Unholy Night

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"Unholy Night"
American Horror Story episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 8
Directed by Michael Lehmann
Written by James Wong
Production code 2ATS08
Original air date December 5, 2012 (2012-12-05)
Running time 39 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Dark Cousin"
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"The Coat Hanger"
American Horror Story: Asylum
List of American Horror Story episodes

"Unholy Night" is the eighth episode of the second season of the FX anthology television series American Horror Story. The episode, written by executive producer James Wong and directed by Michael Lehmann, originally aired on December 5, 2012.

Ian McShane guest stars as Leigh Emerson, a man who has a psychotic break and kills dressed as Santa Claus.[1] This episode is rated TV-MA (LSV).



A boy (Cole Sand) tells a bell-ringing Santa Claus that he wants a coonskin cap for Christmas. The Santa packs up for the night and is approached by a man who tells him not to disappoint the boy. When Santa gets short with the man, he is shot. The shooter, dressed in the bloody costume, enters a residence and kills Susie Lancaster's (Tehya Scarth) parents (Chris McGarry and Lara Harris) when they cause him to lose his "Christmas spirit." He then goes on an unseen killing spree.


The killer is known as Leigh Emerson and becomes a patient at Briarcliff. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) keeps him shackled, even for a group picture with the others, as she feels he is a danger both inside and outside the asylum. He proves her correct as he bites off an orderly's nose on Christmas. Jude sends him to solitary confinement and canes him in her office over the course of his stay.


Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) tries to be festive with the patients in the dayroom, but claims Jude has thrown away all the tree ornaments. Mary Eunice tells the patients to be a creative as she improvises and decorates the tree with their belongings – dentures and hair clippings. In the laboratory, Frank (Fredric Lehne) prays over Grace's (Lizzie Brocheré) body and tells Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) they should report the recent kitchen events to the police. Arden asks if he wants them to know Frank killed Grace, who was unarmed, but Frank seems not to care.

Jude sneaks into her office and holds a straight razor to Mary Eunice's throat, threatening to end the possession. Dr. Arden and Mary Eunice's telekinesis breaks Jude's hold and he is asked to escort Jude out of the building. He mentions Frank's intentions to Mary Eunice, who claims she will take care of it. She takes a Santa suit to Leigh, intent on lifting his spirits. She recites his maniacal history, which began when he was arrested for shoplifting and raped in jail. She gives him the choice of being the victim or the victor.

Arden brings Mary Eunice a present of ruby earrings. She giddily takes them, even after he tells her of the jewelry's history. He took them from the feces of a wealthy "Jewess" in concentration camp who tried to hide them by ingesting them and died from it. He hoped the former Mary Eunice would be appalled at the story, but the current Mary Eunice is not. She calls him "pathetic" and warns that even God cannot help him, if he's not with her.

Lana (Sarah Paulson) worries that Mary Eunice hasn't done anything about Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto), but she discovers Kit (Evan Peters) has returned to the asylum. He has been drugged and dreams of a pregnant Alma (Britne Oldford) who morphs into a pregnant Grace. He apologizes for getting her killed and Lana wakes him from the dream. She explains to him that Thredson is the killer and she will prove Kit's innocence. He wants to help her but is too drugged to help at the moment.

Jude talks to Mother Superior (Barbara Tarbuck) about the country turning from God to commercialism at Christmas time. She thinks the Devil is the reason and vows to not let Mary Eunice be the next convert. Their meeting is interrupted with news that Dr. Arden wishes to meet with Jude. He admits to her that she was correct about Mary Eunice and seeks Jude's help. He vows loyalty to her if she can return Mary Eunice's innocence. He later lets Jude into the asylum through the kitchen entrance and she tells him she must speak to Mary Eunice alone in the office.

Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) delivers a pointy handcrafted star from the Boston archdiocese to put on the asylum tree. He commends Mary Eunice for allowing Leigh to have a chance at redemption, by allowing him to be unshackled and dressed as Santa. Leigh then knocks Frank down, slices his face with the star, and prepares to stab him with it, before orderlies tackle him. Arden arrives to tell Mary Eunice she has "pressing business" in the office.

Lana finds a phone but Thredson stops her while she is dialing. He tells her she has forced him to "kill" Bloody Face and destroy all evidence. He had planned on letting her talk to the police, as it would be the word of a mental patient against the word of a psychiatrist. She has, however, betrayed his trust and he prepares to strangle her with the phone wire. Kit enters with a fire extinguisher to knock Thredson unconscious. Lana wishes the doctor dead, but Kit needs him alive to show who the real killer is. They stow him in a storage closet, where Lana promises Thredson she will, one day, bury him.

Frank puts Leigh back in his solitary cell. Mary Eunice 'predicts' that Frank has had trouble with Leigh and slices Frank's throat with the straight razor. She feigns worrying about a rampage as Leigh maniacally laughs. In the office, Jude prays for guidance and strength. The door opens and she sees Leigh enter. When asked, he says he is there to open his "present." Mary Eunice locks the door from the outside and Arden affirms his loyalty to her. Arden leaves to take Grace's body in a cart down the death chute, so the Raspers can dispose of her. Along the way, he is stunned by a bright light and a deafening sound. He regains his senses to find an empty cart and missing Grace. In the office, Leigh reminds Jude of her cruelty to him by caning her across the desk. He intends on raping her but she stabs him in the neck with a letter opener.


Ian McShane portrays Leigh Emerson, a man who has a psychotic break and begins to kill as Santa Claus in the episode.

"Unholy Night" is written by co-executive producer James Wong and directed by Michael Lehmann.

In a December 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly, series creator Ryan Murphy spoke about writing this episode with guest star Ian McShane in mind, "Christmas and American Horror Story do not go together and so we were trying to figure out 'What's our version of Christmas?' And the answer of course is a homicidal Santa. There's a whole subgenre in horror dedicated to these psycho Santas. It's a thing. So we decided let's write somebody who's so crazy they end up in Briarcliff. I had heard Ian McShane really loved American Horror Story. So we wrote it and we were like, 'Let's send it to him and ask for a quick pass.' To my delight, he said yes."[2]


"Unholy Night" was watched by 2.36 million viewers and received an adult 18-49 rating of 1.4, an increase from the previous week's episode.[3]

Rotten Tomatoes reports a 88% approval rating, based on 16 reviews. The critical consensus reads, ""Unholy Night" makes up for its transitional storyline and unanswered questions with a welcome return to the grotesque and a standout scary performance from new cast member Ian McShane."[4] Chris Harnick of The Huffington Post stated he "was a little bit disappointed with this episode." He added, "[Ian] McShane's acting was exceptional, but I wanted a little more progression to the 3,000 plots that are currently going on."[5] Matt Fowler of IGN called "Unholy Night" "just good, sick fun," adding, "It seems a bit slight to call this episode a fun romp, seeing as how bloody and unhinged it was, but watching McShane chew up the set and slash at people with glass tree-toppers was just gruesome enough to make me giddy."[6]


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