American Horror Story recap: Humbug

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But he's a devil-lovin' psycho who just hates the 'Unholy Night' of Christmas. Sorry.
Ep. 08 | Aired Dec 5, 2012

THE DEVIL'S LITTLE HELPER Sister Mary helps Jean Valjean -- er, I mean Monsieur Lee Miserables get suited up for a Briarcliff slay ride in "Unholy Night"

So the patients-prisoners didn’t really object too much when Sister Mary pitched them on her unusual approach to holiday decorating. Because Sister Jude had thrown away all the Christmas ornaments, Sister Mary suggested they adorn the branches with meaningful personal mementos. Objects like… dentures and colostomy bags, bags of pills and rubber gloves. Once again, the show created provocative layers of meaning with its mix of images, words and music: As Sister Mary cut ribbons out of a one woman's hair – robbing her of her glamour (and her dignity and self-esteem) – she commended Briarcliff’s disenfranchised souls for “making a sacrifice for the greater good. That’s the spirit of Christmas.” On the record player: “Here Comes Santa Claus” by a young Willie Nelson: Peace on earth will come to all if we just follow the light/So let’s give thanks to the Lord above for Santa Claus comes to night. I’m pretty sure there was nothing sincere about this scene. It was if Sister Mary had duped the inmates of The Asylum into participating in a Marxist performance art piece. Christmas As Opiate Of The Masses. Additionally, the song choice was one of many ways in which “Unholy Night” dramatized how Christmas has become a nutty Chex Mix of conflicting, competing, but sometimes complimentary symbols. Can Santa and Jesus co-exist? Doesn't Jesus hurt his credibility as a real, historical entity by associating so freely with the fantasy/lie of Santa? Sure, the messiah hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, but good lord, Son of Man: Have some standards! Protect your brand, for God’s sake!

And how to decode Sister Mary’s horror show tannenbaum? [Cue the throwing of Web-harvested pseudo-intellectual ideas against the wall and hoping they stick.] A Christmas tree, among, Christians, is a symbol of life and rebirth. But it was also a symbol that Christians appropriated from certain pagan traditions in which trees were used to ward away evil spirits during the winter months, when demons were said to be most active. Seen from this perspective, The Devil’s monument to X-Mas – a product of human sacrifice; festooned with reminders frailty and mortality – took the Christ and the ancient superstition out of the equation to create... a lifeless fir tree Frankenstein, a lumbering ode to death. But more than anything, I think the true meaning of Sister Mary’s private joke Christmas tree was that it’s personal. It doesn't make any sense to anyone else but her. In this way, Satan’s Christmas tree is no different than anyone else’s. Except mine. I’ve been hanging colostomy bags for years. Freakin’ copycat.

Bloop.

Bloop.

Bloop.

Bloop.

Bloop.

Bloop.

(Those were all my ideas, not sticking and sliding down the wall.)

In an interesting twist, the man who should have been most appalled by Sister Mary’s tree was the one character most dazzled by it. But then, Monsignor Timothy has always been an open to challenging new ideas, no matter where they come from (unfortunately), and even if they made him look pretentiously silly, like certain entertainment journalists who write overblown recaps of TV shows. (There must be more than one. Please be more than one!) “What a triumph! It reminds me of Marcel Duchamp and the school of found object art. So forward thinking!” said Monsignor Timothy, who failed to see any heretical f--- you to his faith in Sister Mary’s fir, nor any irony of likening a so-called Christmas tree (pagan debris, claimed and revitalized by Christians) to Duchamp’s po-mo anti-art Ready-Mades, which mischievously tweaked sacred cows and subverted lofty assumptions about high art, like the museum as sacred space or the creator as source of meaning.

“Thank you, monsignor,” said Sister Mary. “I’ve had these ideas for awhile.” Rimshot!

A Price Below Rubies. By contrast, the man you'd think might have best appreciated the subversive subtext of Sister Mary’s shenanigans (not to mention the Holocaust allusions) didn't care for it at all. Dr. Arden beheld the spectacle of The Devil’s degrading form of holiday decorating and walked out of the Common Room, sad-faced and slumped. He later explained to Sister Mary that he always enjoyed Christmas as a boy. Those celebrations were among his most cherished memories of childhood. In a subsequent scene, Arden elaborated that despite his unbelieving atheism, he was big believer in Innocence, and consumed it whenever and wherever he could find it. See: Fair virgin Miss Eunice, whose devilish desecration just broke his tiny little anti-semitic misogynistic Commie-hating godless heart.

And so it went that Dr. Arden tried to liberate his Madonna from The Devil’s defiling clutches with a peculiar, perverse act of grace: A gift of priceless ruby earrings... salvaged/stolen from the feces of a proud, wealthy Jewish woman who had smuggled them into a concentration camp and kept them hidden by eating them and crapping them, eating them and crapping them, each and every day. After she died from this self-destructive practice, Arden took the jewelry, with the intention of one day giving them to a woman that would be his wife. Sister Mart went crazy-wild for the Nazi’s plundered bling –  “Rubies are the most glamorous of all! They really bring out the rose in my cheeks!” -- and Arden was repulsed. The rubies had been a test. She failed. “I so dearly hoped you would throw them back in my face! That you couldn’t bring yourself to touch those s—t stained earrings,” said Arden. “I was hoping there would be a glimmer of horror, a glimmer if that precious girl who was too afraid of taking a bite of my candy apple.” Sister Mary got in his face, called him pathetic, and challenged him to fall in line like a good little stormtrooper. “You’re either with me or you’re against me,” she hissed. “And if you’re against me, then even God can't help you.” Sorry Arden, but Sister Mary is Satan’s Proverbs 31 woman, not yours. ("Who can find an excellent and capable wife? For she is more precious than rubies.")

NEXT: I CAN’T STAND IT! I KNOW YOU PLANNED IT! I’M GONNA TO SET IT STRAIGHT, THIS WATERGATE! LORD, I CAN’T STAND ROCKIN’ WHEN I’M IN THIS PLACE, BECAUSE I FEEL DISGRACE BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL IN MY FACE! BUT MAKE NO MISTAKES AND SWITCH UP MY CHANNEL; I’M BUDDY RICH WHEN I FLY OFF THE HANDLE! WHAT COULD IT BE? IT’S A MIRAGE! YOU’RE SCHEMING ON A THING THAT’S…


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