American Horror Story Hotel episode 5 review: Room Service

Vampire children run amok among multiple plot-threads in this week's American Horror Story: Hotel episode...

This review contains spoilers.

5.5 Room Service

There’s a lot going on in every episode of American Horror Story, and sometimes it makes it difficult to figure out just how to sit down and write a review like this. I mean, when the show is full of plot elements, how can you really focus on one? Last week was easy; a serial killer dinner party is always going to be attention-grabbing, but this week’s episode had multiple fun things happening, so I guess I’ll just stop waffling and go right to the vampire children.

Alex, the caring nurturer of Holden that she is, has been newly minted as a vampire by Countess Gaga, and she’s having a little trouble adjusting. She’s woozy, she’s room temperature, her POV shots are all blurry, she’s vacant and clammy… and she can’t get her head together. She’s distracted by hearts beating all around her, mesmerized by the thundering of blood in the neck veins of Madchen Amick’s anti-vaxxer mother character. And she’s got a victim right there at her feet, little Max Ellison, helpless and full of diseased blood. It’s all a fake-out, of course. Alex works at a hospital, where there are gallons upon gallons of the yummy red stuff to tear into and swallow down, so after a couple of type-o negatives, she’s ready to both A) uphold her Hippocratic oath and B) ruin everyone’s day by treating Max’s fatal septic pneumonia with a dose of her own vampiric blood.

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Full disclosure: I find little monster children impossibly disturbing. Yes, it’s a cliché. Yes, it’s been overdone since Patty McCormack first killed her school chums in The Bad Seed, but in the hands of American Horror Story‘s creative team, the dumbest cliché can have the best results. Such is the case when a cured Max gets sent home from the hospital and promptly murders his parents to drink their blood. After breakfast, he heads to school… and if you think this won’t end up with a horde of vampire children going slaughter-crazy, you don’t know Ryan Murphy.

It’s one of the better segments in a really well-directed episode by Michael Goi. The virus spread begins innocently enough, with a secret kiss in a class coat closet. When the nosy teacher comes to investigate, she gets her throat cut and that just kicks off a chain. The principal-looking gentleman? He’s overcome by a whole horde of vampire children, all craving human blood to push aside their vampiric thirst and virulent measles. The three staff members we check in on in the office? They’re not making it out of the episode, either. It doesn’t take long for the SWAT team to arrive, but by then the school is a charnal house, and the only survivors seem to be the vampire children, who get to go home to their loving parents to repeat the process time and time again. It’s not hard to make a deserted school unsettling, but the sheer amount of corn syrup spilled is impressive enough even before you count all the arterial spray that goes down with every hungrily cut throat.

Part of what keeps viewers coming back to American Horror Story is how well the show is able to balance both the amusing with the unsettling. Parts of the children’s rampage is just flat-out funny, in that giddy and exciting way that feels like someone is getting away with something. Other parts, particularly the final shot of the kids in the school, lingering behind the fence in the gymnasium, are unsettling. The show has definitely amped up the horror this season after a couple of fairly tame seasons.

However, the show, at its best, is also touching. This episode, when it’s not murdering underpaid public school teachers, also delved into the back story of one of the show’s most interesting characters, Liz Taylor, and an underdeveloped doormat in Iris. Denis O’Hare is absolutely great, and for the first time since Coven, Kathy Bates got some great material to work with, too. It’s nice to see Liz get some development, and it’s also nice to see Iris come to accept that she’s not just the meek mouse behind the counter anymore, she’s a full-fledged blood-drinking monster the equal of Countess or Donovan or anyone else. The two work together very nicely, in turns supporting and inspiring one another, and Ned Martel really makes the segment work by focusing on Liz Taylor’s secret urge to be a beautiful woman trapped in the body of Denis O’Hare. They make a great parallel pair, with both of them finding themselves thanks to the intervention of others (Countess for Liz, Donovan for Iris). Their pairing also proved to be very entertaining to watch, which is paramount on the show.

Interestingly, the events of Halloween haven’t been forgotten. Detective Lowe—actually now no longer a detective—refuses to believe that he witnessed the ghosts of dead serial killers and that he’s participating in some sort of strange relationship with Hypodermic Sally. It’s only briefly mentioned this week, but it’s going to be a threat the show revisits in later episodes. It’s weird to think that American Horror Story is building story lines, rather than just bulldozing through them like Tristan through a pile of cocaine.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan would watch an Iris/Liz Taylor buddy comedy, with or without vampire children. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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