This review contains spoilers.
5.10 She Gets Revenge
There aren’t a lot of action sequences in American Horror Story, but when something violent happens, as it does a lot this season, they tend to make a lot of it. The Hotel Cortez has been home to some terrible things, and it’s always very stylish to behold. However, the titular Hotel is not really the centre of sweetness. Sure, there have been a few nice moments her and there, but nothing consistent, or played as straight as the reunion between Liz Taylor and her long-lost son Dennis. Throughout the episode, Liz and Iris make plans to commit suicide, but first they have to tie up their loose ends to keep from becoming prisoners of the Cortez. For Iris, that’s simple: she has to cancel her magazines and make a hiliariously cliched tribute video to herself. For Liz, she has to mend fences with her son, and she’s going to need a little help with that.
Of all the characters who inhabit the hotel, the one most in tune with the audience is Liz. Like her, we’re not main players in the Hotel drama, just enablers like herself. When she has her love affair with Tristan, it works because we all like the character (even if it comes out of nowhere). All along, she’s been the sassy window into the world of the Hotel Cortez. She’s involved with all the characters, as are we, and as such, she brings about a lot of audience sympathy. With Liz at the center of the episode’s major plots, it’s not surprising that the episode works spectacularly well, especially when Denis O’Hare shows up on screen alongside Mare Winningham’s brilliant Miss Evers and the great Kathy Bates’s Iris.
Liz, who was the A story, has a really touching reunion with her son. It’s a rare moment of sympathy and kindness for this sort of show from writer James Wong, and it’s counterbalanced by the comedy of Miss Evers. That character, as cleaning-obsessed as she is, expresses the most infectious joy at getting detergent and a nice washer and dryer from Liz and Iris. Even her turn-of-the-century ideas about sexuality—see the line about ‘fairies’ not having children, among others—get an indulgent laugh rather than becoming some sort of teachable moment, because Evers is ultimately damaged but harmless. She only wants to be helpful, and she even ends up helping Liz in some strangely touching ways.
However, Liz and Evers only facilitate the violence beforehand or deal with the violence after the fact. They rarely actually bring about violence themselves, though that’s going to change by the end of the episode. The show’s creators of violence, Countess, Donovan, John, and March, are also heavily involved in the episode, albeit in limited B and C plots that tangle around the A plot and provide a nice counterbalance to the sweetness. John and Alex undertake a mission to capture and round up the vampire children terrorizing the pizza delivery drivers and homeless of Los Angeles, while Countess and Donovan each seek to be the sole lover in their lover’s life. Countess puts into action her plan to eliminate Natacha Rambova, and Donovan puts into action his plan to be rid of Valentino once and for all.
Director Bradley Buecker has a lot of fun with these two plots. Children in horror are generally creepy, and groups of children emerging from the shadows are even creepier. Toss in the fact that the kids are armed and dangerous (and, oh yeah, they’re also vampires) and you’ve got real trouble for Alex and John, and a spectacularly tense few scenes as John and Alex tend to a dying vampire child only for the rest of them to come out of the woodwork to try and kill the grown-ups for interfering.
Those segments are great, but even more effective are the mirrored scenes of Gaga and Donovan committing murder. The way the two scenes are cut back and forth, Gaga and Rambova mirrored by Donovan and Valentino, show just how ruthless the two modern vampires are, and just how Rambova and Valentino aren’t prepared for the way the world is or for the cruelty of possessive lovers. It’s clever visual shorthand to remind us all that Donovan and Gaga aren’t that different at all, no natter how much like Dononvan might think he’s his own man or the Gaga isn’t the one running the show.