Directed by Max Winkler and written by Manny Coto, the fourth episode of FX on Hulu's spinoff horror anthology American Horror Stories was exactly the mental palate cleanser I was looking for. After a two-episode series-opener that introduced some new corners of the AHS universe through a very familiar locale and a third episode that was a darkly disturbing statement on the sometimes-destructive nature of achieving one's artistic vision & society's insatiable need for content, I needed something different. Did I know that "something different" would come in the form of cheering on Danny Trejo's "Santa" as he slaughters a bunch of sociopathic social media influencers? Kinda', but that didn't make it any less guilty-pleasure enjoyable. Now here's where we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down a spoiler image before because from here, we're going to start talking details.
In "The Naughty List", a group of influencers who live to together in the social media-sponsored "Bro House" (Charles Melton's Wyatt, Nico Greetham's Zinn, Dyllón Burnside's James, and Kevin McHale's Barry) start feeling their age as they continue to boost their online success by upping their game with riskier and riskier posts. But when the foursome post a video of a man committing suicide, the walls start crumbling in as their subscriber numbers plummet. And that's before things get really bad because when the foursome decide to take on the very last mall "Santa" they would ever want to mess with? Let's just say the "Bro House" Christmas tree will have a very "personalized" look to it.
Sure, we could offer you a paragraph or two about how the episode was a bloody, biting satire on how the drive for social media acceptance is driving us to give up more and more of our humanity. Or how we're willing to sacrifice life and limb for a sense of fleeting, manufactured acceptance. I'm even willing to have a conversation about how "Santa" is a homicidal representation of the "15 minutes of fame" concept, a pop culture grim reaper awaiting most slash-n-burn successes. But I'm going to be completely honest, and maybe this will end up getting me on the real Santa's "naughty list." This episode works because I enjoyed watching four annoying d-bags get their comeuppance. The fact that it was Trejo as the executioner made it that much sweeter. And clocking in at less than 40 minutes, the episode was also the perfect amount of mayhem- impressive considering how many past films and television series have taken the concept and stretched it out to near-yawn-inducing lengths.
Of course, "Santa Trejo" only works as a right-proper avenging angel if Melton, Greetham, Burnside, and McHale are holding up their end of the bargain by being the kind of meat-grinder contenders we would offer "Santa Trejo" an alibi for killing in a heartbeat. Special mention goes out to Riverdale star Melton, who we didn't realize could pull of comedy as well as he does, with the "no homo/going gay" scenes especially strong stand-outs. And while we've been told these are stand-alones and self-contained episodes, we can't help wondering if Trejo's "wild man" version of "Santa" is a new creature/demon/entity in the AHS universe. Are the mall Santas he kills and replaces bad or evil? It was implied in the very last scene that could be the case, and it was established earlier that he'd been doing this sort of thing for a while. Here's hoping that isn't the last time we get a visit from "Santa Trejo" and here's hoping that FX on Hulu's American Horror Stories keeps things on a horrifically great role next week.
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