After a short break for the Thanksgiving holiday, ‘American Horror Story’ returned to drop a big plot twist that, frankly, a lot of us already saw coming a long time ago. That happens early in the episode, which then spends most of the hour trying to justify it.
Our presumptive hero, Det. John Lowe (Wes Bentley), is in fact the Ten Commandments Killer. I’ve been saying that for weeks now. I suppose it’s good that we can finally put it out there officially so we can move on.
After watching the little vampire girl Wren commit suicide by jumping in front of a truck (would that work with a vampire?), John returns to the hotel. He’s convinced that the killer is hiding there. (Where he got that idea isn’t clear to me.) John demands that Liz tell him where the killer is until Sally offers to show him. She brings him to Room 64, which once used to be March’s office. A secret door behind the armoire leads to a hidden room housing ten large glass jars. More than half of them are filled with disgusting body parts. Sally says that some of them date back to 1926. When John asks how that’s possible, Sally says that March was the original Ten Commandments Killer, but died before he could complete the task. As a ghost, he later groomed a successor to finish the job for him… and that man was John.
John leaves the hotel and finds his former partner Andy (Richard T. Jones) at the morgue looking at Wren’s body. John tries to confess to being the Ten Commandments Killer, but Andy thinks he’s lost his mind and is confused. Through an extended flashback, John explains.
In 2010, after working the difficult case involving a whole family that died (we saw this in a previous episode), John felt a powerful need to drink his troubles away and wound up at the Hotel Cortez’s bar at an extremely late hour. After a few drinks, Donovan invites him to a party upstairs, where John meets March and the Countess. March becomes incredibly fascinated by John’s “black aura” and plies him with absinthe. They talk for days before John finally returns to his very angry wife. The Countess then kidnaps his son Holden in order to push John to the dark side.
John continues to meet regularly with March over the next five years. He also has an affair with Sally. However, every time he leaves the hotel, he forgets everything, yet is inevitably drawn back there.
In their conversations, March pushes John to become a vigilante to punish sinners without the restrictions of the law. March brings John to his trophy room, where he has some human heads mounted. For his first victim, John chooses a pedophile. Despite greatly enjoying murdering the man, John is racked with guilt and tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide. Failing that, he gets back to murdering other sinners.
In the present day, John accuses Andy of coveting his wife Alex, then stabs him to death. His confession was just a long-winded ruse.
John shows up at the front desk and Iris, assuming that he’s forgotten everything again, pretends not to know him. This time, John knows exactly who he is and claims that he has clarity. Iris is grateful to drop the act. John has decided to embrace the dark side. The Ten Commandments Killer is ready to claim his final two victims.
Some of the plotting in this episode feels needlessly convoluted. The part about John losing his memory every time he leaves the hotel doesn’t hold up to scrutiny at all, because he comes and goes from the building all the time (even during this episode), yet this is the first we’ve ever heard about his memory rebooting. As the Ten Commandments Killer, he had to murder his victims outside the hotel. The episode doesn’t give a clear explanation for why or when he needs to start over.
Also problematic is the fact that John was the only sympathetic character the audience could latch onto this season. He was the viewer surrogate and the hero. If he’s gone full evil now, who are viewers supposed to root for?
Honestly, this isn’t necessarily a bad episode, but it does exert a lot of effort to sell a plot twist that I’m just not sure I’m buying.