"It's surprising how delicious a little cruelty can taste."
American Horror Story: Hotel
Season 5, Episode 8 - "The Ten Commandments Killer"
Wes Bentley, Lady Gaga, Dennis O'Hare, Sarah Paulson, Chloe Sevigny, Matt Bomer
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
The identity of the Ten Commandments Killer is revealed in this non-climactic episode, in which religious smugness is not only the raison d’être, it’s the clever little secret theme you should’ve gleaned already. Temptation’s the snake-y mistress that not only drew in our soon-to-be exposed killer, but is the underlying reason for every character’s downfall. (Beyond all the mother issues, that is; honoring thy mother has its limits, after all.) And just like we should’ve picked up on that already, we also should’ve figured out that Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) is the killer.
John (can we call him John, now? We’re past the formalities) has been showing us all season-long how he’s been infected with the crazy. He keeps staying at that God-forsaken hotel, because apparently Los Angeles has no other lodgings to offer single men; he was invited to a dinner party with other serial killers; and let’s face it, he’s been frightfully inept at solving this case, which in itself is pretty suspicious. But although we do have all those clues, it is still the underwhelming, “It was him all along,” cheap shot that kind of disappoints. Storming into the hotel, he shakes a grieving Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare), who tempted fate by falling in love with the Countess’ new toy, and demands to know the truth. Which is when Sally (Sarah Paulson) tearfully takes him by the arm and shows him James Patrick March’s (Evan Peters) The Most Dangerous Game-themed room. March started the Commandments killings. and waited 90 years for someone dark enough to continue his work. Five years ago, John stumbled into the hotel. Unable to handle the grim images of a murder case, he came in to drink himself stupid, and that’s where their friendship began. He just sort of forgot about all that until now.
All this is revealed as flashbacks-within-flashbacks while John confesses to his partner. Tired of seeing the system fail over and over and declaring, “The law has nothing to do with justice,” with the gravitas of a ventriloquist’s dummy, John is reborn as a really boring Punisher. He revisits a certain case that March alludes to, involving a pedophile, and shows up at the door of a movie critic. The man, Martin Gamboa, pleads for his life, “I’m just a man who likes to write about movies on the Internet,” but the merciless detective (whose name let’s remember is JOHN, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LITERALLY, HIS NAME MEANS GOD’S MERCY) brains him to death with an Oscar statuette. Thou shalt not worship false idols, indeed. Watch out boys and girls, he’s coming for us all.
It took a certain amount of finesse to get John to this point, though. That suppressed rage only came out when March convinced the Countess to kidnap his son, and thus, everything comes neatly full circle. John tries to hang himself after killing Gamboa, because of course he does, but March is not done with him. He orders Sally to keep John in check because as long as she does that, March in turn keeps the Addiction Demon simmering rather than erupting all over the hotel’s ghost denizens. The leather-clad bondage gimp with the driller killer dildo, whom we haven’t seen since the first episode? Yeah, he’s a physical manifestation of all the dirty deeds the guests have indulged in. Sally’s temptation is her prisoner, and John is Sally’s prisoner, and they get increasingly wrapped up, legs and all, as John continues his mission.
John’s partner doesn’t believe him. Dude, he says (paraphrasing) March died almost a century ago, and your mistress died in 1994. Let’s digest this for a moment. It seems like the Hotel Cortez was running on the kitsch of the ‘80s with its neon written-word light installations and goth new wave soundtrack. It makes sense that the damned would stick to the decade they died/were at their peak, but if Sally died in 1994, there’s absolutely no excuse for that crimped mess she calls a hairstyle. Detective Partner whose name no one bothers to remember, had coffee with John’s wife to discuss how crazy Lowe has been lately, and he tells John this as evidence that John’s not quite right. Yes, because he’s murdering people, but obviously the LAPD is more concerned with feelings rather than actions. Meanwhile, John interprets the fact that the two people who care about him the most met up to talk about him as adultery, because a married woman having coffee with a not-husband man? Heathen! But Sally guides him; you can’t murder your wife and heterosexual work partner, everyone knows that. Calm down. Oh, by the way, we do have an adulterous pair that pop by the hotel quite often. Use what March has taught you (theatricality! Poetry! Not at the hotel!) and go for them. So he did or does…? The flashbacks have a way of disrupting the timeline.
When his partner still refuses to believe him, naturally John has to kill him. “Thy shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, that’s one of the Ten Commandments”. Thanks buddy, we wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise. On the bright side, John now remembers all his crimes and says so to Iris (Kathy Bates), whose beyond relieved that she doesn’t have to indulge his short-term memory anymore. She reveals the little vampire girl who got hit by a bus was only trying to protect him because Sally told her to. John has a purpose now. Er, another purpose. A purpose-within-a-purpose.
“Death is your art”, exclaims March as John adds his partner’s parts to the collection. Only two commandments (and episodes) left. John may have clarity now but us OC-types thank him for pursuing the collection to the end. Some (blood-red) apples are too pretty to pass up.