American Horror Story: Hotel S05E10 “She Gets Revenge” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: James Wong
Director: Bradley Buecker
Essential Plot Points
- Liz watches the guests come and go at the Cortez and begins to realise just how sad she is. Helping Iris clean up after an old couple kill themselves on site, she breaks down and admits she wants to kill herself. Iris agrees to join her. Liz bribes Evers with detergent to help out after Evers tells her that her son is coming to the hotel.
- John has killed again, and is admiring his work. He talks to March in one of the murder rooms and March agrees to arrange a reunion with Alex. The former couple snipe at one another until Alex tells John about the vampire children and how badly she needs help.
- Elsewhere, Valentino’s wife confronts the Countess at the hotel and Donovan visits Valentino at his motel. No one is present at a Holiday Inn, and therefore, ‘Say what?!’ is not uttered at any point. However, both the Valentinos die in very similar ways, as Donovan and the Countess gun them down.
- Downstairs Liz is reunited with her son. Douglas is revealed to be a gentle, softly spoken man trying to work out how to go into business for himself and mildly apprehensive about meeting with his father. Liz, thinking she hasn’t been recognised, bonds with him.
- Out in the real world, the Worst Parents Ever track the vampire kids down and persuade them to come to the hotel. They get most of them to enter the fortified wing voluntarily but when one smells a rat, they throw him and lock the door. This not only proves them worthy of their title but gives Ramona a light snack.
- Upstairs, Will’s ghost embarrasses the Countess as she declares him missing. She covers her tracks and the two argue over his murder. Will points out the Countess isn’t named in his will. The Countess points out Lachlan is. Will leaves, fuming.
- John and Alex sleep together, Alex commenting that her husband is more attractive now he’s at peace with himself. She leaves, admitting that she may be reconsidering the end of their relationship. Sally appears, tries to seduce John back to her but fails. She attacks him, is disarmed and screams tearfully that he’ll be back as he leaves to be with his wife and son and their long neglected daughter.
- Iris and Liz buy Evers a washer and dryer as a going away present and she’s beside herself with joy. Evers mentions Liz’s son is back in the bar and the two men meet again. Douglas admits that he knows who his father is and makes it clear he’s happy to have Liz in his life. The bartender, newly hopeful, is too moved to speak.
- Upstairs Donovan and the Countess have dinner and he mockingly makes it clear he murdered Valentino. The Countess goes to the motel, finds the body and breaks down.
- Liz and Iris get ready to die, Iris even making her own tribute video. When she sees Liz’s new-found hope she accuses her friend of backing out. Instead, Liz suggests they take the hotel for themselves and make it something genuinely worthwhile.
- John and Alex rescue Holden and leave with him as Sally screams that she’ll kill John.
- The Countess returns to find Donovan celebrating. She explains she’s been trying to remake Valentino for decades. Donovan explains that he’s happy dying if that’s the only she can love him. Then, just as they’re about to reconcile or murder each other, Liz and Iris burst in, guns blazing.
Remember how we were worried that there wouldn’t be time left in the episodes remaining to fit everything in that needs fitting in.
We’re not worried anymore. Even better: Liz is in the spotlight this episode! Hurray!
Everyone’s favourite bartender has been in the background since Tristan was killed but is back in a big way here. Also a subtle, clever way. She and Iris are the two forgotten victims of the Cortez; women who have been trapped there because they’ve felt there’s nowhere else to go. Now, suddenly they have a way out; suicide.
It’s dealt with in such a head-on manner that what could have been “A Very Special Episode” of American Horror Story becomes a genuinely impressive and clever one. There’s a lot of comedy in the suicide plotline – especially Iris’ magnificent tribute video – but there’s real darkness too. These ladies have come to the end of the road and death really seems to make the most sense.
Until Liz’s son reconciles with her. This is where the episode sings, Josh Braaten and Denis O’Hare finding real subtlety and emotion in the middle of an episode featuring vampire children and Rudolph Valentino being shot in the face. Even better there’s no tearful reconciliation, just two men who are both mature enough to try their relationship again getting ready to do so. Which throws Operation Suicide into chaos. But does lead to the best closing shot this show will ever do.
Elsewhere life continues to be awful for the two central couples in the show. John and Alex have been the weak link at times but here, at last, the show is giving them a chance to see just how awful they are. The fact they’re more functional as a vampire and a serial killer than they ever were as a cop and a doctor provides a constant bass note of horror for their scenes.
They’re together, focused, interesting and not human. It’s a smart evolution for what was the show’s weakest plot for a time and having them head off the vampire childpocalypse is great. Having them throw the kids into the locked wing and hope no one ever goes in is better and the kids serving as Ramona’s snack is flat-out inspired.
