‘AHS’ Recap: That “Ancient Blood Virus” May Become an Epidemic

With “Room Service” (Season 5, Episode 5) AHS: Hotel seems to be finding the beginnings of a season-long arc with the tracing of the spread of the blood virus that’s a compound of the two most exhausted horror myths — vampirism and zombiedom, of course. The hybrid, however, makes it a little less stale — and allows the creators to select the best of both worlds: the contagion of zombiedom without the dripping carrion, the sexiness of vampirism without the…inconvenient garlic aversion? (Fine, they’re pretty much just vampires.)

“Room Service” is an episode that’s almost succinct — and dare I say, focused? — compared to some others this season. For here, we’ve also even been shown some logical, if stiff and grudgingly conceived (one can imagine Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck grimacing in agony at the realization that they’ve written something remotely linear with no digressions into a Lana Del Rey singalong), emotional arcs. Of course, this doesn’t mean psychological nuance, but that’s certainly never been the goal, and what the show will adamantly lack in that, it’ll make up for in quotable ridiculousness, doled out in hefty portions this episode through two trendy Los Angeles hyperboles who make the mistake of checking into a hotel that’s already murdery — and demanding artisanal cheese and grilled romaine lettuce.

We begin this episode where we left off in the last (see? off to a surprisingly linear start). Alex (Chloë Sevigny) has just been voluntarily infected with the blood virus, and, like her son, is beginning to become creepy. But, she’s a doctor, so she’s, at least in the beginning, benevolently creepy. As she sees that the child who came down with measles (thanks to his anti-vaccer mother) is dying, she fills his IV with her own viral blood, which saves him, but likewise makes him creepy. (Gaga had admonished her against being reckless with her, er, gift, so we know this won’t end well.) The boy, being a child, is a little more id-ish than Alex (who thus far only feeds off of donated blood stored in the hospital), and thus has no qualms with slicing the necks of whatever adult comes along to quench his bloodthirstiness.

It’s hard to complain about anything being “cringe worthy” on this show, because its whole aim is to be so. Nonetheless, if there were one moment to scold for unsubstantiated excess on a show founded on that very thing, it’s in the school massacre-replica that follows. First, the kid kills his parents (presumably, this is the last we’ll see of Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick). Later in the episode, it’s his teacher, and the principal — who tries to flee the scene with his open neck, but ends up flopping and smearing blood against a faculty lounge window as one teacher chastises another for a “really culturally insensitive” Halloween costume. Meanwhile, he’s “turned” all of his classmates, who are all writhing on the floor as they slowly become immortal vamp/zombie/whatevers like him.  As the kids are later questioned by the cops, they lie about a man in a mask having attacked them.

The other biggest plot line in this episode surrounds Dennis O’Hare’s Liz Taylor and Kathy Bates’ Iris, who now also has the blood virus. (Slowly, everyone on the show seems to be getting it, and as mentioned earlier, it appears that this predominantly Hotel-confined season may open more fully onto the rest of Los Angeles as infections begin multiplying. But who knows.) Iris begins the episode by leaving Ramona Royale’s (Angela Bassett) house;  Royale and Iris’s son, Donovan, are plotting ways to make the Countess “bleed,” noting that Iris is the “perfect inside man” because “she’s invisible.” Thus, Iris returns to the Hotel Cortez, where she’s still recovering from the odd feeling of being transformed into a whatsit. This is where the beautifully broad and hilariously (and likely deliberately) ineffectual “LA Hipster” parody characters come in, demanding a room redesigned by the famous Will Drake.

They’re staying the night at the hotel to avoid their neighborhood’s bounty of Trick-or-Treaters. (As Soon-to-Be-Dead LA Stereotype #1 says, everyone in their neighborhood suddenly started “pooping out babies.”) They are, of course, unhappy with the room that they receive, and make all kinds of demands — they disdain the poly blend sheets they’ve been given, they question the decor, they ask for room service. But because the Hotel Cortez clearly doesn’t have a cooking staff, Iris is at a loss. (Her dejectedness over an inability to meet their demands seems wildly out of character, given the way we saw her nonchalantly feed Swedish tourists to the hotel’s bloodthirsty cherubs in the first episode.) When she tells them she cannot accommodate their order, in the best (albeit site-specific) line this season, Soon-to-Be-Dead LA Stereotype #2 indignantly spits, “There is a restaurant renaissance happening downtown. Pick up the phone and order some paté for Christ’s sake.”

For some reason, Iris is legitimately overwhelmed by their disapproval and insatiable craving for luxury. For what she alleges is the first time ever in their many years working together, she confides in the bartender Liz Taylor, who delves into her own history and give Iris a self-affirming pep talk. We skip back to the 80s, when Liz Taylor performed masculinity, had a wife, a kid, and the generically drab life a show — knowing it only has a few minutes to do so — might use to represent stifling nuclear familial norms. Liz travelled for work back in the day, which was when she could get some respite, and, in the confines of her hotel rooms, explore possibilities beyond her socially assigned gender.

One such hotel happened to be the Hotel Cortez; one evening as Liz was assembling her feminine self, the Countess popped into the room, seemingly out of nowhere, and gave her an encouraging speech, saying, “You dress like a man, walk like a man, but you smell like a woman…[in] your blood.” We see that it was the Countess who christened O’Hare’s character Liz Taylor, and took her under her wing, after slaying Liz’s slur-spewing, AIDS-fearing colleagues. Here, the show takes another step further in reifying the link between the Gaga persona and the Countess, turning the callous, kidnapping, throat-slashing character suddenly into a pep-talking queer ally.

And so, after all these years, Liz pays it forward, convincing Iris to own herself and thus substitute paté for cat food — which seems like a rather mild punishment for the young snobs who requested room service, given the typical, more arbitrary cruelties we’ve seen enacted within this hotel. But while Iris initially seems to be proving the trashiness beneath LA caricatures’ pretensions by watching them eat cat food as though it were a delicacy, she soon gets so frustrated by their superiority complex that she simply has to slice them up with a steak knife and corkscrew. (“Are you Alzheimer’s?” if you’re wondering, is the question that triggers the murder.) She and Liz Taylor prance out of the room — with the bodies and bloodied sheets in a cart.

In the last scene, Alex returns to the Hotel Cortez to discuss her new position: she’ll be governess of all the creepy children — not just her own. She worries, momentarily — and reasonably — that while working as an almost-vampire governess in the same hotel her soon-to-be-ex husband currently resides, he may at some point run into her. (John himself has been mostly absent from this episode, but for in a scene where he attempts to convince his detective higher ups that he dined with a group of dead serial killers, at which point they understandably fire him. He also, towards the end of the episode, has sex with  Hypodermic Sally, who, let’s recall, is dead.)

When the Countess asks Alex to put her son Holden to bed, Alex protests, saying, “We’ve only had a minute together,” to which the Countess replies, “You misunderstand, Alex. You and Holden will have forever.” It’s seeming that, with a gaggle of rambunctious, elementary school-aged neck-slicing ids on the loose, the rest of the world could soon also face an emotionally devoid immortality — or  imminent death.