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I never quite understood why American Horror Story, a show that is about all the creepy crawlies lurking inside our brains, needed to have a Halloween episode. Just because it airs in the fall doesn’t mean it needs to acknowledge the night of ghosts and goblins and things that bump on each other in the night. Every episode of AHS is a Halloween episode, right? The Bachelor airs during February, but it doesn’t have a Valentine’s Day episode, does it? No. I’ve always thought this annual tradition was a bit of a waste, and because of it, we’ve gotten the season’s weakest episode to date.
Well, technically this was a “Devil’s Night” episode about the night before Halloween, and it turns out that every year on Devil’s Night, all the dead serial killers’ ghosts check into the Hotel Cortez for a night of murder, clown makeup, and weird sorts of brain injections that I never want to see again. As soon as Richard Ramirez checked in and referenced Charles Manson, I knew what was going down. It doesn’t hurt that I had just finished this amazing article about the actual case and L.A. hotel that inspired this season. (Read it all the way to the end; it goes in a delightfully unexpected direction.)
I certainly can’t oppose the idea of a group of serial killers convening for a bit of dinner on this show where anything scary goes, but usually those wielding the knives are fictional. Aileen Wuornos, the Zodiac Killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy all actually existed, so glorifying these monsters who committed horrific crimes and calling them the “masters of murder” rubs me the wrong way a little bit. This little soirée certainly didn’t seem like it was condemning their crimes; in fact, it took a sort of giddy excitement in helping them create more of them from beyond the grave.
But even if we look past that, I’m not sure it even make sense on a story level to put all of these people together with our wonderfully accented Mr. March. First of all, the rule about ghosts on the show seems to be that they are people who died in the hotel and are now bound to the premises. That apparently isn’t true if Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing you. March explains that all these killers happened through the hotel at one time or another, and all of those stories seemed strained and unbelievable, like the writers came up with this idea for a serial-killer supergroup and then accepted any sort of logic about how this could happen.
Second, these killers will apparently vanish as easily and as quickly as they arrived. Learning all about them and this little club of theirs isn’t advancing the overall story of the season, so it just seems like a red herring for a Halloween episode this series doesn’t even need, celebrating a bunch of people that don’t really bear celebrating. If you want some creepy people to bring back from the dead worth having over for a dinner party, how about the C.H.U.D.s?
With John Lowe on the invitation list, it does seem like he is somehow special and the rest of the killers have some sort of plan for him that he doesn’t know about. March says at one point, “John is clearly not yet our kind.” Does he know something the rest of us don’t? Is this season going to be about the making of a serial killer and how the hotel drove him so crazy? That could be really interesting if it actually develops. If it does, I won’t be as peeved about this little absinthe binge, but otherwise, I will find it a bit objectionable.
I’m also curious about why, at the end, the perpetually dewy-eyed Sally tells John that she will be his protector. Isn’t she more like his enabler? Now that he’s back drinking again, isn’t this spirit of addiction more of a monkey on his back than a savior? (And while we’re talking about John’s drinking, how did he go from four-martinis sloshed to stone-cold sober in a tux in the span of a hour?)
With each passing episode, I’m more and more intrigued by everything that is happening around John than by the John story itself. Yes, this week he was a conduit to Miss Evers's backstory, where we discover that her son was kidnapped in 1925 by the Wineville County chicken-coop killer because she turned her back on him for a split second and he was absconded by a man dressed as Rudolph Valentino. She finds a kindred spirit in John — she did turn into some sort of daffy, murderous version of Lady Macbeth always trying to scrub the sheets, so maybe that’s where he’s headed, too. One thing is for sure: Mare Winningham is killing it with her grotesquely gonzo portrayal of this woman. It’s over the top in all the right ways, especially since we get so little of her each episode.
I’m also glad we finally got to see the moment when Lady Gaga walked off with John’s son, Holden, but mostly because seeing her in a black lace Victorian dress while wearing a Wicked Witch of the West by way of Lanvin hat and carrying a Japanese-inspired black parasol was absolute sartorial perfection. It was so creepy and out of place to see her wearing that while walking down the California shore, the image alone made up for "Applaus-plause."
The other amazing image of the night was the final shot of the Countess clutching Alex to her blood-soaked bosom as the camera shifted 180 degrees so it looked like the pair were upside-down, or at least doing a bad re-creation of the “Dancing on the Ceiling” video. (Hey, Adele remade “Hello,” so Lionel Richie covers are having a moment.) This was also my favorite story of the night because it really seemed to be advancing the larger story this season, though it was only bookends at the beginning and ending of the #SerialKillerBookClub.
The episode starts with Alex taking Holden home now that she found him in the hotel. Everything is great except for the little issue of him biting the dog’s head off and sucking out all of its blood. (Actually, the episode begins with John Lowe waking up naked to a phone call from his daughter, and if dadbods look like Wes Bentley’s, then someone find me a surrogate!) Alex takes Holden back to his glass coffin, and the Countess shows up in an absolutely killer flesh-toned dress and offers Alex answers and solutions.
The Countess wants Alex to transform so that she can spend the rest of her life with her son. All that it will cost this poor unfortunate soul is her voice. Wait, wrong movie. It will cost her being enslaved to the Countess for all time. Ultimately Alex decides to take her up on the offer and become a V.A.M.P.I.R.E. so that she can be with her son. Are we sure Chloë Sevigny isn't a vampire already? I've never seen her out in the daylight, and she does seem awful fond of clothes from past eras. I’m not sure exactly what the Countess is going to get out of this whole bargain, but whatever it is has to be a lot more interesting than a Halloween episode on a horror show.
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