This review contains spoilers.
5.8 The Ten Commandments Killer
There’s not a lot of artifice or misdirection to Ryan Murphy’s television shows. Very rarely does he pull off a surprise, and when he does pull off a surprise—see the Rubber Man from Murder House—it’s not always very good or very welcome. I’m not even sure he’s trying to spring surprises anymore, given just how long the show has telegraphed the very “twist” it unfurls this week. John Lowe, ace detective and the man obsessed with tracking down the Ten Commandments Killer, is actually the Ten Commandments Killer, which is something people have basically been discussing since the earliest stages of the season.
It’s a predictable turn of events, and one that the show’s been building on for multiple weeks, in particular since the serial killer banquet brought together March and his most famous pupils in the dark arts. It’s a fun scene to revisit, particularly when it’s brought back up in this episode, as all the truth about John Lowe’s evil deeds come crashing back down around him, returning to his memory thanks to Wren’s sacrifice after escaping from the mental institution with her charge, the Ten Commandments Killer. Of course, John has to yell at some people first before realizing just who he is, but after picking a fight with Liz Taylor, Sally takes John up to Room 64 for a horrifying reveal and some horrifying realisations about himself.
The fact that everyone knew this reveal is coming doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s both a) the logical choice given all the show has constructed and b) really well executed by all involved. The show leans heavily on the talents of Wes Bentley—too often delegated to the background most of the time—and the brilliantly fun performance of Evan Peters as the awesome James Frederick March. Peters is clearly having a great time with this role, from his William Powell accent to his Walt Disney moustache, and it shows through in every little affectation the character has adopted, and his willingness to straight-up confess that he adopted the Brahmin accent from former teachers. Alongside Lowe, as always, is Hypodermic Sally, Sarah Paulson’s latest great character from the mind of Ryan Murphy.
A lot of credit for the success of the episode has to go to Evan Peters, who clearly loves being a villain and sinks his teeth into Ryan Murphy’s dialogue with gusto this week. He’s counterbalanced by the more tormented Wes Bentley, who swings wildly throughout the episode from grief and anger to complete mental and emotional shut-down. The two serve as a great one-two punch, March in complete control, orchestrating the breakdown, and Lowe suffering the breakdown with Sally (and Wren) serving as a guardian angel. All part of the plan. March gets to complete his life’s work and Sally gets to have the man she’s been covertly sleeping with for the last five years as a permanent resident at the Hotel Cortez. All the while, Lowe comes and goes without ever remembering, until he finds himself awakened and fully on board with March’s plan.
Loni Peristere makes great use of the show’s sets in her directing work this week, and we get a few very fun tracking shots of Lowe coming in with, ahem, display pieces for March’s artwork, as well as some delirious camera movements that could only be accomplished with some sort of gimbal and possibly a crane or mount. Lowe’s breakdown is shown in impressive visual fashion, particularly a couple of shots of a blood-splattered Lowe framed in a mirror akin to some of the more famous shots of Norman Bates in Psycho. The various recreations of the Ten Commandment Killer kills by Lowe is also really well done: visually fun, appropriately graphic, and positively lurid in color.
Ryan Murphy’s script is also a whole lot of fun this week. March is clearly a blast to write for, and March’s interactions with Countess are great. There’s a strong undercurrent of dark humour, as March and Countess trade insults like a 1930s screwball comedy couple (which they kind of are) and Iris expresses inappropriate relief about no longer having to pretend that she hasn’t seen Lowe several times a week for the last five years or so. It’s much-needed levity between scenes in which March not-so-subtly convinces Lowe to become his cat’s paw. Then again, it’s unlike Lowe needed a lot of convincing after the loss of his son to Countess.
It’s interesting to see that Lowe’s story has merged into that of the rest of the show. In the earliest episodes, he seemed to be coming in from a completely different programme, but now American Horror Story has revealed just how entangled he’s been with the Hotel Cortez all along. That in and of itself is kind of a big feat for the show, given its history with slapdash plotting. All in all, it’s a pretty positive sign, especially considering there are only two episodes remaining, and both of those promise to be pretty crazy.