American Horror Story: Hotel S05E06 “Room 33” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: John J Gray
Director: Loni Peristere
Essential Plot Points:
- Flashback time – to season one! Turns out the Countess went to the Murder House for an off-the-books abortion. Her “son” was an horrific demonic creature that survived the process and killed one of Doctor Montgomery’s nurses. She named it Bartholomew. Awww.
- In the present day, John wakes to find Holden by his bed. The giggling boy leads him to the coffins where he sees Alex and blacks out. Alex goes to Liz for advice and they move the coffins before John wakes up. When he does, Alex claims John was hallucinating.
- Elsewhere, Liz and Tristan are, it turns out, very much in love. In a surprisingly tender and honest scene Liz thanks the world’s most thick-headed Zoolander-alike for “seeing the girl” and in doing so makes him infinitely more likeable than he’s been at any point prior to this.
- Meanwhile upstairs the Countess is having remarkably unsuccessful sex with Will Drake. It’s not really taking so she gets Tristan to “fluff” him up. Despite his reluctance, Tristan does so.
- Bartholomew the Demon Baby is kept in Room 33 and the Countess goes to see him before heading off to Paris with Will.
- Once she’s gone, Donovan and Ramona come to the hotel to murder the children. Ramona goes to the basement and is disgusted to find the coffins moved. She chats with Iris, impressed by her new lease on (un)life and disgusted by Donovan not wanting to murder the kids. Then, she heads up to Room 33 to kill Bartholomew.
- In the penthouse, Donovan runs into the ghosts of the two Swedish tourists from episode one. He explains to them that they’re trapped in the hotel now but can at least find a purpose there. He illustrates this with a story of Kara, a teacher who killed herself in the building and now enjoys eternity terrifying guests.
- Ramona gets attacked by Bartholomew who escapes. Liz tends her wounds and the two old friends chat, with Liz admitting that she’s in love.
- Alex meets the Swedish ghosts, both near-foetal with horror near a dead body. A flashback reveals they both killed him and had sex with him, enjoying both. Alex sets them on John. They have horrific, bloody sex which culminates in John fleeing the hotel in terror and returning home.
- This goes as well as you might expect. Scarlett barely talks to her dad, who barely notices that both he and his wife have abandoned one of their children. He’s hardly done reassuring her when he’s firing at Bartholomew the demon baby who stowed away in his suitcase. Scarlett freaks out, entirely understandably, and Alex asks John’s old partner to look after. He does so and, hopefully, the pair of them go off to a kinder, nicer series where they can fight crime or something.
- After being thrown out by John, Alex finds an injured Bartholomew in the bushes.
- Back at the Cortez, Liz admits she’s in love with Tristan. The Countess seems to take it well after some reluctance and agrees to talk to Tristan. She has drinks with the two of them, explains that she will not stand for betrayal and kills Tristan telling Liz, “He’s yours. Bury him.”
- The Countess leaves to visit her child and finds Alex tending him. Awestruck by the other woman’s kindness, the Countess thanks her for saving her child. Alex replies that she did the same.
We’re on the home strait now and stuff’s starting to fall into place. A couple of plots get major advances here and the rest run in place. Here’s how that shakes down.
The Countess’s fall from whatever she thinks grace is takes up the lion’s share of the episode. This is the Countess as we’ve not been allowed to see her before: cold-eyed and brutal. The scene where she intimidates Tristan into having sex with Will is one of the series’ more unsettling moments but it’s the final scene with Liz and Tristan where she kills it.
The kind, compassionate woman of the last episode is revealed to be an amoral toymaker. A feline presence who builds new toys, bats them around until she gets bored then puts them away again. In an especially subtle moment it’s implied that Liz has lasted this long because she’s not opted for a sex change operation or vampirism. She’s incomplete, the Countess can’t get bored of her.
But she can betray her. I’ve been very hard on Tristan because he was both a bad character and frequently a part of the slowest elements of any given episode. Here, Finn Wittrock is finally given stuff to do and runs with it. We see Tristan’s painful awareness of who he is, what he’s done. We see him transformed by a relationship we’re in the presence of for precisely 50 minutes and it absolutely should not work. It does and you care desperately about him, right up until the point he’s killed.
That offhand slaughter in turn informs the Donovan and Ramona plot. The Countess really is a monster and, unlike Bartholomew, her monster children are coming home to kill her. It’s a nice touch that Ramona simply walks in, and an even nicer one that she and Liz are friends. The war is coming and I honestly expect none of these people to come out alive. Even if one or two of them, Liz in particular, might just deserve to.
