American Horror Story: Hotel S05E08 “The 10 Commandments Killer” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: Ryan Murphy
Director: Loni Peristere
Essential Plot Points:
- After Wren dies, John goes to the Cortez and demands answers from Liz. Still grieving over the murder of Tristan, she’s in no mood and the imminent fight is only broken up by Sally telling John she’ll show him where the 10 Commandments Killer is.
- She takes him to his room.
- There, he pulls the Armoire back to reveal a sealed trophy room filled with grisly trophies from the Killer’s victims. As John’s mind starts to fracture, he realises the truth; he’s the killer.
- John goes to the morgue to confess to his long-suffering partner, Detective Hahn. John explains he first went to the Cortez in 2010 after the hideous case they caught involving a father accidentally killing his family. Desperate for a drink, he wandered inside.
- There, Sally and Donovan both attempt to prey on him and John eventually agrees to go upstairs. He meets March who, despite it being the one night a month he’s allowed with his wife, is intrigued. The two men talk and March begs the Countess to help him take John. He offers her the detective’s children and she accepts.
- John begins to visit the Cortez regularly, conducting an affair with Sally and dining with March often. The dead psychopath gradually persuades John to kill in his name, and his first victim, Martin Gamboa, is revealed to be a pedophile. John tracks him down, beats him to death with an Oscar and returns twice more; once to clean the scene and once to “investigate” it.
- He then goes to the Cortez and tries to hang himself. March saves him and screams at Sally for not doing anything. He mentions the demon she holds at bay as the hideous creature flicks in and out of existence around them.
- Once John recovers, March shows him the murder room and asks him to finish the 10 Commandments killings.
- In the present day, Hahn tries to reason with his friend, explaining that Sally and March were both dead years before John went to the Cortez for the first time. He brings up the man John pursued at one crime scene and John tells him that was himself, manifesting in March’s clothing.
- In the past we see John bemoaning the affair he believes Hahn is having with his wife, even as he and Sally have sex.
- In the present day, John murders Hahn.
- John returns to the Cortez where he talks to Iris who is hugely relieved she no longer has to figure out which John is which.
- He goes upstairs with a blood-soaked paper bag and he and March mount Hahn’s testicles on a plinth in the murder room. They embrace as the 10 Commandments Killer vows to kill twice more.
On the one hand, what the HELL took you so long?! On the other, WOW.
The world’s most dogged and least observant homicide investigator gets an entire episode to himself this week and it’s not before time. Wes Bentley has been one of the best elements of this show but his plot has been running on the spot for at least one week if not two. Now, at last, we get closure on the 10 Commandments Killer and it’s both exactly what you’re expecting and so, so much worse.
This episode really serves two functions; the first is to blow the top off the 10 Commandments case and the second is to show just how insidious and far-reaching the Cortez has become. Everything in John’s life, for the last five years, can be traced to the Cortez and specifically to March and the Countess. That single, awful case we heard him mention earlier in the season drove him even further off the rails than we, or he, thought. He ended up at the Cortez and, from there, in three different kinds of trouble.
The scene where John first enters the hotel is a perfect demonstration of just how dangerous this environment is. He’s cornered without realising it, Liz in front of him, Sally on one side, Donovan on the other. The image is predatory; a confused, wounded animal unaware or uncaring of the killers closing in on him.
What really drives it home, though, is who John ends up with. The idea of him being a disciple of March is bad enough but how he gets there is chilling. John doesn’t know, or care, how much danger he’s in and even when he meets March that’s apparent. The dead psychopath is on top form this week too, and the show continues to peel back the layers of his urbane civility. The fact John enters the Cortez is bad. The fact he does so on the one night that the Countess and March dine every month is so much worse. In fact, there’s a case for arguing that if John had simply been killed by any other hotel resident he would have been better off. Instead, showing the rare depth and compassion his work is known for, we see Evan Peters’ March turn him into a protégé and worse still, a surrogate. March is incapable of leaving the hotel so he takes a good, broken man and turns him into a murderous puppet.
