“What’s your purpose?”
In a surprising and philosophical installment, American Horror Story: Hotel finally gets down to business. Those confrontations we’ve been waiting for begin to see the cold grey light of day and the results are as insane as one would assume of this particular series. In “Room 33”, each horrific dramatization has its role to play. For a season that has been struggling to convince its viewers that there is a specific rhyme and reason to this chaotic structure, it makes a strong case for itself within this singular hour. Who knew AHS could serve a purpose beyond its wicked excess of violence and visual stunts. It’s apparent that everything and everyone has a role to play.
This season, more or less has been all about giving into primal individual pleasures, be it recreational, emotional or sexual. These characters lean on something with the expectation that it will give them the glory of satisfaction. Episode six is about the residual consequences of fighting to hold onto that pleasure (or in some cases, finding it) as if it is perhaps these characters’ sole purpose for living. In light of this, it is befitting that we return to the Murder House in the cold opening of the episode; a season that, by its bittersweet end, had revealed to its characters their eternal role to play in the great and awful scheme of things. In 1926, Elizabeth sought after Dr. Montgomery to “fix” a situation she had somehow gotten herself into. That situation remains a living breathing…something after all these years and is settled in an elegant nursery of Room 33. Something about this creature, Bartholomew, sustains Elizabeth’s sense of purpose—as a mother or otherwise. We don’t get an explicit answer. Neither do most of the characters…
Elsewhere, the plot for revenge is what drives Ramona and Donovan. However, it is unclear of what truly motivates Donovan these days. His regained purpose was as Elizabeth’s count and lover is yesterday’s pleasure. Without that he put his purpose back into his being his mother’s child. Now, we can only presume that he is in the midst of assuming a place where he is of some use. Ramona can see the hold The Countess continues to have on him, as well as her other servants, including Liz Taylor. She doesn’t plan on being dragged down with them when the time comes—her addictive tendencies rely on retribution—the only thing that seems to really drive any of her actions and obsessions.
The Hotel Cortez begins to show its true colors. It drains the dead, leaving them aimless and despondent. A wary Donovan is hospitable enough to help the two ghostly Swedish meatballs that now roam the vacancy’s stark halls trying to escape their eternal tedium. How appropriate that Alex is the one to give them a distinct role to play in her plan to push John out of the hotel and into a mental institution. John’s own identity has been flipped on its head in every possible way. He isn’t the man he thought he was. He’s no longer even a detective. Through the use of more shocking violence and psychological torture we see that he’s reached a threshold. His sense of self, thrown out the window.
This episode also takes gratuitous nudity to a new level, which—perhaps inadvertently—underlines the primal nature of struggling to hold onto the pleasure of one’s high. Even as John is having his various meltdowns, there is something orgasmic about spiraling into insanity for him—it being the polar opposite of his previous maintenance of complete control. In ignoring his repressed indulgences John has only exacerbated his road to destructive hysteria. Plot lines finally collide in a way that feels organic and inherent given the character development this season took the time to actually construct. It’s compelling to watch unfold, as the narrative lifts itself to new standards of storytelling. The purpose of the season’s previous excess feels pretty warranted with here. But the most surprising and satisfying development comes in the union of Liz Taylor and Tristan.
American Horror Story has told involving love stories before and in multi-episode arcs, but none have really felt as earnest and genuine as the bond Denis O’Hare and Finn Wittrock form onscreen. This is impressive, even in the short scenes they share together, their facades and defenses are dropped and replaced with real affection. And it is ultimately what leads them to misjudge the nature of The Countess. Much like the hotel itself, The Countess deals in excessive exploitation. In all of her interactions with other characters, she exploits them in one way or another, maintaining a power balance that favors her proclivities and hers only. We see this in the way she uses Tristan to fluff up Will Drake. The relationships that have developed off-screen, when finally made apparent in this episode, pack a surprising punch and opens our eyes to a stark contrast: The Countess collects flavors of the month where Liz embodies the scary entirety of her love. She even says it herself, “I know this doesn’t end well, and it shouldn’t.” The tension creates itself. As usual, Liz’s words end up being prophetic. Elizabeth’s brutality will eventually cost her something perhaps more valuable than her immortality.
What is the purpose of an eternal blood-sucking infant? There is one, at least where Elizabeth is concerned and by the end of the episode, Alex can see its purpose too. These kindred spirits share more than illusory impulses, they share the fatal flaw of excess indulgence. Alex is so consumed and entranced by her pleasure that she sees the Countess’s dominion over her as a gift—as if she saved her son and reunited them as an act of selfless kindness. Alex is unable to see past the one thing Elizabeth has given her. Perhaps more importantly, Alex also underestimates the power she holds, having access to the Countess in the way that she does. It’s not hard to understand why. She has what she wants. That want is so strong—a literal addiction—that Alex is blinded by her own compulsion.
If we are keeping track here, all roads lead back to Alex and her destructive decisions. She is, at this point, the Countess’s only remaining ally. And a shockingly formidable one at that; an addict that will manipulate to sustain her high at any cost. I think it’s safe to say that if Alex is looking for a purpose, she’s found it in being everyone else’s foil. This is the kind of calamity that occurs when the dead finally find their resolve. “Room 33” gets 5 out of 5 stars!