There is a proud tradition of American Horror Story Halloween episodes, right from Murder House. It make sense that this is the time that the series pulls out its A-grade material, drawing on the Halloween culture.
So what does Hotel have to offer?
Hopefully, a little cohesion. It would be churlish to deny that things have been improving since a rather flat and lacklustre opening episode, but we’re still a long way behind the expectations that four preceding series have set.
At the Hotel Cortez, James Patrick March holds his annual Devil’s Night gathering for dead serial killers tied to the hotel, and Detective Lowe is invited. Meanwhile Alex Lowe comes to terms with having her son back, and what she has to do to keep him.
When Hotel started, its storylines were like a scattergun approach to storylines. It was, in all honesty, a bit much. I appreciated the enthusiasm, but it was too many thrusts in too many directions. By last episode the threads had started to weave together into something a little more coherent, at least. This episode has pared it down significantly to simply the Lowe family and who they interact with.
The biggest things to note is that Donovan and Iris, with the latter newly vampified, do not feature here. Nor does Romona Royale. That’s not to say that there’s a lack of characters here. In fact, the centrepiece is a dinner party hosted by ghostly serial killer and murder mansion architect James Patrick March, at which we have the attendance of a cast macabre of dead serial killers.
I need to lay this out here: Evan Peters’ performance as March is basically carrying the show at the moment. It’s at times scenery chewing, but it’s also the sheer enjoyment of it. Whilst Lady Gaga is hamming it up in her own way, it all looks like so much damn effort. Evan Peters is having a good time, and as a result so is the viewer.
March’s guests include Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer and Aileen Wuornos. The latter being played by one of my favourite AHS alumnus, Lily Rabe. Almost unrecognisable in this role. Aileen encounters Detective Lowe in the bar, and after he mistakes her for someone in an Aileen Wuornos costume, which makes a certain sort of sense. Anyway, she seduces him and he takes her — against Liz Taylor’s advice — up to his room. Where she gets all murdery on him. He cuffs her to the sink and heads down to the reception to call the police, only for Liz to explain some of the weirdness around Devil’s night. And that Lowe is invited.
What we are then treated to is a cavalcade of entertaining weirdness as only AHS can manage. A clique of historical serial killers, all recounting their links to the Hotel Cortez, and the affect that March had on them. Without going through each of them in overwhelming detail, each of them ended up there and being mentored, in a way, by the owner who was trying to make them into perfect killers.
Half the fun is watching John come to a realisation of what is going on. Understandably he’s sceptical at first, but as the evening whiles on he comes to realise what was going on. His horror when Dahmer trepans a young man who March gifts him, unable to stop the ghost with bullets that go straight through him. Then Sally brings in a drugged fellow to the party, which she says buys her a year of peace from March, and the assembled all stab him to death.
And John wakes up in his room, drunk and disorientated, with Sally telling him that it was all in his head. Which it might well have been. But as we know, with AHS that doesn’t prevent it from being just as real.
Meanwhile, Alex is struggling with having found her son. She doesn’t seem to question that he hasn’t actually aged or changed, but she takes him back home nonetheless. Except, well, this isn’t Twilight, and you can’t really keep a pet vampire. Even if he
is was your son. The first hint should have been Holden complaining he was thirsty, but when Alex goes to fetch him a drink, she comes back to find him “drinking” the dog, in one of the more upsetting scenes this series.
When he pleads for his “other mommy”, she reluctantly takes him back to the Cortez, and to the Countess. And now we get a bit more of an explanation as to what is going on with all this vampire child nonsense. Apparently she “saved” Holden from John’s neglect, which feels a little harsh. She explains, in medical terms, that Holden has contracted an ancient virus which makes him healthy. It’s no more gubbins than everything else.
Anyway, the Countess offers Alex eternal life to spend with her son. The only catch is that she has to remain absolutely loyal to the Countess and work for her. I like that the vampirism itself isn’t actually a catch, because in all honesty it hasn’t seemed like it so far in the series. Alex prevaricates, but of course she agrees.
So is bloody everybody going to become a vampire on this show? Maybe the Countess is after trying to build an undead army to protect herself from Ramona. Still, this hotel is getting decidedly vampy.
But the theme feels honed down here, more focused. The initial scene with John and March’s housekeeper, Hazel Evers, where she recounts how her child was kidnapped by a serial killer on Halloween, and they bond over their lapses in attention tearing their lives apart. It’s a potent theme, and if Hotel is finally starting to distil itself down to a theme of parenthood and loss, then it is for the better.
There’s a lot paused for this episode. A lot which will need to be resumed next episode. But that’s okay, because what Hotel was desperately need of was a bit of direction in terms of what it was doing and where it was going.
- Did the Zodiac Killer really needed to be a masked mystery?
- Even if Detective Lowe felt caught up with sympathy for Ms Evers, but why does he forget all about the blood seeping down his wall? That’s surely not normal.
- I cannot get over how unrecognisable Lily Rabe was as Aileen Wuournos. Really, excellent stuff.
- If the devil’s night dinner was for serial killers linked to the hotel, what does that say about John?