This review contains spoilers.
5.9 She Wants Revenge
It’s been a while since a season of American Horror Story has been this consistently good, both in terms of acting, characterisation, and general plotting. Hotel is a world full of interesting characters portrayed by interesting actors who make interesting choices. The collection of visual styles—high fashion, 1920s class, 90s funk, 60s glamour, 80s rocker chic, and a whole host of other distinctive looks—add colour and depth to a world in which there are people who are trapped out of their own time and people who are not constrained by the tick-tick-tock of the clock and the limitations of a mortal time frame. The Hotel Cortez is a home for ghosts, immortals, and damaged wanderers plucked at random from the flotsam and jetsam of the ever-changing world and captured in amber for future generations to gawk over.
The inconsistent nature of time has been a big discussion point for the last couple of episodes of American Horror Story, and She Wants Revenge is no different. The show opens with Lady Gaga giving a monologue on the nature of aging, the very physical changes that happen in men and women that don’t happen to someone like her, and a big chunk of the middle of the episode is dedicated to Ramona Royale’s time spent with her aged, ailing parents and her failed attempt at using the vampire virus to arrest her father’s Alzheimer’s disease without success. Countess wants to build something durable, a place out of time to keep the modern world at bay for her and Valentino; Ramona had that in her family home with her aged father, but the passing of decades like minutes did little to dull the pain of loneliness she felt. They have all the time in the world, and absolutely no way to make use of it without attracting attention, at least without some sort of shelter from the prying eyes of the temporal.
Most of the behaviour of the people at the Hotel Cortez must be conducted away from public view, so it’s natural that their ersatz leader would want to transform the hotel into something more like a safe haven for the troubled. Liz Taylor was transgender before that was a thing most people even thought about. March and John Lowe are serial killers. Pretty much everyone else is either a ghost—the ultimate in things conducted away from public view—or a vampire, and as Countess Gaga has said, vampires must go about their work in secret, unlike, say, a pack of feral kids draining homeless people for their blood and killing pizza boys. That’s the kind of thing that attracts attention, unlike a decaying hotel/murder trap.
One of the interesting choices in this episode, written by Brad Falchuk, is that it’s communicated mostly through voiceovers. We see montages of characters doing acts, but most of what we actually hear is from a recording booth. Gaga starts off with a monologue, Ramona has a monologue, Iris has a monologue… there are more people talking about what’s going on than actually speaking to other characters. It’s kind of a strange choice, but it works for the episode. If these characters feel stuck in a time not of their own making, or a place not of their choosing, it makes sense that there be some sort of disconnect between their actions and what they’re saying, a kind of observing themselves move about their day. Gaga’s scenes, as always, are a bit hit-or-miss, but Iris’s running commentary on the evils of modern pornography as she heads upstairs to cut some throats was really funny, and Ramona’s scenes with her father are appropriately heartbreaking, albeit swerving a bit towards grief porn while explaining just why the children are all suffering from eternal measles.
Director Michael Uppendahl puts in some interesting visual work this week. The Countess’s torture wing is fun to behold, with everything covered in a fine layer of dust, and the neon and steel cages are nice to see back again. There are several great shots, particular the final shot of Ms. Evers fulfilling her promise to watch Will Drake die, that help fill out the episode. There are a few other fun visual touches, like the flourish with which March uses his cane to apparently scare contractors into moving faster, and the subtle way in which March drinks with a pinkie extended, even at his own bar. However, the focus tonight is on the words and less on the montages that accompany them.
American Horror Story has moved its pieces into position. Will Drake is gone. Alex has finally come into contact with her gang of measles vampires. John knows he is the Ten Commandments Killer. Gaga has been reunited with her great lost love Valentino, but here sworn enemy Ramona Royale is there in the confines of her hotel. Iris, Ramona, and Liz all have an axe to grind and/or use on Countess. She’s keeping her enemies very close indeed, and she doesn’t have a lot of friends left aside from Donovan (even his allegiance is doubtful).
Countess is in a real pickle, and American Horror Story is running out of time to tie together a lot of loose ends. Perhaps the show can’t accomplish magic tricks, but tying some of the plot elements together, particularly the longer, move involved items, is a great idea. Every little bit stowed away is another bit of ammunition that cannot be fired on.