[NOTE: Apologies for the tardy recap. FX does not provide American Horror Story screeners so due to my travel schedule, I was not able to watch the episode live. Sadly I’ll be in the same boat next week as well, but will publish the recap ASAP.]
We’re nearing the big finish of American Horror Story: Hotel and “Battle Royale” changes the playing field quite a bit. Episodes 11 kicks off just before the final scene of Episode 10 with Liz Taylor and Iris prepping to ambush The Countess. They strut down the hall, burst into her suite and open fire. They get a few good shots in until Donovan shields The Countess, taking one too many hits himself. Iris quickly tends to her dying son and that gives The Countess just enough time to slip away. Donovan begs Iris to take him out of the hotel before he passes so that he’s not trapped there for eternity with her other lovers. She does and soon after bringing him outside, Donovan dies – which is sad but mostly because Kathy Bates has been quite the powerhouse this season.
Where did The Countess crawl off to? She’s actually with Sally who’s busy yanking the bullets out of her wounds. Turns out, Sally’s drug addiction came in handy. She knows every vein and artery in the human body so is able to stitch up The Countess before she loses too much blood, and her life. Why go through all the trouble? Sally’s completely traumatized by all the people who have abandoned her and now she doesn’t want The Countess going anywhere either.
From there, we roll into Sally’s very first flashback of the season, and perhaps too late in the season – Los Angeles 1993. Back in the day, Sally sold drugs and two of her clients were musicians Nick Harley and Tina Black. One day all three go back to The Cortez for some drugs and sexy time because, hey, it’s AHS. However, AHS or not, this next part of the party is still pretty shocking. Sally decides she wants to be super close to them so they stitch each other together. It sounded like a great idea at the time – to Sally at least – but then Nick and Tina overdose and Sally is trapped, stuck to them while they perish. That’s when Sally has her very first encounter with what Mr. March eventually dubs his “addiction demon” who tortures her to such an extent that she finally sits up, tearing the stitches from her skin. It’s a pretty twisted tale, but Sally does have a point, even if it’s a point she’s made over and over throughout the season.
After wrapping up her trip down memory lane, Sally tells The Countess that she wants John and the only way she can have him forever is if The Countess finds him and brings him back to the hotel so that someone can kill him. The only snag in this plan is that The Countess can’t feed off of any old blood to regain her strength. She needs blood like hers and now that Donovan is dead, her only choice is to feed from her vampire children. The Countess isn’t happy about it, but the kiddies insist.
Meanwhile, Iris and Liz reconvene so that Liz can deliver Donavan’s ashes. (Boy, that was quick!) Iris chats with his ashes and then probably rolls around in them because when Miss Evers comes in, she’s absolutely covered. Iris heads up to the roof of the Cortez roof, suggesting maybe she’ll end it all and jump, but then she’s back inside with Liz trying to figure out a way out of this mess they created. They unlock the door to the bricked up hallway, expecting to have a nice, calm chat with Ramona, but little do they know, she’s loose and losing her mind a little. In order to stop her from feeding on them, Liz and Iris must go out and find Ramona a victim. Lucky for them, that’s when Queenie (Gabourey Sidney) from American Horror Story: Coven checks in.
Thanks to the fact that she’s a witch, Queenie immediately senses that something isn’t quite right the moment she steps into her room, but agrees to hang there until Iris can “check” if another one is available. She goes into the bathroom to wash her face and gets quite the surprise when Ramona pops out from behind the shower curtain. She slashes at Queenie, but little does Ramona know, Queenie is a human voodoo doll. Queenie gets the edge on Ramona by kicking the crap out of herself, but just when it seems like she might make it out of this encounter alive, Mr. March slips in and stabs her himself. He’s a ghost, so her magic has no effect on him. Ramona feeds on Queenie’s super powerful witch’s blood while Mr. March reveals why he stepped in to save the day. He needs Ramona to kill The Countess. That way, The Countess will be stuck with Mr. March forever and never suspect he had anything to do with it.
Then we’ve also got John and Alex who finally remember they have two children! They insist that they’re going to be one, big, happy family again, but Scarlett’s too smart for that nonsense. How are they going to explain Holden’s age to grandma? Pshhh, grandma doesn’t need to know. In fact, no one does. John goes out and brings home some groceries for Scarlett – and someone for Alex and Holden. However, before he can deliver the goods he finds a Hotel Cortez key in his home signifying that someone took them.
Back at the hotel characters collide when John tracks down the culprit, Sally, except she spins it around and blames the kidnapping on Mr. March, telling John that she can’t take him to his family until he completes that one last kill. Meanwhile, Ramona is in The Countess’ suite finally having her big moment. Even though she’s been fantasizing about killing The Countess for quite some time, when The Countess attempts to apologize to Ramona and offers her the hotel, it actually gets to her. Ramona agrees to let The Countess take off with Bartholomew, but before she even steps foot in the elevator, the doors open, John shoots her dead and takes her head for his collection.
Now, not only will Mr. March get to live happily ever after for all eternity with The Countess, but he’s also got her head on his Ten Commandments shelf. During a brief celebration, Sally attempts to stab John to trap him at the hotel, but Mr. March stops her. He needs John alive because he’s got more planned for him. John’s not feeling that idea, but I guess Mr. March will have to deal with that next week because, for now, top priority is a fancy dinner for the new ghost version of The Countess. During a pre-beef on toast chat, Mr. March comes to learn that she never even turned him into the police, Miss Evers did. After Mare Winningham delivers one heck of a speech about her undying devotion to Mr. March, he still banishes her from his presence so he can share a dream dinner with a tearful Countess.
Per usual, “Battle Royale” is all over the place, but the different storylines do wind up converging rather well and also ensure that most, if not all of the action of the season finale will take place at the Cortez, which is likely a good thing.
I’ve mentioned this before but this element of the show is worth highlighting now more than ever – Lady Gaga is actually a fantastic actress. For the large majority of the season she’s portrayed the unwavering, manipulative, all-powerful Countess well, but “Battle Royale” marks one of the first times the character is vulnerable. In fact, thanks to this episode, Gaga is now one of few cast members who have showed off some serious range, joining the ranks of Kathy Bates and Denis O’Hare as the season-stealers along with Winningham. Whether she continues on with AHS or not, I’m eager to see Gaga explore her acting career further.
Another highlight of “Battle Royale” is the return of Queenie. The idea of AHS seasons crossing over is exciting, but the fact that they brought Queenie in just to kill her off rubbed me the wrong way. Her face-off with Ramona is fantastic, but by including and removing her from the episode so quickly, her involvement feels less organic and more like a stunt. I also take issue with John’s arc throughout the season. What exactly is his deal? Is he embracing the killer inside of him or not? You can’t really have it both ways because it’s become impossible to track his motivations.
Regardless of the shortcomings, “Battle Royale” moves along swiftly and marks a strong step forward towards the finale. Not only does it bring all of the key characters back to the hotel for the big finish, but it actually intertwines everyone’s wants and needs so that everything that happens effects them all, which will undoubtedly make the events of the final episode more powerful.
Episode Rating: ★★★
Odds and Ends:
- “Would you like him back in the can?” – Miss Evers
- “How did that get in here?” – Liz Taylor
- Shouldn’t Queenie look at Iris and think she looks just like Delphine LaLaurie? And the same goes for Ramona and Marie Laveau, too.
- “Bitch! When’s the last time you saw a dermatologist?” – Queenie
- “That’s right! I’m a human voodoo doll, bitch. Any hurt on me gunna go right back to you.” – Queenie
- “The Price is Right is waiting! Come on down!” – Queenie
- “I feel strangely free.” – Miss Evers