So the centre of this episode is a really smart, improbably affecting tragic romance that shows us just what a monster the Countess is. The rest is honestly something of a mess.
John shows up to do the same thing John’s done for weeks now with the added bonus of a remarkably nasty sex scene. Alex gets even less to do, and for the first time Chloe Sevigny’s measured, level delivery hurts the character. She plays as flat rather than bored by what’s going on and that, combined with John’s shriek-o-rama makes what was once the central plot of this show a dull sideline. Some closure here soon, please, very soon.
The real honkers come with the ghost plots though. Donovan’s explanation of the hotel is great but the Swedish tourists seem to have no purpose in the series than to get naked and sexmurder male guests. The fact they at least seem horrified by this is interesting but it’s undercut by the vast majority of their behaviour. AHS is a series that’s never shied away from sex and it never should. But for the first time this series it felt perfunctory and vaguely annoying. To make matters worse, the Kara story, as discussed below, feels like an excuse to point and laugh rather than actually move any of the stories along.
Oh and no vampire child apocalypse this week either.
With four episodes to go the pacing is starting to pick up but it’s very uneven. There’s some great stuff here, especially the Finn (who knew!?) and Liz scenes but the rest feels like its marking time. Here’s to the pace picking up next week.
- The Liz and Tristan love story has a near impossible job. It asks you to believe these two characters, who’ve barely shared screen time, are desperately in love. And, amazingly, it manages it. Wittrock and O’Hare do stunning work, especially in their first season together and Hu’s script gives them both plenty to work with.
- The scene between O’Hare and Gaga is amazing, Liz’s courage and sweet human honesty a stark contrast to the Countess’ apparent sweetness. The ending is, of course, what it was always going to be but the fallout from it should be intense. Likewise Lady Gaga does amazing work, especially in the final scenes.
- The explanation for what the Cortez does to the dead is really interesting, coding the transitional nature of hotels into the ephemeral nature of the ghosts that haunt it. Which makes the Kara story even more of a vast misstep.
- The show teases a full bore, Evil Dead-style Wes Bentley vs Demon Baby fight and then shows us nothing. NOTHING. BOO!
- John. Just get it done. Seriously. Wes Bentley, bless him, has been looking startled and strung out for weeks now. Give the little chap something more to do.
- Kara’s story is five straight minutes of bad. Here’s why:
- Firstly it’s a bad story. She killed herself in the hotel and… found purpose by doing what every ghost does? Wow.
- Secondly the reference to the water tasting funny is a thinly veiled nod to the death of Elisa Lam in the hotel the Cortez was based on. That’s a little close to the knuckle for a death that’s just over two years old.
- Thirdly, and most importantly, is there any reason for Kara to be a plus-sized lady besides fat-shaming? Because if there is I’m not seeing it and if there isn’t that’s a major misstep.
And The Random:
- “How hard is it to get some GOD DAMN KALE AROUND HERE?!” Darren Criss gets a single line this episode (well he is dead) but DAMN it’s a good one.
- “Until you find a purpose you will be stuck in an unbreakable chain. Repeating yourselves over and over again.” Ghosts as recordings. The hotel as a place to at least distract yourself. Subtle and nasty in a way that a TV show featuring a monstrous demon baby really isn’t expected to be.
- “Don’t take this from me! This is MY BREAKDOWN and I’m gonna have it!” John Lowe finally loses it. It’s about damn time.
- “John! Good to see you’re finally truly checking into the Hotel Cortez!” Thanks Evil Dead Quicksilver! Evan Peters is glorious in this series. I hope we see more of him before the end.
- “Time PASSES FOR ME. You mention decades by the changes in hemlines…” Just a glorious, well turned piece of dialogue.
- “When you are what I am you don’t feel things the way normal humans do. An emotion’s like flavour in my mouth I can taste it. Joy tastes like strawberries; hate tastes like ice chips in a martini; and love… love is water. I enjoy them all except one: Betrayal. That has the taste of char on a piece of burnt meat.” Again, the fact that the Countess is a sensation junkie is a lovely, subtle little grace note.
- “Judging by how quickly you turned your nose up at an evening of backgammon and rose, to welcome you no less, I’m really not your girl.” Never change, Liz.
- “It’s a whole new you.” “Damn straight it is.” Iris doesn’t get much this episode but her newfound bounce should make the last few episodes really good fun.
- “Thank you, for seeing the girl.” Line of the episode. So sweet and honest and so nuanced in its explanation of Liz, her place on the LGBT spectrum and how comfortable she is there.
Review by Alasdair Stuart