TV Recap: American Horror Story: Hotel, Battle Royale (05.11)

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AMERICAN HORROR STORY -- "Battle Royale" Episode 511 (Airs Wednesday, January 6, 10:00 pm/ep) Pictured: (l-r) Denis O'Hare as Liz, Kathy Bates as Iris. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

January 6th, 2016, 10PM, FX

With Donovan officially dead and Elizabeth MIA after their guns a’blazin’ murder spree of justice, Liz and Iris continue their plot to take over the Hotel Cortez, which includes trying to keep Ramona Royale happy (a condition that’s ensured by an unexpected guest appearance by a character from an earlier season) and taking care that Donovan’s spirit doesn’t remain trapped in the domicile forever. Iris says an impassioned goodbye to her son while Liz strikes a bargain with Ramona to finish off Elizabeth once and for all. Meanwhile, a mortally wounded Elizabeth convalesces with Sally, who tells Elizabeth the story of how she met the Addiction Demon and of her own true loves who died within the Cortez’ walls. After a certain sacrifice is made, a now-healthy Ramona confronts a weakened but living Elizabeth – and the two lovers reach a sense of accord. Elsewhere, Scarlett figures out the secret behind her little brother and her mother’s vampy virus, though she remains in the dark about her father’s semi-sonambulant serial killing – not before Sally can arrange for the family to be kidnapped. To earn his freedom, both from March and therefore from Sally and the Cortez, John must perform the final Ten Commandments Killing – an opportunity presented to him by the Countess’ revived form. Sally, of course, already has a trick of her own up her sleeve and is not planning on making this easy for him, hoping to trap his soul with hers forever. Meanwhile, Miss Evers’ unfinished business is unceremoniously finished when she and March have a confrontation.

Yes, we’re one episode away from the conclusion of this lumpy, uneven (but still nowhere near as bad as Freak Show) season, and we’re being given more Sally background info. We’ve seen her torture people and be a nasty, needy mess already so I have no idea why the show felt the need to try to make us feel sorry for her in light of her abandonment issues, but it pulls out all stops to try and make us root for her to trap John with her forever – why, one has no clue, as he’s no prize and it’s not like he can kill what’s already dead and it’s not like we didn’t just watch her rip bullets bare-fisted out of Elizabeth’s body. Sally does manage to give us the show’s only real horror moment, a bit involving thread, needles, the addiction demon and two dead-by-heroin bodies; Sarah Paulson acts her heart out but it’s pretty impossible to feel too sorry for clingy Sally’s untimely end. At this point the most we can hope for is some kind of resolution that damns Sally and John together as doomed lovers for all eternity, because nothing else would fit them. The less said about Sally’s awkward grunge-era affair, the better. No one gives a crap about Alex and John’s attempt at leading a normal domestic life after their dark turns – their selfishness and horribleness making them unrootable. One only hopes that Scarlett will free herself before she becomes a permanent fixture at the hotel.

After a lot of weak, uneven stuff from her throughout the season, Lady Gaga comes forth with a triumphant performance at long last, managing to adequately and accurately portray Elizabeth’s despair, numbness and her resignation as time passes on and Elizabeth’s storyline reaches its dire denouement. Through her relationship with her children (and through Iris’ ash-laden romp with Donovan’s cremains, through which Kathy Bates struggles to leaven the production with proper emotion) the show’s bizarre look at the twisted power of mother love reaches its full fruition. But even as she participates in the episodes’ best scenes, they bear flaws. Why does Ramona need to forgive Elizabeth just before her death? Her unfinished business is still messy enough to keep her there. And a passionless life after years of wanton murder is a just conclusion to existence.

And there comes the crossover. If you enjoyed Coven no, you won’t feel like Queenie’s ending was deserved or well thought out – it even feels arbitrary, as if she might have played any tourist. The fact that her witch blood revives Ramona leads nowhere as a battle does not factor into the Ramona/Elizabeth confrontation, and the ultimate revelation that Hazel was the one who set the police on March means absolutely nothing as that little bit of business has long passed its importance (let’s face it, March would be either very old or long dead had he not done himself in). Also since when can witches not harm ghosts? Seems they had plenty of primacy over the Axeman back when he brought himself to life in Coven. Elizabeth and Ramona have a heart-to-heart (and apparently other parts of their anatomy collide as well), but to what purpose?

The show struggles along nonsensically, with occasional moments of brilliance. I’m still rooting for Liz Taylor and Scarlett to make it out, but the rest of ‘em? Well…

The Roundup

  • For those who missed (or gave up on) Coven, Queenie’s supreme was Cordelia Fox, who was just the sort of kind person who would enchant a Price is Right ticket to earn her charge a trip to contestant’s row. Queenie survived racial identity issues to become one of Cordellia’s right-hand women.
  • Donovan and Iris’ twisted mother/son bond was fully explored back in episode four.
  • Apparently LA is so busy and messy that people will drive right by bleeding, dying people laid out on the sidewalk.
  • ”They all leave me…promise you won’t leave me.” We didn’t know you cared, Sally.
  • Sally apparently grew up as a Valley girl. Just imagine her roaming your local mall.
  • ”Poets skidmark stain as much as us commoners…and for the record, ‘Shout at the Devil’ was an underrated masterpiece.” I’ll miss you most of all, Liz and one Emmy nomination for Denis O’Hare please.
  • ”Post-mortem excrement is the biggest stain challenge of them all!” You too Miss Evers.
  • If Ramona doesn’t end up somehow sick from that measle blood I’m going to be supremely disappointed after all of the effort they went to establish it.
  • Nitpick: Why doesn’t Queenie mention that Ramona looks an awful lot like her onetime mentor Marie Laveau?
  • Next Week: Iris and Liz try to revamp the Cortez into a proper tourist spot, only to meet resistance from their murderous ghost residents, leading to a power struggle between March and the Countess for primacy and rulership over the spirits within the hotel and determine whether the ghosts should play nice or keep killing. Elsewhere, John tries to rescue his family in “Be Our Guest”.
4.5 BAD

Messy but well-acted, with some good work by Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett and Lady Gaga that can’t quite save the production.

  • 4.5
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About Author

Staff Television Critic: Lisa Fernandes, formerly of Firefox.org, has been watching television for all of her thirty-plus years, and critiquing it for the past seven. When she's not writing, she can be found in the wilds of the Northeastern United States.