'American Horror Story': Ryan Murphy on Ian McShane's psycho Santa and the return of Pepper -- EXCLUSIVE

[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE LATEST AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM!!!]

Christmas came to Briarcliff on the latest American Horror Story: Asylum, which naturally meant several murders and a tree adorned with human hair and dentures. There was also a crazy man dressed as Santa, played by Deadwood‘s Ian McShane, as well as another virtuoso performance by Lily Rabe as the possessed Sister Mary Eunice. EW talked to co-creator Ryan Murphy about all this holiday fun.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I can’t believe this is your Christmas episode. You mentioned this last week but you wrote this character with Ian in mind and you never thought he’d do it, right?
RYAN MURPHY: 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. It was supposed to be one big thing, but instead we turned it into two because we had Ian.

So is he back in next week’s episode?
He’s in next week’s episode and he does some amazingly ghastly things that set up our winter cliffhanger. I love coming back in January and having four originals. So next week I think has I believe five cliffhangers. We’re just finishing writing the last episode, which is very moving and good.

I love in this episode that you see Jude fighting for Mary Eunice. This woman who we thought was the villain is now back to save the soul of her protégé.
Yeah I love that about this Jude character. Of course when we premiered everybody was writing about the villainous Jude, and of course I knew. I think this Christmas episode is about the secular versus commercial idea. It’s really about somebody who loses faith and then finds faith in something else, which is what Jude’s arc is and that’s why Jessica was interested in playing her. That pays off even more so in next week’s episode.

What’s gonna happen to Sister Mary Eunice? Could there be like an exorcism? Much like Lana, it feels so tragic.
I think many people have remarked about “Can we just have some hope this season? Can we just have some happiness?” Well you’re not gonna get it in the next two. But I think in the last four there’s a lot of optimism and a lot of revenge. I think Sister Mary Eunice gets the only fate one can imagine her getting.

So what’s the deal with the Monsignor. Like that tree was crazy. Is he just so afraid of being exposed?
Well I think the Monsignor is the future of the Catholic Church. Right from the beginning that character is like, “I want to modernize. I want to bring the church into the new world.” I think he represents that episode. He represents a turn from old traditions and old rhetoric to the new modern face of Catholicism. He’s all about image and wants people to think Briarcliff and the Catholic Church are with it and of the times and that’s all about his ambition. And all of his ambitions come crashing down next week! But you know I grew up Catholic and I grew up with all those priests and right around the Vatican II time. I always imagined that Father Timothy was somebody who would help write Vatican II.

I like the twist with Arden seemingly helping Jude and then turning on her. Is it possible he’s actually working against Mary Eunice?
Oh no. That’s the fun of the episode for me, that you’re watching that scene with Jude in the chapel and you think, Oh he’s changed, but then there’s a twist on a twist. You think for a while he’s siding with the angels but he’s purely on the dark side.

It sets up fun new relationships like Jude doing an about-face and now Lana trying to help Kit.
I think the actors liked the script so much because everything they’re playing at the top of the season they’re playing the opposite of. I also really like the episode because it’s darkly comedic, particularly Sister Mary Eunice. My favorite being, “Do you celebrate Christmas in your Nazi household?” [Laughs]. Her obsession with rubies and jewelry. It’s a little light. Like a dark comedy Christmas.

And Jessica Lange had a fight scene with Ian McShane. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do that.
I know she really loved working with Ian. After we shot that scene, she called me up and said, “We just beat the sh-t out of each other. Can you please write us a civil tete-a-tete?” So in the next episode we wrote this very long scene between her and Ian. That’s a rough scene but I loved that religion literally killed Santa at the end of the episode. There’s a big thing where she’s talking about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which aired last night!

So Grace’s body was taken away last night. When will we find out what happened to it?
You will find out next week in our cliffhanger. You find out what the aliens want. Also, it’s very exciting — next week is the reappearance of Pepper!

Where has she been?!
She got taken! And they bring her back with a very unusual change. That’s one of our great cliffhangers. I know Pepper is an audience favorite. And it’s the question I get asked the most: “Where’s f—in’ Pepper?” So Pepper returns!

And it’s the return of Dylan McDermott, too, right?
Oh yeah. That’s good stuff. Because of the way he looks, Dylan usually plays like a doctor or a lawyer. But Dylan is really funny. I really wanted Dylan to play a sexy, no-education, dirty, drug-addict, grifter. And there you have it.

Who’s also a serial killer?
Well so we’ll see. But next week, please watch the first scene featuring Dylan and a brilliant Silence of the Lambs actress that I think fans of the horror genre will get a really big kick out of it.

Is it Brooke Smith? The lady from the well?
I’m not saying! Just watch it! I just got a kick out of that scene for many many reasons. We’ll talk about it next week.

“Unholy Night” ends with Lana telling a captured Thredson that she’ll bury him. Is there a big battle between them next week?
Oh yeah. I think it’s stuff that the audience wants and it’s something Lana has earned. There’s some good stuff between the two of them.

Read more:
Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): Naomi Grossman on being cast, transformed into Pepper on ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’
‘American Horror Story’ scoop: See the first image of Dylan McDermott as Bloody Face — PHOTO
‘American Horror Story’: Ryan Murphy talks the Angel of Death’s arrival to Briarcliff and teases season three — EXCLUSIVE

Follow Tim on Twitter: @EWTimStack

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