American Horror Story: Hotel Recap: Ghouls on Film

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From left: Lady Gaga as the Countess and Kathy Bates as Iris. Photo: Prashant Gupta/FX

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American Horror Story
Episode Title
Flicker
Season
5
Episode
7
Editor’s Rating
5/5

Thank God they were not zombies! The only thing worse than this "vampires that aren’t really vampires" nonsense is if there were also zombies. Don’t we see enough of them in pop culture generally, and on television more specifically? We already have The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead — we don’t need any more deadness, or walking, for that matter.

Luckily, vampire Valentino (actor, not fashion designer) and Natacha (actress, not cartoon villain) were just vampires who were locked in the Cortez and were so hungry it made their faces whiter than Posh Spice’s eyeteeth and their hair just the perfect shade of sunwashed robin’s nest. Once they fed on several victims (oh, what I wouldn’t do to share a bed with three hunky Australian ranchers in too-tight tank tops), they escaped the Cortez to terrorize the locals once again and plot their revenge against the Countess.

However, she was not the one who had them locked in a dead-end hallway in the hotel. That was her husband, James Patrick March, who was jealous that his wife loved them more than she loved him. Oh, we found out so much about our darling Gaga during this episode (and we saw even more of it). In 1925, the Countess was a rube who came to Hollywood to make it as an actress. She met Valentino and started a throuple with him and his wife because after having a bit part in one movie, she naturally became the most progressive lady in the studio system.

When Valentino’s death hit the press (seriously, what did fangirls do when they had to wait weeks to find out what was going on with their favorite celebrities and couldn’t just post silly messages to them on Instagram?), the Countess is so upset that she is going to throw herself from the Cortez, until its owner takes an interest and decides to save her instead. As these things happen, he decided they should get married. He loved something dark and destructive in her, and they made beautiful, twisted love together.

Then there was this whole weird thing about FW Murnau and how he was really a vampire when making Nosferatu, and he turned Valentino and Natacha into vampires because the silent-movie era was ending and they couldn’t possibly survive in the new era. They wanted the Countess to join them in eternity, but March locked them up in the hotel instead, and she just thought they blew her off at the train station where she was wearing the most gorgeous outfit that looked like about 80 million little bunnies gave up their souls for it.

This was a strange little episode. Not much happened, and what did was wonderfully simple. Most of us already guessed that the Countess was March’s wife, so we just had that confirmed. Then it was a lot of exposition about where the Countess came from and how that was related to Valentino, of all people. Like he says, do people still remember him all these years later? Do they know he really died in 1926 at 31? Do they know that Murnau really made that movie? I know you do, oh, great, educated reader, but does the public at large? Do they even know this guy is a real person and not just a character?

What was different about this was how sumptuously it was filmed. The homages to silent films and older eras of Hollywood filmmaking not only influenced the stylistic choices but the narrative ones as well, breaking this into a form that we haven’t quite seen before. It was a bold choice, and one that I think really paid off, though it did get us a bit out of the rhythm of the series.

I do question using Finn Wittrock in two roles this season (though he does bear an uncanny resemblance to Valentino), but Alexandra Daddario was excellent at Natacha, and brought such a great, steely look to her character. While we’re talking about steely looks, I love how the Countess’s face when she’s scared looks just like her face at all other times. No, I really love that. I think we’re seeing Gaga make some really interesting, understated choices, and it drives plenty of people crazy, but I’m just loving it.

I would have been very happy had this been a full flashback episode setting up where the rest of the season was going, but sadly, we still had to deal with the insufferable John Lowe. He put himself into a mental hospital so he could get close to the Ten Commandments killer, the identity of which I could not care less about because it is clearly John Lowe. Apparently the cops are stashing their suspect there (did we even know there was a suspect?) ,and John is determined to find out who it is because, I don’t know, I guess he has to for the show to keep going or something?

Anyway, I was a little bit confused by all this. He finds the suspect, and it’s a teen girl named Wren. She tells him that she was an accomplice to the killer and will take him to the killer, who is back at home in the Cortez. Um, why doesn’t she tell John that it is him because, ah doy, it obviously is.

In the meantime, we learn that she was dying in a car outside of the Cortez while her father was inside getting drunk, and the Countess, giving us full Cher-circa-Mask realness, saves her. We assume that she turned her into one of her little feeder vampires and she has been working in the hotel ever since. Does that mean the Countess is the Ten Commandments killer? No, it doesn’t, because John is. She tells John that she likes him because he’s nothing like his father. Then, when she’s taking him to the killer, she says, “I really like you. I hate to see it end. Good-bye, John.”

Does that mean she sacrificed herself to keep his identity a secret? No, she sacrifices herself so that John will keep killing, making sure it doesn’t end. Earlier in the episode, she tells John he wouldn’t believe her if she told him who the killer was. That’s because it’s him. Duh!

She was really creepy and crazy and weird, and this was a really great if oddly paced episode. I just hope that some of these story lines end up coalescing before the end of the season. (Like, um, where are those kids with the super virus?) And let us just thank our stars that there aren’t any zombies.

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