‘American Horror Story’ 5.04 Recap: “We Are the Mount Rushmore of Murder”

As much as I enjoyed the early episodes of ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop when the series will experience the type of seemingly-inevitable quality decline it has in each of the past few seasons. Sadly, I think that may have happened.

I may be rushing to judgment here. ‘American Horror Story’ often breaks form and tries to do something unusual for its Halloween episodes. This one just doesn’t quite work.

The gimmick this year is that, each Halloween, the hotel hosts a “Devil’s Night” celebration where the ghosts of famed serial killers are invited to a dinner banquet with John March to swap stories and commiserate about the sad state of serial murdering today. Among the invited guests are a couple of familiar faces from past seasons: Lily Rabe as Aileen Wuornos and John Carroll Lynch as John Wayne Gacy. Also attending are Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel) and Ricky Ramirez, a.k.a. the “Night Stalker” (Anthony Ruivivar).

When our hero John discovers blood running down the walls of his room, he goes up a floor to investigate. In the room directly above his is the crazy maid Ms. Evers, scrubbing clean the latest batch of bloody sheets. This time, she’s gone a little screwy and let the tub overflow. She keeps John from seeing that, and instead distracts him with a story about how her own young son was kidnapped on Halloween and murdered. John can relate to that, and they actually bond a little over their missing kids.

Evers mentions that her son was killed at a ranch in Wineville along with a number of other children. It seems ridiculous that a detective working in Los Angeles wouldn’t immediately recognize the very famous story of the Wineville Chicken Coop murders (recently dramatized in the Clint Eastwood movie ‘Changeling‘). Nevertheless, John is completely oblivious to this. He has to look up the details later and learns that the event happened back in 1925.

Confused and feeling like he’s losing his mind, John goes to the hotel bar and breaks his sobriety by ordering a double martini. Into the bar walks a crazy redneck chick who knocks back several drinks. It takes him a bit, but John recognizes that she’s supposed to be Aileen Wournos (at least he’s familiar with that story; I guess he’s a bigger fan of Charlize Theron movies than Angelina Jolie movies). However, he assumes that it’s a Halloween costume. With his judgment quickly impaired by just a couple drinks, he invites her back to his room. Aileen ties him to a chair and attempts to kill him, but John breaks the chair, fights her off, and handcuffs her to the bathroom sink.

John returns to the bar and tells Liz the bartender that the crazy bitch tried to kill him. Liz says that she wasn’t wearing a costume and explains to him about Devil’s Night. When John goes back to the room, Aileen is gone. Instead, he finds a tuxedo laid out on his bed with an invitation to March’s banquet.

For some reason, John attends. In addition to the guests I already mentioned, arriving late is a figure in a crazy hooded costume who’s supposed to be the Zodiac Killer. (Whether the real one dressed like this, we may never know.) After John drinks some absinthe, he really loses all sense of what’s going on around him. Gacy handcuffs John to his chair. Dahmer gets upset about the salad course (he’s strictly a meat man, naturally) until March wheels in a spaced-out hippie to be his appetizer.

John regains some composure, somehow grabs a gun (I’m not sure where he found it) and shoots Dahmer. It has no effect. He’s already dead. Dahmer uses a power drill to drill a hole in the hippie’s head.

Sally arrives at the banquet, bringing with her a new victim to be served as dessert after the meal. Gacy puts on his clown makeup (which is creepy, but a little less disturbing for John Carroll Lynch than last season’s Twisty the Clown get-up). The party then turns into a big stab-fest.

John freaks out and suddenly finds himself in an empty room, just him and Sally. She comforts him as he wonders if he hallucinated the whole thing.

Elsewhere

Alex brings her son Holden home and discovers that he has an abnormally low body temperature. The boy says that he’s thristy and Alex steps out of the room for a minute to get him some juice. When she gets back a moment later, she finds that he has murdered the family dog and is drinking its blood. He says he wants to see his mommy… his other mommy.

Alex returns Holden to the hotel, where he climbs into his casket in the empty swimming pool. Alex confronts the Countess, who offers her answers. She says that she hasn’t harmed Holden, but rather saved him, as she has saved all her children. What did she save him from? Neglect. In flashback to the day the boy went missing, we see that both John and Alex were distracted when they should have been watching him.

When Alex asks what has happened to her son, the Countess claims that he has an ancient blood disorder. Alex pulls a gun and demands that her son be changed back. The Countess says that’s not possible, but offers instead to turn Alex so that she can join him.

At the end of the episode, Alex returns to the Countess and consents to be turned, then drinks her blood.

Episode Verdict

The tone of this episode just feels forced. Given that John is going to write off his experiences with March and the serial killers as a hallucination, that entire storyline feels like a waste of time. Whether it really happened or not, as far as he knows it was all a dream. I also don’t buy Alex’s motivation for agreeing to become a vampire. Yes, I get that she’s a grieving mother and depressed, but she’s also a doctor. Would she really drink someone’s blood, much less someone who has told her that she carries an unknown and uncurable virus? That seems very contrived.

I hold out some hope that this episode is just an anomaly and the season will get back on track. I guess we’ll find out if that’s really true or not soon enough.

3 comments

  1. “It seems ridiculous that a detective working in Los Angeles wouldn’t immediately recognize” Several reasons I can think of for this. John is still something of an audience surrogate; similar to Harmons in S1, Zoe in S3, etc; and, thus, the audience might not immediately recognize the story. (I know I didn’t). It leads him to looking it up, thus uncovering more about the hotel’s mystery. Canon-wise, well, for all we know, John didn’t live in LA all his life. Even if he did, why would he be expected to know something that happened in 1925?

    “Sally arrives at the banquet and shoots John up with drugs.” Except… no, she didn’t. She brought in some random Wall Street business playboy for March and company to enjoy, thus earning March’s protection (and, simultaneously, his avoidance) for another year. That was made explicitly clear.

    There’s a popular theory going around that John is the 10 Commandments Killer, thus why he was invited to March’s party. Speaking of, I wish they’d cut out the Holden/Countess/Alex scenes entirely. It was such a downer to go from the fine acting chops of the serial killers and their dark humor to.. well, those three. Two of which aren’t really actors and one who fell flat.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I stand corrected on the end of the episode. My notes were a little messy about that scene and I couldn’t remember exactly what happened. I’ve made an edit.

      As for the Wineville Chicken Coop murders, that was a very famous event in L.A. history. For John to be completely unaware of it would be like a Chicago cop who’s never heard of Al Capone. I get that John is supposed to be an audience surrogate for the writers to relay that information to viewers, but it was clumsily handled.

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