Devil’s Night is the evening before Halloween, and in the Hotel universe—and at the Hotel Cortez itself—that means the most notorious serial killers in American history gather for a formal feast at the forever home of Mr. James March, whom they refer to as “The Master.” Well—the dead serial killers, anyway. It’s their spirits who arrive. Nightstalker Richard Ramirez, played by Anthony Ruivivar, laments that “Charlie” can’t join them this year, still stewing away in solitary somewhere, cursedly alive.
Mining grisly archetypes like John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Aileen Wuornos (played to tone perfectly by Lily Rabe) is the terrain on which AHS excels. By telling a fictional ghost story populated by real-life bogeymen (and woman), it can capitalize on our collective terror, while making the assertion that these agents of horror are as part of our essentially American historical fabric as, say, the Salem witch trials. It’s also a tacit acknowledgement that most of the people who have toughed it out with this show thus far are a bunch of sickos, or at least armchair goths, the kind of dark fucks who would semi-enjoy a fantasy scene where Wuornos ties up John Lowe and threatens his life, partly because he’s a man, partly because he’s a cop. (I clearly include myself in this summation of the show’s remaining/loyal audience.)
American Horror Story has run with the loose “Devil’s Night” concept before: during an episode of Murder House, Tate is stalked and harassed by the jocky victims of his Columbine-style murder spree, their spirits resurrected for one night by the power of Halloween. The dead exact vengeance, or they continue on with the unspeakable horrors they inflicted in life, but the moral is that a restless soul never sleeps; it just stews for 364 days until October.
But while this was a somewhat entertaining episode in concept, it still succumbed to this season’s overall problem: too many storylines, not enough editing. Sure the Devil’s Night feast was sort of compelling to watch, if only for the acting, and John Lowe’s party invitation hinted to us that, perhaps, he’s the very serial killer he’s searching for, not distracted by work but by his brownout double life as a boozy maniac dead set on enforcing the Ten Commandments.
Yet this episode’s other plotline—that Chloe Sevigny’s Alex Lowe rediscovers vampire Holden and is so desperate to be reunited with his lavender-headed ass that she allows herself to be turned into a vampire/Lady Gaga’s dutiful employee—felt tacked on, and a reminder that when you introduce fifty-eleven threads, you also are expected to imbue them with some reasonable level of denouement. Last week’s potentially series-saving introduction of Ramona Royale, played by Angela Bassett, wasn’t even acknowledged. How you gonna introduce a character and then skip over her the next week? It’s not foreshadowing, it’s just a bog.
Yet: because I am a sicko, and a glutton for punishment (that breaks the first commandment, or all of them), I carry on bravely into the (Wednesday) night. Because, even though it’s a hot mess, it’s balanced by its redeeming qualities, which may in fact simply be that there’s no other show like this on television, one that can appease horror fans who still appreciate a high standard of acting, visual direction and music choice. (Scream Queens is close, but not the same.) At some point this season, though, they’re going to have to economize the vision if it’s going to fully work.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.