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American Horror Story - Hotel: Season 5, Episode 4 - "Devil's Night"

Leyla Hamedi

In a special Halloween episode, the story veers off the main track to play murder musical chairs with both real-life serial killers and the fictional killers within.

American Horror Story: Hotel

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Wes Bentley, Chloe Sevigny, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Denis O'Hare
Subtitle: Season 5, Episode 4 - "Devil's Night"
Network: FX
Air date: 2015-10-28

Welcome to Devil's Night at the Hotel Cortez courtesy of James Patrick March, a genius much like Galileo or Peter Frampton

Being a 1990s goth pays off, because as we learned from The Crow "Devil's Night," is the mayhem-filled night before Halloween when real horror parties down. On this “Devil's Night”, the deceased but still charming proprietor of the Hotel Cortez, James Patrick March (Evan Peters), holds his annual dinner party. In scenes similar to The Sandman series' second book, "The Doll's House," the hotel turns into a roach motel for humans, as everyone checks in but no one checks out. Featuring the talents of Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar), Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe), John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch), Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel), and the Zodiac Killer, March also includes Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) on his exclusive invite list, thinking maybe the detective could be hip to his crowd. As it turns out, he is not. At all.

As the dinner progresses, the killers are all introduced with flourish and comedy, highlighting all the bloodthirsty reasons that led to their fame. Before it all begins, Wuornos seduces a very drunk Lowe at the hotel bar. Lowe, who usually abstains, doesn't even care how ugly she is, although barkeep Liz Taylor (Denis O'Hare) tries to warn him. Wuornos' deep suspicion and hate of cops takes over and she knocks Lowe down, but not before he manages to cuff her and escape. It's all side-eyes and tentative truces later at dinner but Lowe tells her to enjoy her last night of freedom before he takes her in: crazy bitch and her method approach to her Halloween costume, tch.

Ramirez is a slinky, sexy 1980s icon with his glorious mane and black leather. He's the one that really informs the audience what's up and who's going down. The Master, March, has schooled all of these miscreants on the mysteries of mass murder and Ramirez toasts him with heartfelt emotion. "Murder is one part perspiration and ten parts preparation," he berates them. Lesson one: they must hide their evidence. Gacy killed 33 people? It could've been 333 if he’d only listened. And like chastened school children, the killers take their scoldings to heart. Lowe just downs that absinthe like it's going out of style.

The server, Hazel Evers (Mare Winningham), who also plays March's loyal laundress reveals a bit about herself to Lowe while allowing the audience to connect back to the main story however briefly. Back in 1925, her son was snatched much like his was, but she found out what happened to him while Lowe still has no idea. Evers' son's bones were found alongside God knows how many other children's in the backyard of some lunatic. Lowe looks up the information to see if there could be any tie to his bible-thumper of a case, but realizes the murders took place 85 years ago. March died 85 years ago as well, leading him to figure out, hey, there's something fishy going on at that hotel. (Guess that's why he's the detective and we're just the viewers.)

The dinner progresses with a young, beautiful man served up as the main course, much to Dahmer's delight. He is shy and reticent but he notices the detective: only the prettiest boys for good ol' Jeff, who drills a hole into his "dinner's" head. Dessert is brought in via Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) who, in return for being left alone for another year, delivers a random guy from the street she shot up with heroin. Gacy dons his clown make-up, which is a nice little in-joke. Portrayed by John Carroll Lynch (aka Twisty the Clown of Freakshow last season), he adds another element of gruesome insanity as the smorgasbord of stabbing ends the feast on a high note (although not for Lowe). He wakes up in a panic as Sally tuts about the dangers of chasing alcohol with wormwood. It's not clear if Lowe is happy or not that everything was seemingly in his head.

While Lowe is off on his hallucinogenic Halloween bender, there are a couple small but significant strides taken in the main story, beyond the hotel maid's revelations. Alex Lowe (Chloe Sevigny) manages to spirit her undead son Holden (Lennon Henry) back to her home until she realizes he might not be quite right in the head. Holden draining the dog dry was not her first clue; Holden wants his "other mommy", whom Alex discovers to be the Countess (Lady Gaga). She kidnapped Holden to save him from neglect and depression -- saving him like she’d “saved” all her other children. The Countess reveals that Holden has an irreversible blood virus (oh, those pesky blood viruses) but agrees to let Alex be with her son, if she pledges her undying loyalty to her. Alex walks away, but the Countess knows she'll be back. One does not let their true love get away a second time. She’s proven right when Alex comes back, and after a repeat performance of the bosom blood-sucking, she opens her eyes as another one of the Countess' minions.

Where most shows dedicate an episode to a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas, Halloween seems the most apt and obvious for this series. Despite the intentional step away from the main story, we still get a voyeuristically pleasurable chapter. Most noticeable in this episode is the show's signature melding of reality and rumored reality within the world of the story as (more-or-less) modern-day heroes of the pop-culture of taboo weave their stories into the conscious of the main sucker, er, character. Even while showcasing the worst of humanity, we can still identify with the absurd feeling American Horror Story so steadfastly employs. You can't help but feel, "Hey, they're people just like us!" as the serial killers make small talk and Gacy explains how one can have over 30 bodies in their crawl space and still be a profitable businessman.

Coming at the morbid from a fearless angle that dares the audience to be okay with even the most not-okay situations, American Horror Story is a testament to the boundaries they (or people, rather) are allowed to push. American Horror Story continues to push that boundary just shy of chasing away the spectator. Because what's the point of shock, shock, horror, horror if it’s not observed? Voyeurism is the king of secondhand horror. This is a TV show, the easiest access to voyeuristic glee. And since serial killers are the neglected middle children of the world, just as this show highlights the car-crash fixation of an audience that won't look away, this episode brings that notion into sharp relief. As the killers in Lowe’s hallucination pointed out, the Zodiac named himself. Who does that besides superheroes and killers? And what are superheroes? Humans with their most inhumane characteristics amplified to awesome levels. Something, it’s important to note, could also be said of serial killers.


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