This review contains spoilers.
5.4 Devil’s Night
The announcement that Lady Gaga would play a prominent role in American Horror Story: Hotel was a bit of a divisive one. She was the centerpiece of a lot of the show’s commercials, particularly one of her set to the memorable industrial tune Du Hast by Rammstein. No one knew what role she would play, or what her purpose would end up being, but everyone had an opinion about it, and most of those opinions seem to have been negative. It’s easy to see why; Gaga’s a pop star, not an actress. If she’s been on stage or screen, it’s been in the context of her musical talents first and foremost, not her ability to emote or cry on cue. I have to admit to having been pleasantly surprised.
Lady Gaga isn’t a great actress. She’s not going to be putting on a tour-de-force performance like Mare Winningham does in Ms. Evers’ flashback sequence early in the episode concerning her dead son and his death at the hands of Gordon Northcott, the Wineville Chicken Murderer, and she’s certainly not up to the par of the guests of honour at Mr. Marsh’s Devil’s Night banquet. However, she has a certain magnetism. Befitting a modern pop star, she moves very well, knows how to hold herself, and does very good physical work. There’s real charisma in her performance, which is kind of what you look for in an ancient vampire who rules over a hotel full of ghosts, murderers, murdered ghosts, and ghost murderers.
In that sense, Gaga’s great, and a lot of fun to watch. Her line delivery can be a little suspect at times, but she’s supposed to be (mostly) emotionless at this stage of her unlife, so aloof and distant isn’t really a detriment. Neither is her task at explaining the vampire virus to Alex (or Tristan); it comes across as a speech she’s given several times before to a lot of now-dead lovers, and she’s as bored with it as she is with Donovan. It doesn’t seem like the Countess has a lot going on vis-a-vis immortality, and since she can’t feel, she (and her children) are drawn to the strong emotions of others. Hence Tristan’s anger being like catnip, or Holden following his mother Alex out after sensing her devotion to the child.
Speaking of strong emotions, James March is hosting the premier event of the dead world: his Devil’s Night banquet, featuring a lot of famous guests. The cold opening features Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar), the famed Night Stalker, who reminds Liz that he doesn’t need a key to get into rooms, then he recreates one of his famous kills by breaking into a hotel room, bludgeoning a guy with a lamp, and strangling a woman. Later on, Lowe shows up to the bar, pounds a double martini, and runs into Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe), who promptly takes him upstairs to show him just how much fun a “batshit crazy hooker” can be after a murder meet-cute and a little taste of Natalie Merchant’s Carnival, the last song Wuornos heard before she was put to death. The hook-up doesn’t go exactly as planned, but Lowe does find out something: he’s got an invitation to the dinner party.
Joining the good detective are March, Aileen, the Night Stalker, John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch), Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel), and the Zodiac killer (who wears his authentic costume and carries his authentic weapon, a gun with a flashlight taped to it). This is one of the most fun moments of the episode, because it’s a lot of really good actors who are doing a great job of inhabiting their characters. Lily Rabe might be a better Aileen than Charlize Theron, and while she’s not quite as uglied up as Theron was in Monster, she does a good job at playing Aileen as someone outgoing enough to attract johns. John Carroll Lynch is always welcome—thankfully the show resisted the urge to make him the Zodiac killer again—and his Illinois accent is as good as Seth Gabel’s Wisconsin accent.
Jennifer Salt’s script does a good job at encapsulating the serial killers through little comments to one another and to Lowe, and while it’s a bit heavy-handed, it’s not without personality. Lily Rabe and Anthony Ruivivar’s dance to Sweet Jane was a fun moment, but everyone gets to have a little fun at dinner, from Dahmer making himself a sex zombie to the group all having a good bonding experience after downing absinthe and murdering a victim provided by Hypodermic Sally. None of it is subtle—again, this is AHS—but it’s clever and surprisingly fun, and when John Carroll Lynch puts on the clown makeup, it’s downright disturbing. Their gleeful murder is just a fun capstone before Lowe wakes up in his room, Sally at his side. Was it all a dream, or did the absinthe merely awaken Lowe to the reality of the world around him? Or, perhaps, is Lowe more of a peer to these killers than he suspects?
That Lowe is the 10 Commandments killer seems to be the way the show is heading, but that’s pretty obvious, and so you can kind of dismiss it, since this is AHS and the obvious thing is never what ends up happening as far as the big plot goes. Still, another season of American Horror Story and another Halloween episode in the books. Once again, it’s a lot of fun, even if it’s not pushing the plot forward all that much, Alex and Gaga B-story notwithstanding. If I wanted a focused plot, I wouldn’t be watching AHS.