American Horror Story: Hotel S05E03 “Mommy” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: James Wong
Director: Bradley Buecker
Essential Plot Points:
- Duffy has become obsessed with March and returns to his room. He essentially swears fealty to the politest, most urbane serial killer of his age and a delighted March realises he has a new weapon. One he’ll need when Will Drake reveals his plans to destroy the floor that March and Miss Evers haunt.
- We see events from Alex Lowe’s point of view. She admits to being more in love with Holden, her son, than she ever was with her husband. She talks about how her son smelt of Lavender and how hard it was to deal with the circumstances of his disappearance. As she does this, we see her effortlessly deal with a measles case. We also see her attempt suicide in the wake of Holden’s disappearance and speaking at family therapy in the present day. There, despite Scarlett’s protestations, she refuses to believe her daughter saw her brother at the Cortez. Until she mentions he smelt of Lavender…
- Back at the hotel, Claudia Bankson is stabbed to death by Max, the man Sally sewed into a mattress in episode one.
- John answers another call, this time to a gossip site. There he finds more journalists brutally slaughtered and realises they were killed because they “spread lies”. He returns to the Cortez just in time for Gabriel to collapse hysterically on him.
- Back at the hotel, Duffy seduces Will Drake with an eye to killing him in order to stop the renovations. At the last minute the Countess appears and silently tells him not to.
- At the hospital, Max apologises for the murder, claiming he thought it was the woman who sewed him into the mattress. Realising he means Sally, John returns to the hotel to arrest her. On the way out, Sally seduces him and they briefly make out. Unknown to John, the drill demon from the first episode spasmodically appears in the lift, as though linked to Sally somehow. The lift arrives at the ground floor and Sally’s gone, leaving John alone.
- Donovan returns and Iris tries to persuade him to move in with her. Donovan verbally destroys his mother, suggesting she kill herself.
- Later, Donovan is sleeping, and feeding, rough when he spies a high-end car with a woman standing near it. Sensing easy prey, he gets ready to attack her but is tased and thrown in the car.
- At the Cortez, Alex serves John with divorce papers. The detective breaks down, sobbing, as his wife explains that it isn’t that she doesn’t love him, but rather that they both need to move on. He begs her to stay and Alex reluctantly goes back to his room. Seeing the research on the wall, she realises how much stress he’s under and the pair begin to have sex. John suggests they have another baby and Alex leaves, disgusted. On the way out, she sees the ghost of Claudia (boo!) and finds Holden (Hooray!).
- Upstairs, the Countess seduces Will Drake who admits he’s creatively burnt out. And, more importantly, gay. Duffy interrupts them and flies off in a rage. Will leaves and as he does so, the Countess points out he’s enjoyed the night more than he expected to. She explains to a startled Duffy that she lost all her money in an investment scam and needs to marry Will Drake, and steal his cash, before they can kill him.
- Nearby, Iris has persuaded Sally to help her commit suicide.
- Elsewhere, Donovan wakes up tied to a chair having his blood cleaned. His captor is revealed to be Ramona Royale. Ramona explains she was a B-movie star before the Countess found her and made her one of her own. They were in love for decades before Ramona met and fell in love with Prophet Moses, a rapper in the ’90s. She was about to turn him so they could live together forever when the Countess found them and murdered Mo’ and his crew to stop Ramona making more vampires herself. Ramona vowed revenge and plans on using Donovan to get it. When she finds out he’s been dumped, she throws him out in disgust.
- Donovan, with nowhere else to go, returns to the Cortez. There, Liz Taylor dresses him down, pointing out that even after everything they’ve done to each other, no one loves him like his mother. Realising this is true, Donovan races to his mother’s room and finds her dead. He opens a vein and brings her back as his progeny. The exact thing that Ramona did…
That’s better. After the lumpy self-indulgence of last week, “Mommy” puts Hotel back on track with an episode that moves every major plot along, has the most fun flashback yet and sets up some major changes.
First off, Detective Lowe’s worst day ever continues unabated. Not only does he catch another, distinctly Se7en-esque, murder scene but returns to the Cortez just in time for Gabriel to collapse on him. From there it only gets worse as he tries to arrest, then make out, with Sally and gets divorce papers served by Alex.
That last is especially interesting as it’s the breaking point for John. The scene in which he breaks down in tears is all the more effective because of how buttoned down Wes Bentley’s performance is and it’s a welcome grounding note for the entire episode. It also allows us a chance to take a serious look at the Lowe’s relationship and for Wong’s script to flex its muscles. This isn’t the usual dysfunctional marriage but rather two people who still love one another. The only problem is, there are things in their lives they love far more. John lives for his work, Alex lived for her son. John’s realisation that Alex is right – as well as history’s least well-timed suggestion of another baby – are hard to watch because they’re so pragmatic. The Lowes are normal people in the process of being broken by abnormal events. Whether any of them make it out is, at this point, anyone’s guess.
It’s especially interesting given what we learn about Alex this episode. Chloe Sevigny is never less than impressive but her time in the spotlight here is a season highlight so far. We see Alex from the inside; a woman aware of her unusual emotional choices but not concerned by them. She’s sensible, compassionate and completely stoic, like John. And, like John, she breaks. But where John collapses at the thought of losing everything, Alex breaks at the thought of getting everything BACK. Her discovery of Holden is an absolute left turn and not the only one this episode either.
