In keeping with the theory that the showrunners of American Horror Story have no idea what’s going to happen from episode to episode and rather allow for scripts that read as strange improv games where plots must build off one another on the spot, Season 6 Episode 6’s arbitrary addendum is that the Countess (Lady Gaga) has a superlatively unattractive, growth-stunted baby (who’s actually a gargantuan three-week-old fetus from her failed abortion in 1926). His name is Bartholomew and he of course has murderous tendencies. (This show does boast two rare consistencies: the first is that no matter who or what your character is, they’re likely to kill people for no explicable reason other than that they’re in a show with “horror” in its title, and the second is that if you die, you’re likely to remain a recurring cast member in surprisingly fleshy ghost form.)
The Countess’ immortal flapper-era infant (who lives in the episode, “Room 33’s” titular space) does at least validate itself thematically, in that it bolsters and literalizes the role the bloodthirsty Hotel Cortez proprietor plays in the season’s connective theme of creation and motherhood. Last week, we saw how she helped Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare) create herself. And, each time she makes a new blood-viral zomb-vamp-thing out of someone, she’s essentially reforming them as a new being. The Countess is an alternate universe manifestation of Lady Gaga’s “Mother Monster” title, and we begin to see how the hotel is populated with her creations. They’re all living a microcosmic existence, bound to the Deco cage of the Hotel Cortez and surviving the doldrums of eternity on what they seem to regard as the silver lining of occasionally tearing a kale-or-Furious 7 demanding guest to pieces.
Chloe Sevigny’s newly zomb-vamp-thing character, Alex, may be something of an exception — but only insomuch as, at the beginning of the episode, she sets out on a quest to tear someone’s mind, instead of their body, to pieces. Said someone happens to be her still-human ex-husband-in-the-making, John, who stumbles upon her and her son’s sleek, unnervingly Oedipal coffin at the beginning of the episode. Not wanting him to know that she’s become an immortal 75-degree body heated zomb-vamp-thing in order to be with her son, she attempts to convince John he’s having a psychotic break. She entreats the help of Liz Taylor to hide the coffins so that John will be embarrassed about having seemingly hallucinated, and will leave the hotel to get rest and, possibly, psychiatric help.
Alex also happens to enlist the help of two Swedes who were killed in the first episode — and who are, via the rule mentioned above, now full-bodied phantoms. We know little about them apart from their Vin Diesel fandom, which has carried over in death. Fearing that they’re forever condemned to roam the halls pining after — but never truly seeing — Furious 7, they take to having murderous sex with hotel guests, the unlucky first of whom is a man who thinks they’re trying to scam him, and whose last words are, yes, “No way, Jose. Mr. Wu does not pay for pussy.”
However, the Swedish tourist-ghosts engage John in a bloody but murder free threesome — after which the maid scolds “Nordic types” for “having no respect for fresh linens” — and somehow the threesome leads to John thinking he’s hallucinating the o.g. Hotel Cortez murderer, March (Evan Peters). He then seemingly confuses himself for The Leftovers’ Kevin Garvey and begins punching a wall until he realizes perhaps the Hotel’s been intoxicating him a bit too much. He returns to his regular home, and picks his and Alex’s daughter, Scarlett up from her grandparents’ house.
There happens to be a stowaway in his bag, however: the yet unseen Bartholomew. John’s daughter already suspects her father of mental instability, but when he takes out a gun and begins shooting at the horror-baby, she reasonably freaks out. Alex shows up to falsely save the day, and returns to the hotel with Bartholomew, where the Countess — with seemingly genuine gratitude — thanks her for saving her baby… right before we get a glimpse of said baby’s curious, starfish face that the episode had heretofore withheld. (Even if the baby’s face were Donald Trump, it’d been obscured to heighten anticipation for so long that the scare-factor inevitably disappointed.)
Interwoven through all this are two key and recurring subplots — the first being a brief glimpse at the attempted-infanticidal mischief Angela Bassett’s Ramona Royale, Matt Bomer’s Donovan and Kathy Bates’ Iris (who’s now adapted to zomb-vamp-dom) are up to. Ramona and Donovan — two spurned lovers/creations of the Countess’, united — return to the Hotel Cortez to destroy the infrastructure of the Countess’ existence: her collection of kidnapped blonde, bloodsucking children. However, their attempt is stymied by the fact that Alex is conveniently currently hiding the children — not from them, but from John. Ramona also attempts to kill the Countess’ biological grandparent-aged baby, but this doesn’t work out either, as Bartholomew ultimately jumps ship in John’s luggage.
The larger subplot is another instance of the writers seemingly changing the rules as though bored with their own game. All of a sudden, Liz Taylor and Tristan (Finn Wittrock) are fully immersed in a love affair, and all of a sudden, said affair has proven that Tristan is not the sociopathic zomb-vamp-thing we thought he was, but rather a zomb-vamp-thing with a huge heart — at least, all of a sudden, for Liz Taylor.
Following their sex scene, Tristan muses on his attraction to Liz — who last episode made clear, is trans — saying, “I’m not even gay!” To which Liz, and the episode’s writer, correct him, saying, “You’re not gay for being with me, I’m a girl, I’m a hetero girl.” As they discuss their love, fear begins to pervade through speculation on the Countess’ reaction when she finds out: Tristan is, after all, her current toy (and is being used as a fluffer for the Countess’s actually gay, but closeted, boyfriend, Will Drake) . But Liz Taylor has a tight bond with the Countess, and so proudly assumes — despite an admonishment over drinks with the visiting Ramona — that openness and honesty will make the Countess see Liz’s betrayal as coming from a place of pure love, and thus forgive her. We all know, however, given her history of throat-slitting grudges, that this is far too optimistic.
Liz has a heart-to-heart with the Countess, who calmly — though with a throat-slitting gleam in her eye — says they should discuss with Tristan. As the Countess continues — in her usual calm — to express her ire, Tristan (again, all of a sudden, not a sociopath) stands up for himself with a speech that is written like, well, this:
You collect us and create us and get us addicted to the light of your love just so you can take it away. You feed on the heartbreak knowing we’re out there suffering for you.
Liz takes a calmer tone to ask for the Countess’ blessing.”Please let me have this one,” she begs. This plea seems to warm the Countess, who’s always had a special, singular connection with Liz Taylor. But then, of course, she just slits Tristan’s throat, and as Liz weeps over her gushing hunk, the Countess callously tells her that, sure, she can have Tristan.
The Countess’ cruelty leads us to wonder who it’ll be that eventually ends her reign — if, indeed, anyone does. By the end of the episode, perhaps even more than the team Ramona, Donovan and Iris have formed, it seems like Alex may be the one to vanquish her — if she doesn’t become her closest ally first.
Her motives seem cryptic as the Countess tells her she saved her son, and as Alex replies, “and you saved mine.” Indeed, it’s hard to tell whether she’s just actually the worst, creepiest mother imaginable and seems to have been swayed into thinking that the Countess’ immortalization of her son as an emotionless, ageless, jelly-bean addicted throat slitting nightmare was a good thing — or whether she’s actually plotting against the Countess. As we’ve seen this episode, no act — whether it’s wanting kale too emphatically, wanting bad American cinema too emphatically, or wanting the queen zomb-vamp-thing’s lover too emphatically — goes without a fatal punishment on this show. Perhaps Alex is awakening to that logic, and planning to give the Countess hers. Or perhaps she’s just truly fallen for the Countess’ claim that she helped her son by turning him. Given that the series can and does impetuously shift gears from episode to episode, the most we can do is hope we find out.