father Christmas into a deranged killer was an opportunity too good to miss.(opens in new tab)
THE PRESENT DAY Nothing at all. The way these scenes are being slowly drip-fed to us makes me wonder if we might get an entire episode set in the present at the end of the season. It would be disappointing if all we get is a five-minute epilogue, or something.
Sister Eunice: “Do you celebrate Christmas in your Nazi household?”
New episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum air in the UK on FX, Tuesdays at 10pm
• Read our other American Horror Story Asylum reviews