The other ones arrive one plot over. The first is the revelation that the Countess is broke, thanks to bad investment choices she made. That, coupled with the reveal that she has other progeny who are alive and well, neatly undercuts the show’s largest potential problem; the infallible vampire. The Countess, we see this episode, is anything but infallible and her bad choices are beginning to impact on the other residents of the Cortez. Will Drake is an unwitting target while poor Donovan is snatched by Ramona, her old favourite, has his blood cleaned and is kicked out. Intentionally or not, he’s just been handed a huge bargaining chip and it’ll be interesting to see how he uses it, and with whom.
It’s Donovan who’s the centre of the biggest twist, though, vampirising his mother to save her life. The relationship between Irish and Donovan has been on the backburner for a while but that’s no longer the case here. Liz Taylor, in a typically brilliant moment, points out no one loves Donovan like his mother. He finally reaches out to her, but reaches across the barrier between life and death to do so. In other words, he’s just done exactly what Ramona did. The only question is, what price will he pay for it? It’s a brilliantly executed scene that changes the show’s perspective on the Countess massively. She’s no longer the Queen of an ivory tower but an uncaring monarch who can’t see the chaos at her door. It’ll be interesting, and no doubt bloody, to see what happens when that changes.
This is a way more confident, pacy effort than last episode that even gives Duffy non-awful things to do. The show’s claustrophobic setting is really starting to pay off and with Ramona set up in opposition to the Countess, battle lines are being drawn. I wonder what side Detective Lowe will be on. I wonder if he knows himself.
Next week! Halloween! (Again!) With some very surprising guests checking into the Cortez.
- Tristan sharing scenes with March (Or Evil Dead Quicksilver as I think of him) is actually really fun. He can definitely stick around if he’s going to be March’s little murder groupie.
- John. Wes Bentley has a stupidly hard job here as the calm(ish) eye of the storm but he’s acing it. John really does feel like the lead in a more sensible, kinder detective thriller who’s taken the ultimate wrong turn at Albuquerque. He’s clearly doomed, but he’s not going down without a fight.
- Sarah Paulson. Increasingly the MVP this season. I’d watch an entire series of Sally the junkie ghost being miserable and tormenting people. It’d be the most depressing TV show ever made and cancelled after two episodes but I’d watch them.
- Angela Bassett. Because Angela Bassett is always amazing.
- Angela Bassett as, clearly, a Pam Grier analogue is even better. Especially the magnificently cheesy movie posters we get of her career.
- The 1990s hair that both she and Gaga are rocking for the HipHop massacre sequence.
- Naomi Campbell somehow manages to be even worse once her character is murdered. Which almost circumnavigates Awful and comes out the other side into Amazing. But doesn’t.
- “You’re a Scorpio, which explains a lot.” Duffy in good line shocker!
- “How do you know all this?” “I googled you.” “…that sounds obscene…” Love this joke so very much. It’s sold by the delivery from both actors too which is a nice piece of equal opportunity comedy.
- “I wanted to save kids. Other people’s kids.” Everything you need to know about Alex wrapped up in a single line. She’s a really complex, interesting leading lady and it’s a delight to see her get a chance to be in the spotlight.
- “Some days are bearable. Today is very hard.” Again, very simple language but so loaded with meaning and emotion.
- “Why are you wasting your time on junkies? We only hurt ourselves… Not like breaking one of the 10 commandments.” There’s a growing fan theory that John is the 10 Commandments Killer and has been effectively hunting himself. That would certainly tally with some events, and this line from Sally isn’t so much loaded as buckling under the weight of implication. But, for all that, I hope he’s not. John as a good man in a bad place is a lot more interesting than John as a serial killer waiting to come out of his chrysalis.
- “I don’t know who I am if I’m not your mother.” “Honestly if that is really true, you should kill yourself. You should do it even if it isn’t.” Just huge amounts of venom and obligation and love behind every line Donovan and Iris hurl at one another. If John is the lead in a detective thriller, these two are the cast of a lost Arthur Miller play and none of them are in the right, or safe, place.
- “Who the hell are you?” “Now you’re asking the wrong question. What you should be asking is who WAS I?” Ramona’s not only huge fun, she’s also an interesting exploration of the consequences of immortality. A woman with the resources to keep herself alive and in blood, she’s the first of the Contessa’s pre-Donovan creations we’ve seen. But how many more are there? Is Ramona leading an army?
- “I’d come to Hollywood with barely a high school education and no prospects. It wasn’t long before I was a star.” Another tiny, beautiful, grimly funny line.
- “And I’ve got a floppy appendage between my legs that keeps me from wearing pencil skirts. We all have our flaws… kitten.” Liz Taylor gets about three lines an episode. They are usually amazing. This is no exception.
- By the way, Liz’s reference to Laurence Harvey could be one of two people. Laurence Harvey was an actor who was Academy Award-nominated in 1959 but whose later career was very turbulent. Alternately, it may be a nod to Larry Harvey, the burned man who played a vital role in the first season
- Angela Bassett, who joins the cast this episode, is of course an AHS alumni. She’s also got a massive track record crammed full of excellent work. Her turn in Strange Days, which is now rather endearingly a period drama, is especially great. More recently, fans of Gerard Butler and/or Milla Jovovich blowing things up will have seen her in Olympus Has Fallen and Survivor.
- Bernie Madoff, the investor who bankrupted the Countess, is real. He’s also currently serving 150 years in prison for running an epically vast Ponzi scheme which led to $65 billion in losses for his clients. He’s a nice grace note here too, showing that while the Countess is immortal, she’s not infallible.
Review by Alasdair Stuart