Oh, thank Liz Taylor’s lip gloss, American Horror Story is back. With that abysmal Halloween episode last week I was afraid this season had already lost the thread, but it was back in rare form. I might be almost, maybe, kinda, sorta, a little bit prepared to say that American Horror Story is good again. Almost. Maybe.
While this episode wasn’t perfect — it’s structure especially was a little hinky, skipping from story to story to story, and never quite making a cohesive whole — it had a lot of the elements that always made the show great. Personally I really loved the crazy measles supervirus that Chloe Sevigny released on the population. (I know her character has a name, but I don’t care to use it, because I like to think that, IRL, Chloe Sevigny is a vampire that dresses severely and bends to Lady Gaga’s whims just like she does on TV.)
The measles breakout at school is what this show should be all about: horrors that are also a comment on modern life. Parents not vaccinating their children are a real problem, especially in L.A. where Ryan Murphy is now worried about his baby’s health. And not only that, but the carnage the kids unleash is then likened to a school shooting. The most terrifying moment for me was not the kids clawing at the principal to get his blood, but when he shows up at the office window and the secretary gets on the intercom and puts the school on lockdown. School shootings now happen so frequently that there is a protocol for it, and the staff is almost expecting someone to break out at any moment.
I’m still kind of murky about how the superbug came to be, exactly. If Max had the measles and the “virus” cured him, I can see how he would give Madison the measles when she tasted his blood, and that she wouldn’t be cured of that until she drank someone else’s blood. But how did all the other kids get it? Did the combination of the two viruses create a mutant strand of measles that is super contagious? I guess since Maddy was the first person to get both viruses at once, that's what made her contagious and Max not contagious? Why did it only affect the kids and not the adults? Was it because all of those kids weren’t inoculated too?
While we’re asking questions, how is it still Halloween? Wasn’t Halloween the night when John was at the dinner party with all the spirits and Chloe Sevigny was getting infected by the Countess? Max would have gotten his cure the next day, gone home the following day, and returned to school the day after that. The school is now having a Halloween party on November 3? That’s kind of bonkers, like celebrating July 4th on June 30th. Since this is the questions-asking part of the recap, why is it that everyone has to be so damn sloppy when they drink blood? Even when Chloe Sevigny is drinking it out of prepackaged bags like the world’s grossest Go-Gurt, she gets it all over the place.
Speaking of Halloween, John Lowe got fired because he filed a police report about his serial-killer dinner because he is obviously the stupidest man on the face of the Earth. Yeah, he has a killer body and the most perfect configuration of chest hair I have ever seen, but he’s kind of dumb. He’s also having blackouts, which is super convenient for being the Ten Commandments Killer and all (a theory that some of our eagle-eyed commenters espoused after last week’s episode).
The real heart of the episode, however, was Iris and Liz Taylor. Their issues, once again, are troubles that we face in the real world, namely the invisibility of anyone who doesn’t know how to Snapchat, and those who want to live outside of the gender and sexuality binaries. Iris had a bad transition into being a vampire, and the death one must endure to get to eternal life seems to be worse the older you are when the transition happens. However, Donovan and Ramona Royale send her back to the Cortez so that she can spy on the Countess for her former spurned lovers.
If fending off the Countess in the lobby wasn’t bad enough (didn’t Lady Gaga look just like the Grinch in the best possible way when she leaned in and smile-sneered, “You smell different,” at Iris), she also has to deal with a pair of “influencers” who check into the hotel looking to escape all of the trick-or-treaters. This must be a tradition of the new holiday Halloween II, which apparently is only observed by people in this show on November 3. Because all the men on the show don’t look enough alike as it is (don’t fault Mr. Ryan P. Murphy for having a very specific type), Darren Criss played one half of this couple who was so insufferably artisanal that Iris stabbed them and drank their blood (messily, of course) after they ate the Grey Gardens pâté.
Being insufferable about their surroundings was a little bit ironic in that the influencers are the ones who want to find a place first, but don’t want to deal with the crappy sheets or the scratchy towels. Sorry, kiddies, you can’t have it both ways. But their being total twats was just a red herring. This was really about Iris getting over her insecurities and really doing what is right for herself, rather than serving other people like Donovan and the Countess.
If we’re being honest, though, this episode was really all about Liz Taylor, who we learn is not a vampire or a ghost, just an employee of the hotel with nowhere else to go. She was born Nick Pryor, a medical rep from Topeka, who used his frequent business trips as an excuse to wear women’s clothing in the comfort of his hotel room. That is until the Countess found him in 1984, took pity on him, and convinced him to walk down the hall wearing just a slip, a fur, and a full face of makeup. (Also, Rule #1 is, if Lady Gaga invites you to go out to the Roxy with Mick Jagger, you do not say no!) Naturally her co-workers saw her, thought she would give them AIDS, and cursed her out for being gay. Liz never returned home, instead sending money until the kids turned 18.
Her story and what she teaches Iris is really about self-empowerment, and the language in her story was as luscious as the carpet in that lobby. “There’s nothing like whispering a secret aloud,” she says, “if even to yourself.” The Countess tells her, after murdering Liz’s colleagues, “We all have two selves. The one the world needs us to be: the compliant. And one, the shadow. Ignore it and the life is forever suffering.”
It was a sad but very effective story, though I’m not quite sure I buy the Countess’s motivation here. We’ve never really seen her be altruistic, so doing this just so that Liz can live freely seems phony. The Countess we know only does nice things so that she can benefit as well. What is the play with Liz? Maybe there’s more to the story than we know about. Luckily, this is the first time in a few seasons I actually want to stick around and see what that story might be.