“We have two selves…”
What a mess. The fifth episode of American Horror Story: Hotel entitled, “Room Service” has all of the free flowing blood one could ask for, but it is regrettably light on constructing the necessary human touch that would make all of this violent chaos momentous. Apparently, AHS has two selves as well: one that relies heavily of gratuitous mayhem for thrills and one that takes the time to frame these horrific acts of violence into a rational context. This hour marks a cluttered middle ground between the two. The episode stuffs as much flashy narrative as it can into its time frame, ignoring any real structure and simply pulling from whatever source of potential story they can. “Room Service” has a lot to say, but does so in erratic bursts and hoarse whispers, making for a truly unbalanced experience only held together (barely) by a thinly shared theme.
Alex continues to make the worst decisions in the vain of making things right—as if she’d do anything to get her simplicity back. We see the true consequences of this fatal flaw when she saves a young dying patient who then goes on his own personal killing spree even creating a horde of crafty vampire brats. This entire spectacle plays as a tense yet awing set piece that in reality is much less fun than it wants to be. However, it does set forth a potentially exciting plot point which should soon produce a large ripple effect. This is sure to be a caveat for something larger down the road. But Alex doesn’t care, or she isn’t look to. Alex’s true objective is to have an eternity with her son, Holden. Everything else is just a hurdle to cross on the way there. As such, she continues to be the only character for which I cannot predict her actions. One thing is for sure; her actions are the ones that have really given this season a much needed plot push forward. In the meantime, even with her deal with the devil a.k.a Countess Elizabeth, Alex has what she wants. For now.
With Iris now infected with this vampire virus, Donovan finds new use in his mother, and so does Ramona. Iris is appointed as their inside man, setting into motion (finally) the plan to take down The Countess. “I don’t know if that’s Oedipal or just mercenary.” Either way, it’s apparent that any thrills which come out of it will be conveniently withheld. The problem with this plot line is that it spends too much time luxuriating in its own machinations, which at this point are non-existent. What is Iris supposed to be doing exactly? This isn’t answered, but we do get a look into Iris’s own plights. There are several points in the episode where characters dismiss her as invisible or useless in some way. Women over fifty (hell, over forty) are often treated as if their worth has flown out the window and they are left a shell. Iris wrestles with this fact but, with a little introspection, courtesy of Liz Taylor herself, Iris finds some confidence in spilling the blood of a highly undesirable hipster couple. It’s a rewarding experience that is unfortunately a bit too rushed and thus the full weight of Iris’s pain and new potential to regain some vitality in her life are felt just in spontaneous spurts. Kathy Bates gives it her all with what is written and succeeds—it’s a shame the episode’s haphazard direction can’t keep up with her.
Still infinitely more satisfying is the reveal of Liz Taylor’s own backstory. As rushed and conventionally contrived as this character’s history turns out to be, it solidifies itself as one significant to the times. It’s also the part of the episode that really helps tie this unbalanced episode together, elucidating on this theme of two separate selves. It’s strange that this is perhaps the campiest segment of the episode when compared to the rest of it, which does contain brief meditative moments and elongated scenes of seriously violent chaos. The episode’s atmosphere switches too rapidly to convey the action onscreen with a sense of organic thrill. With this said, the revealed companionship between Liz Taylor and The Countess has some poignant moments and helps soften up the often hard Elizabeth a bit. At least before she (justly) slaughters two homophobes. She seems keen on having everyone embrace their shadow. Maybe a bit too keen for anyone else’s good but her own.
Any other plot developments in the episode come across as mere afterthoughts, especially when we catch up a bit with John Lowe, who more and more is losing track of his time and his mind. The killer experience he had from last week’s installment has him in a tough spot—fired from the police force and spiraling. Somehow he ends up in bed with Hypodermic Sally. These two have a strange attraction to one another that recurs too often to be random. If Sally is right about their magnetic attraction occurring again and again—it being their destiny—then John is hiding from his shadow. But dear old Sally sees it as clear as day.
And from here, there is nowhere to go but up. A great deal seems to happen in this hour; a bloody grade school massacre, several key character developments and various incidents of brow-raising tension. The episode’s theme, while all over the place, makes for a thoughtful exploration concerning the messy frivolity of youth. Still, much like the rest of this season, it’s all a little too much—this excess of story that could be more compelling if constructed with the weight of its true value. This chapter reminds us that the true confrontations are yet to be had and even often had between the compliant self and its screaming shadow. When the anticipated character-to-character confrontations finally do happen, let’s hope there will be more than string and contrived themes holding them together. “Room Service” gets 3 out of 5 stars!