American Horror Story: Hotel S05E09 “She Wants Revenge” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: Brad Falchuk
Director: Michael Uppendahl
Essential Plot Points:
- The Countess reflects on how she’s been done wrong and comes to two conclusions: she is very, very angry and things are going to change.
- She talks Will into having the wedding almost straight away and is surprised and offended when Liz refuses to help.
- She gets a call from a private eye who’s found Valentino and is reunited with her original love. She’s also reunited with Donovan who it turns out is actually working for her. OR IS HE?
- Meanwhile Iris has a new-found lease on (not quite) life. She cheerfully murders two amateur pornographers working in the hotel and is amazed and delighted when Donovan interrupts her. He says that he’s pretending to be back but is still working for Ramona.
- Donovan takes Ramona the one porno actor still standing and they get talking. She explains that the 20 years between the Countess throwing her out and her seeking revenge were taken up with her going home. She lived with her parents again and, when her mother died and her father began to lose his mind, she turned him to save his life.
- However, instead of making him better it only stopped him getting worse. Unable to hunt or fully understand what he was, her father was “trapped in amber”. She euthanised him and returned to her revenge plot. Donovan tells her that he’s drugged the Countess and the time is rife for revenge.
- At the Cortez, the Countess instructs Iris to find Batholomew. Elsewhere, Will explains to his son that he’s marrying the Countess and Evers tries to warn him off. She explains she was in love with March and the Countess stole him. Will orders her to leave and she does so, telling him he will be in immense pain at some point soon and she will enjoy refusing to help.
- The Countess reveals her plans for the wing that March imprisoned Valentino inside. She’s turning it into a panic room and March is horrified when she tells him their time together is finally done. He’s enraged.
- Meanwhile, the worst Nanny in human history realises that the homeless man killed by a gang of kids that the news has been talking about might be something to do with her. She tracks the kids down, in mid-murder spree and realises just how magnificently she’s screwed up. She persuades them to come to the Cortez where something could possibly be done.
- Ramona and Donovan go to kill the Countess. Except she’s not drugged! TWIST! Donovan tasers Ramona and puts her in the weird neon feeding cages from episode one (we’ve missed them). Iris is horrified at her son’s choices but he’s unrepentant.
- The Countess reunites with Valentino and immediately begins plotting to remove his wife. She also admits that she’s been trying to recreate him for decades.
- Back at the Cortez the wedding begins with no guests and no fanfare. The Countess gives Liz, still terrified and furious at her, her bouquet. March visits Will and takes him upstairs to see Bartholmew. Horrified, Will is disgusted by the baby and the Countess knocks him out.
- Will and Ramona wake up in the newly sealed “vault”. Ramona cuts Will’s throat and feeds on him. Evers appears and smiles as Will dies. The Countess watches on the newly installed CCTV
There’s a wonderful visual tick that defines this episode. For about the first 20 minutes, scenes either start or finish with the Countess, looking off shot, seething. Rage comes off her in waves and combined with the articulate and hypocritical monologue it gives you a real insight into this woman. Yes she’s been horribly wronged. Yes she’s been misled for decades.
Yes, she’s a monster.
That monster, sitting at the centre of a web of violence and lies, is starting to lash out, too. War comes to the Cortez this week, waged on multiple fronts and, so far, with a modicum of civility. That won’t last.
Gaga is phenomenally good here and Falchuk’s script gives her a huge amount to do. As well as the Donovan quadruple cross and the world’s least romantic wedding we get a reunion with Valentino and the two scenes with Liz. There’s a lot of plot there but there’s also a huge amount of character work and this episode gives us the most complete version of the Countess we’ve seen. It also shows us her one weakness, the one she simply cannot see: she believes she’s right.
In the Countess’ eyes she’s a tragic heroine. She’s partially right too. But looked at from the point of view of Liz, or poor doomed horrifically underwritten Will, she’s a monster. The strength of the script lies in its willingness to show us everything. The strength of the character is in how morally complex she is and how blind she is to that fact.