If the show had stopped there it would be bad enough, but it only gets darker. The Countess’s brief, pivotal appearance here provides context for why Holden was taken; payment. He was the price March paid for John, a toy that he readily shares in order to get what he wants.
In other words, every single thing that’s gone wrong in the lives of John and Alex Lowe can be traced back to March and the Countess. The loss of Holden, the collapse of the marriage, John’s alcoholism. The only thing that isn’t locked into them, yet, is the murder that initially pushed John over the edge and that in turn only makes the series even darker. Having these monsters hiding behind their faded neon sign is bad enough. Having them waiting for good people on their absolute worst day is almost unbearable.
Finally, there’s Sally who gets some brief and fascinating screen time here. The implication is that she sincerely loves John and is genuinely upset to see him in such pain at the start of the episode. But she’s also prepared to send a young girl to her death to protect him and, worse still, there’s the demon constantly following her around, flicking in and out of shot. Sally is the show’s last great untapped resource and will probably be a huge part of the series finale. Either that or she’s simply another lost soul whose story isn’t quite important enough to tell fully. This is the Cortez after all, and anything’s possible here. An overdue but fantastic capstone to one of the series’ main plots. Bring on the endgame.
- “SHE knows it!” I had to check this twice because it’s so unexpected and so SO great. When John cooks off at the start of the episode he yells at both Liz and Sally. He specifically, absolutely, calls Liz “SHE”. In other words, a show where a transsexual character could so, so easily have been the butt of every God awful joke treats her with so much respect that even the lead/psychotic serial killer treats her like who she is: a woman. That’s so classy I can’t fully articulate it. Massive thanks, and congratulations, to all.
- Iris being relieved at no longer having to play “Which John Am I Talking To Today?” is another tiny moment of this show at its best. Mundane and funny and adorable and chilling.
- “Nobody let him in. He had a KEY.” After being essentially benched for a couple of weeks, Sarah Paulson is fantastic here. Her clear heartbreak as John learns the truth and the mix of compassion and ruthlessness she brings to her scenes are just amazing.
- “You should send a bottle of scotch to your friend, Hahn. He tried to cover for you. At least for the first day and a half.” After a couple of episodes of somnolent, fulfilled Alex it’s a real shock to see her how she was. Chloe Sevigny’s done great work all season and this episode reveals the brave thing the show has asked her to do; effectively pull the character’s teeth the moment she gets what she wants.
- “Of course you weren’t cheating. If you were you’d have called and lied about where you were.” It’s successful too, although I have to be honest, I like this Alex.
- “He has children.” Three words and the awful, coiled nature of the relationship between March and the Countess is revealed. As well as just how far down the rabbit hole John has fallen…
- “It’s surprising how delicious a little cruelty can taste.” It’s looking increasingly likely that our time with Evers is largely done and that’s a real shame. That being said, she’s still getting some great lines, of which this is one.
- “His voice was like a sliver of silk thread. A thin strand wrapped around my head before burrowing inside me with his idea.” He’s been so buttoned down and so endlessly, desperately dutiful that it would have been easy for him to pull John entirely off the rails once the truth hits. Instead we get that same detective’s mind, turned with ruthless efficiency on himself. John knows what’s been done to him. He can’t change it. That’s one of the true moments of horror in the show.
- The one thing this series has done a little wrong, for me, is the lopsided plotting. We waited a couple of weeks more than we should for this plot to pay off and now the main plots are sitting on their hands for a week while this one gets up to speed. It’s not a major problem but in a show that dances around this well, every minor misstep is going to be noticed.
- Vampire children. Released into the wild. Anyone remember that?
- Richard T Jones has cornered the market in good, dutiful cops who awful things tend to happen to. Bless him. He’s recently been in both last year’s Godzilla and Super 8, but you probably know him best as both agent James Ellison in the amazingly great Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles or Cooper in Event Horizon.
- Shot of the week is this glorious, horrifying moment where John is in so much trouble and notices absolutely none of it.
Review by Alasdair Stuart