(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Thursday’s episode of “American Horror Stories,” titled “The Naughty List.”)
You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not be a jerk on social media, “American Horror Stories” is telling you why. Because a killer Santa is coming to town on this week’s episode and punishing the members of the stars of fictional digital series “Bro House” for being naughty.
A spin on the slasher genre, the installment, aptly titled “The Naughty List,” follows Wyatt (Charles Melton), Zinn (Nico Greetham), James (Dyllón Burnside) and Barry (Kevin McHale), popular YouTubers who get “canceled” after they post a video of them cheering on a suicide. They spend the better part of the episode trying to make amends (and regain their followers), not by apologizing, but by doing increasingly tone-deaf and cruel stunts on their channel. This culminates in the boys heading to a mall to torment the store’s Santa (played by Danny Trejo) and his elves and telling all the kids he’s not real.
Their punishment ends up being far worse than a lump of coal, as this Santa turns out to be a serial killer who actually impersonates and kills other mall Santas, and decides to murder the boys for their social media sins.
“It was super cool to dive into this episode that really is like a slasher film. It harkens back to watching ‘Scream’ as a kid and those kind of movies, where it’s young people doing stupid stuff and getting drunk and also getting killed,” Burnside told TheWrap.
The “American Horror Story” spinoff star and “Pose” alum said the order and way in which the “Bro House” residents get killed is significant for multiple reasons — the first being that James, the only Black member of the group, is taken out third.
“I think in terms of the order, it’s the sort of running joke — and there’s truth that lives in every joke — that the Black person always dies first,” Burnside said. “I remember getting the script from Ryan [Murphy] and I was like, ‘Oh God, is the Black guy going to die first?’ And of course, he didn’t, which I was pleased by.”
It’s actually Wyatt who first meets his demise at Santa’s hands, literally, when he’s murdered by his neck being snapped all the way around. Then Zinn is killed by Old St. Nick by being wrapped up in Christmas lights and thrown in the pool, dying of electrocution. Not long after, James takes an arrow through the back of the neck, killing him instantly. The last to die is Barry, the team’s behind-the-scenes tech guru, who also gets shot with some arrows and is bleeding to death, but ultimately gets taken out when Santa sends gasoline down the chimney and sets him on fire.
“Out of the guys, James and Barry are the least terrible of the people,” Burnside said with a laugh. “So I think it was intentional that the worst two of the four guys were killed first and sort of had the most brutal deaths. But I don’t know, Barry ended up getting it really bad, too. I think that James was the one that it was sort of quick and easy for him. But I will say, it was really cool for me to read that I was going to get an arrow through the back of the head. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome! How are we going to make that happen?’ I was really excited about that and excited about the prosthetics. Going through the process of getting the prosthetic for the hand and for the neck was super cool. I got like a whole neck/mouth cast.”
While these guys are being murdered by Santa, the jolly old elf is posting the videos of their deaths on the “Bro House” channel, increasing their subscriber count by the second. And before Barry dies, he gets to see the group hit 5 million subscribers: a goal they all had hoped for and only achieved by being murdered on camera. The moral of this story — not literal murder, to be clear — actually sits well with Burnside.
“I think we live in a culture that’s, like, shock culture and doing whatever we can for the likes and to stay on top and to grab the attention,” he said. “Because the media cycle is so short, people are just trying to do what they can to get the impressions, to make some sort of impression. That’s a really dangerous place that our culture is in right now — doing whatever we can for impressions. But I think it’s more important for us to be thinking about, OK, what is the actual impression that we want to make on the world and on people and how we want people to feel?”
He continued: “I think it’s actually great that these guys all are murdered at the end of the day (laughs). Not in the sense that I think people should be murdered for this stuff. But I think that — and hopefully that doesn’t get printed out of context — but metaphorically, I would like to see a death of this culture of mindless posting, of doing whatever we can for shock value and for impressions and for likes. And instead, actually leaving an impression on the world that we can stand behind and that is in alignment with some sort of moral compass.”
Oh, and as for being murdered by Trejo’s Santa, Burnside said he was genuinely afraid.
“It’s funny, but I was really scared to see him in that suit. I was like, ‘OK, he doesn’t have to say a word. I’m terrified.'”
New episodes of “American Horror Stories” launch Thursday on FX on Hulu.