Elsewhere we get some fun stuff too. Ramona’s flashback seems a touch self-indulgent at this point but it’s genuinely heartbreaking and real in exactly the way the amazing vanishing vampire kids haven’t been. It makes perfect sense for her to go home and even more sense for her parents to just assume she had “plastic surgery”. Most cruel, and sad, of all, though, is the limitations of the virus. The scenes with her father, not quite dying but certainly not living, are among the series’ most poignant.
But while everything in this episode is good, a lot of it also feels rushed. The bizarre choice to tease the 10 Commandments Killer plot out means that everything that’s been mostly ignored for the last couple of episodes comes crashing back in. As a result the episode is incident-heavy but feels a little like it’s playing at double speed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but with several episodes still to go here’s hoping every plot gets a decent amount of screen time. Because if not the next three weeks are going to be exhausting.
But hey, at least Evers will be busy. Because all the dirty laundry is about to be aired…
- Will, who has had very little to do at times for a character so central to the main plot, has a beautiful moment with his son this episode. Lachlan, perhaps confused by his own lack of screen time, points out this his dad is marrying a woman. Given that Will’s made it pretty clear he likes guys, this is confusing. Will explains, with real tenderness and patience, that he’s bisexual and what that means. Like John calling Liz “she” last episode it’s understated and subtle and, like that moment, it’s the most progressive and welcome thing you’ll see on tv this week.
- This entire episode is about women kicking ass. The Countess’s refusal to let her life be the sham it’s been, Liz’s refusal to fall back in line, Evers telling the truth about her love for March, Alex cleaning up her mess and BatIris, the heroine the Cortez both needs and absolutely deserves. Nicely done.
- “Get your own damn flowwweeerrsss!” The delivery on this line has to be heard to be believed. Just amazing venom.
- “Sorry, douchebag convention’s over at the Hilton.” Iris giving not one single damn. Awesome.
- “No one survives her… So be it. One day very soon you will understand. You will know nothing but pain and I will be there. And you will reach out to me for help and mercy and in return I will watch you die with a smile on my face, Because I will know when you are gone I will get the chance to clean the blood and shit out of that pretty formal wear of yours.” This whole scene was amazingly well done and Evers’s back story now seems both complete and even more tragic. Plus, Evers and Liz really should hang out more. They’re both strong, tough women who’ve struggled with the consequences of being in the Countess’s orbit.
- “But neurons are not cuts and a diseased brain is not a broken bone.” Again the extended flashback worked beautifully and, like the reveal that the Countess has been trying to remake Valentino, gave real emotional weight to Ramona.
- “You killed the pizza delivery guy! In about 30 minutes they’re going to know he went missing!” Alex, it turns out, is an idiot, as her accidental child vampocalypse shows. But this line is AMAZING.
- “We’ll starve!” “I won’t.” Never, ever mess with a hungry vampire.
- Great as last week was, this feels like shifting up two gears without bothering with the one in the middle. The vampocalypse stuff in particular really needed to be dealt with a couple of weeks ago and the counterpoint between Valentino, patiently waiting for plot to arrive in a dingy motel, and the Donovan/Ramona/Iris plot felt clunky and forced.
- Hey remember Will! HE’S DEAD NOW. That sort of abrupt tonal change feels untidy and this show, at its best, is anything but untidy.
- What will Sally and the 10 Commandments Killer have to say about all this?
- The episode is named after She Wants Revenge, who’s song “Tear You Apart” played over the first Countess and Donovan scene. Awww, bless.
- Speaking of music, “Blue Monday” by New Order is playing over the scene where Stormcock (whose first name, we choose to believe, is Rupert) is shooting his movie. A touch on the nose but always a pleasure to hear. Later, New Romantic ultra anthem “Fade To Grey” by Visage is playing in the bar too.
- Shot of the episode is the very first one. The Countess surrounded by the dwindling lie of her time in the Cortez and faced with the black void of the unknown. Or at the very least, the world’s most horrifying fixer upper opportunity.
Review by Alasdair Stuart