07 “Flicker” (American Horror Story: Hotel) [SPOILERS]


american horror story hotel

On it rumbles, with a very real sense of making it up as it goes along.

Mainly, I think, because it is.

Part of the anathema of American Horror Story is that it’s a live experiment. Not all of the things it tries out work — no experiment is ever 100% successful — but it always seems to come across some interesting nuggets.

It’s a commitment to watch, in a way, because you never really know what it’s after a lot of the time. The previous four seasons have all, to varying degrees, pulled it together by the end, and are more notable for their successes than their failures. And that, ultimately, is the bar that Hotel has to meet.

Will Drake’s renovations to the Hotel Cortez unearth one of James Patrick March’s many secrets, this one touching on the very history and origins of the Countess herself. Meanwhile, John Lowe continues to investigate the Ten Commandments Killer on his own.

So bit by bit, we’re chipping away at the vampire mythos at the core of Hotel. There was a throwaway comment earlier in the season about the vampire who made the Countess being someone even more beautiful than Tristan. Well, that’s the particular hole that this episode is digging in.

After talking about it for most of the series so far, Will Drake has finally gotten around to actually doing some renovating. First order of business is to knock through a wall that shouldn’t be there. Sadly, in this house of monstrosities, behind it is a secret room housing…well, monstrosities. Monstrosities who kill the workmen and drink their blood. Which is a little familiar.

The centrepiece of the episode is a flashback to 1925, and a mortal Countess, working as an extra in the silent film industry. An actor who, like all of the naive wannabe starlets, takes a shine to the handsome silent film star, Rudolph Valentino. Out of the blue, Rudolph invites her for dinner, which is interrupted by his soon-to-be ex-wife Natacha Rambova, who reveals that their divorce is for show (Why is somewhat unclear -Ed), and the pair of them seduce Elizabeth (Who she still is at this point -Ed).

I have to stop at this point, to point out that the actor who plays Valentino is Finn Wittrock.  This is the same actor who up until the last episode played Tristan, and if there is a larger point to this then it has very much passed me by. If the idea is that the resemblance is what drew the Countess to Tristan in the first place, then really more should have been made of it, because she never really seemed that into him. Including when she opened his throat.

Anyway, Elizabeth sets out on an affair with the pair, living the high life and disappearing from her previous circle of friends, until she attends the opening of the Hotel Cortez and catches the eye of James Patrick March. Whilst there, she receives the news that Rudolph has died, and in her grief agrees to marry March — mainly for the financial security he can offer.

Of course, Rudolph isn’t dead. When Elizabeth visits his tomb, she runs into him and Natacha, who are vampires and want her to become a vampire and run away with them. There’s something about the end of the silent film era, but honestly it feels so tacked on that it whithers away to nothingness.

The trouble with this, though, is Elizabeth’s husband, who is genuinely besotted with her. He ambushes the movie stars, has them beaten to a pulp, and seals them away in a secret, inescapable chamber in the Cortez.

Bringing us straight back to the present day.

So, remember how I guessed that the Countess was the mysterious wife unshown in the James Patrick March flashbacks? I’m just putting a “told you so” in there. She was quite keen, it seems, on his murdering, even if she wasn’t keen on him. Even after his death, she dines with him once a month, and this time around she tells him that she plans to marry Will Drake. Hurt, he retaliates with the revelation that her being left waiting on a train platform in the 20s was down to him. She is, understandably, not too pleased.

Meanwhile, Rudy and Natascha regain their strength by feeding on basically everyone, and then nonchalantly walk out of the front door.

Whilst all this is going on — the stuff in the present day, not the flashback business — the most wooden cop in Los Angeles, John Lowe, is still trying to investigate the Ten Commandments killer. This time around that involves heading to the mental hospital where they’re holding the suspect. After a predictably wooden spiel to the doctor about how he’s “in the right place”, he goes looking and finds the suspect.

Who is a particularly disturbed/disturbing little girl called Wren, apparently the sidekick of he mysterious killer. She drops a whole series of unnecessarily vague hints as to who the Ten Commandments killer is. She tells him that the killer is at the Hotel Cortez, and even offers to lead John to him, but when he answers her query of whether he intends to kill the killer with an affirmative answer, she tells him she likes him and leaps in front of a bus.

As you do.

I think the reason that I’m getting so behind on my reviews of Hotel is that, really, it’s just not set me alight. Lady Gaga has grown into the Countess role, and this episode, it’s true, puts a bit of extra flesh on her bones as far as that goes. The backstory is quite neat, though the idea of inserting real historical figures into it feels like it’s done for a very small minority of silent film obsessives. But hey, why not I guess?

The woodenness of Wes Bentley is becoming a problem, though. It’s rather hard to sympathise with his having a breakdown when he doesn’t appear to be having a breakdown. I’m pretty sure I know where the writers are going with this, but they’re not doing it very well is the point. Introducing a random girl for part of an episode feels like a loose end, and really the John Lowe bits unbalance the more tightly scripted Countess elements.

The sad part is that I really rather enjoyed this episode. The only problem is that the series’ sense of direction seems to be ebbing away.

Closing thoughts:

  • I half think that it goes without saying that Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova were real people. Wikipedia doesn’t say whether they really were or weren’t vampires.
  • The number of people who die in this damn hotel, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been shut down.
  • If you have someone in custody, who you think is involved in a series of murders, would you not put her under heavier guard?
  • Was Wren a vampire then? Or did I completely misread that?
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