Finally, the Countess and Donovan are still awful people but awful people who are increasingly fun to watch. Donovan’s near-perfect mirror of the Countess’s murder style is a lovely visual tic showing how in sync they are but it’s their final scene together that really sparks. The revelation that the Countess has been trying to recreate Valentino is especially clever but, yet again, she isn’t the winner. That’s Donovan, whose inspired game playing has brought him to the same destination as Liz and his mother; he needs to be set free and he’ll die for it if he has to. And, based on that final shot, he might…
This is a great episode that hits the accelerator and never slows down. We get a ton of great Liz and Iris material, the best Evers scenes we’ve had all season and a very clear idea of what the end game will be. And honestly? My money is on Liz and Iris. Place your bets and we’ll see you back here in the New Year.
- Every single moment between Liz and her son is perfect. This show has done remarkable things with a character who would have been ignored or ridden over anywhere else. It’s cleverly structured too, Liz’s reunion filled with the anger and resentment that her son feels but also the distance of age and maturity. Even cleverer is how it becomes the way out Liz thinks suicide will be. A chance not for her life at the Cortez to end but to improve. Hope, for the first time in far too long.
- John being more attractive when he’s “together” is chilling. And accurate – he’s way less whiny now he’s accepted his dark side.
- Liz and Iris bribing Evers with modern cleaning tools is maybe my favorite thing this show has ever done. It’s sold by Mare Winningham’s absolute glee and by the delightful shot of awful that runs through the comedy. These are two broken down, angry women bribing a dead friend for help with a new washing machine. And it works. The Cortez may be on the street but it’s a long way from home.
- It’s just struck us how much the Countess enjoys formal dining. That’s oddly sweet and a subtle throwback to the time period she grew up in.
- March’s remarkably chipper murder of the contractor is the most casual homicide we’ve seen of all season.
- “I lost interest long ago in whatever you claimed to be.” This line is a standout in an amazingly choreographed scene. In the space of minutes it goes from friendly to spiteful to well-meaningly bigoted and back again. Just amazing work.
- “I have better cheekbones anyway.” Donovan lashes out, ironically, in the exact same way as his creator. Matt Bomer has been weirdly underserved at times but he’s done great things with what he’s been given. This line is no exception.
- “You told me Holden was a hallucination.”
“That was a lie.”
“You tried to make me think I was going crazy.”
“Well, that was the truth.” The confrontation between the world’s worst parents is surprisingly cordial but there’s rage and hurt behind every one of these perfectly chosen words.
- “No excuses. We abandoned her. We’re the world’s worst parents.”
“At least that’s one thing we can agree on.” This is a lovely moment because it’s a rare acknowledgement by these two monsters of just what they are. Plus Scarlett may actually get to live. Just two episodes, kid! You can do it!
- “I don’t kill children but I could make him a blood relative.” So much threat and hypocrisy in one tiny, again perfectly turned out, line of dialogue.
- “You’re a lot smarter than you ever were alive try and keep it that way.” And again here. Will gets his little moment of victory and then gets shut down, hard. The Countess may be embattled but she’s still the nastiest shark in the tank.
- “Mama smells appetisers.” Ramona’s only line in the episode is three words long and still one of the best.
- “Dad. It’s not difficult. Or…it doesn’t have to be.” Again such a lot of emotion behind such a small line.
- “Plenty of room for another woman in my life.” And this too. Plus O’Hare’s reaction is perfect. Shock, gratitude, joy and embarrassment all in a few second of pitch perfect silent acting.
- “I wasn’t sure what we landed on so I just put out a selection.” Iris there, treating suicide like a finger food spread at a dinner party.
- “I wanted it to be a beacon of hope for my three followers of Instagram.” Bless your heart, Iris.
- “He’s exactly how I remember him.”
“And that’s exactly how he’ll stay.” This episode is crammed full of beautiful lines and this, hinting that Alex has started to realise just how hollow immortality is, is no exception.
- “I do care. I just don’t mind. Dying is the only way you’ll let me love you.” Donovan the games player. Getting away, just maybe, with killing the love of his love’s life by being just like her.
- “Hotline Bling” by Drake is the song Donovan is dancing to at the end because sometimes even very smart, very switched-on drama series run headlong into a hideous reference that will date them massively inside a year.
- No Lachlan or Scarlett although the episode seems to suggest both will be front and centre in the final act of the season.
- The double murder is conducted to “This Corrosion” by The Sisters Of Mercy. Which, as a gothtastic theme song for the elegant corruption of The Countess and Donovan’s souls, is pretty spot on.
- You’ve seen Josh Braaten who does such great work as Douglas here, in any number of other places. He’s appeared in CSI: Miami, That 80’s Show, Spin City, Boston Legal, Psych, The Ex List and Criminal Minds amongst others.
- The episode is written by James Wong. Wong is one of the architects of some of the best series drama of the last two decades through his work with writing partner Glenn Morgan on The X-Files, Millennium and Space: Above And Beyond. He also directed Final Destination and Final Destination 3 as well as Jet Li alternate universe punchfest The One.
- Shot of the episode can only be this; Liz and Iris going in, or maybe out, all guns blazing.
Review by Alasdair Stuart