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American Horror Stories' Naughty List Ending Explained

Contains spoilers for the "American Horror Stories" episode "The Naughty List"

Santa Claus is coming to town and for the guys of the influencer collective Bro House, he's bringing something much worse than coal.

The latest installment of "American Horror Stories," titled "The Naughty List," sees social media stars Zinn (Nico Greetham), Wyatt (Charles Melton), James (Dyllon Burnside), and Barry (Kevin McHale) riding high on a wave of popularity. However, keeping their subscriber numbers up isn't quite as easy as throwing parties and filming themselves making risky jumps into their swimming pool. With several members of their group pushing 30, the bros realize that if they want to stay on top, they have to up their game.

That's what leads them to upload a video that not just pushes the boundaries of good taste, but breaks them all together. Officially canceled and hemorrhaging subscribers, the guys are faced with a daunting prospect. They need to salvage their channel or lose monetization, which would mean giving up their incredible house and returning to life in the real world.

Determined to win back their fans, the guys decide to go old school and spend a day goofing around at the mall. It's there that they attract the attention of a mall Santa (Danny Trejo) who is not quite who he appears to be.

Little does the Bro House know, but Santa holds the key to bringing their subscriber count back up. Unfortunately, though, this particular boost in popularity will come at a terrible cost.

The possible real-life inspiration behind the Bro House's controversial video

Early on in "The Naughty List," we see exactly what leads to the Bro House's sharp decline in popularity. Group leader Zinn convinces the rest of the guys to shoot a video at a bridge that is known as a location where people regularly attempt suicide. When they film a man taking his own life, Zinn is convinced that the shocking content will cause their subscription numbers to soar. But their callousness and cruelty only make the public turn on them.

This aspect of the episode's narrative obviously draws from several very real controversies. Before their video is uploaded, Barry, who often tries to act as the voice of reason, warns Zinn, "All it takes is one bad post. Look at Logan Paul, or PewDiePie, or Patt Starr."

All three examples given by Barry are real-life influencers who faced significant backlash, with the most relevant example here being Logan Paul. In 2017, the YouTube sensation uploaded a vlog detailing his trip to Aokigahara, a forest in Japan known for its high occurrence of suicides. The video itself contained footage of a dead body Paul stumbled across in the forest, a decision that was widely derided as insensitive and careless (via The Atlantic).

However, as Zinn tells Barry after he lodges his concern, "Dude, all those people are still doing their s— and they've got more subscribers than ever."

Zinn isn't entirely wrong, as, according to Insider, Paul actually gained followers in the wake of his own controversy. That doesn't happen for the Bro House, though, which forces them to try new tactics to regain their popularity.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The Bro House meets a very bad Santa

After unsuccessfully trying to pivot to "homeysexual" content (possibly another reference to Logan Paul, who, according to Time, once declared his intention to "attempt to go gay for just one month"), the guys try to recreate the funloving vibe of their older videos by crashing a mall Santa kiosk. This also ends poorly as they make fools of themselves by harassing the employees and announcing to the assembled youngsters that St. Nick isn't real. This irks the rather unkempt mall Santa, who tells them, "You'll get what you deserve." The Bro House has now officially been added to the titular naughty list.

This Santa is actually a gruesome serial killer who demonstrates his depravity when he stops by the Bro House later on and begins dispatching the guys one by one. In the midst of it, he also has time to give them a little history lesson.

During his killing spree, Santa uploads an article to the Bro House's YouTube page that details the origins of Santa Claus and claims that the figure is based on a pagan god known as the wild man or wild hunter who punishes the wicked. This is possibly a reference to similarities some scholars have found between the figure of Santa Claus and the Norse god Odin, who is associated with a mythical event called the Wild Hunt.

According to Norse history enthusiast website Sons of Vikings, the Wild Hunt was an event wherein "Odin raced across the windy night skies leading his pack of gods, elves, beasts, and ancestral spirits in a great hunt against the ice giants and the forces of darkness." Odin used this time to reward those who pleased the gods and punish those who disobeyed them.

It seems that this serial killer Santa is, in his own twisted way, carrying on that tradition.

The meaning behind the ending of "The Naughty List"

As Santa slaughters the members of Bro House, he uploads videos of each kill to the group's channel. Their viewers believe the murders are an elaborate prank and the killing spree ends up boosting their subscriber numbers.

Unfortunately, all the subscribers in the world aren't enough to save the guys' lives. When Barry makes a frantic post asking viewers to call the police, they just assume it's another aspect of the prank. This decidedly bleak ending turns "The Naughty List" into a bit of a "boy who cried wolf" fable. The members of the Bro House are so committed to living an artificial life constructed out of stunts done for attention that when they're faced with an actual problem, nobody believes that it's real.

The end of the episode could also be read as a commentary on the irresistible and destructive system that is social media's commodification of human experience. Even relatively level-headed Barry falls prey to this in a big way. After all of his fellow bros have been murdered, he sees an alert that the snuff videos have caused their channel to surpass 5 million subscribers. Barry is so excited about this achievement that he sits in front of his computer long enough to get caught up in the inferno caused by Santa pouring gasoline down the chimney followed by a lit match. The episode starts and ends with Bro House profiteering off of death. In his final moments, Barry seems so transfixed by the numbers that he forgets it's their own murders that are driving them.

Similar to the cursed film of the previous "American Horror Stories" episode "Drive In," the allure of social media stardom is too strong for the characters in "The Naughty List" to resist, even when the consequences are dire.