TV Review: American Horror Story: Hotel – Episode 5: ‘Room Service’

Liz Taylor finally gets a backstory, and John Lowe continues to be the least interesting thing about this season, says

★★★☆☆

Image: Suzanne Tenner / FX

Image: Suzanne Tenner / FX

This review contains spoilers

With the notable exception of Lana Winters in Asylum, LGBT characters in AHS don’t often get much screen time. They tend to either play only a minor role in the season (think Patrick and Chad from Murder House), or appear in one episode before being promptly killed off (like Matt Bomer’s character in Freak Show). I was concerned that this might also be true of this season, with Liz Taylor’s main purpose in Hotel being limited to wearing huge earrings and throwing withering looks at those around her. Fortunately, one of the few good things that can be said about this season is that this is not the case, as ‘Room Service’ finally gives us her backstory.

While helping Iris deal with some particularly obnoxious guests, Liz decides to fill the other woman in on what brought her to the Cortez. Twenty years ago, Liz was living as an unhappily married man called Nick, whose only respite from her unsatisfying life was being able to go away on business trips and lock herself in a hotel room to try on dresses. While staying at the Cortez one night, the Countess appears in Liz’s room and tells her “you walk like a man, talk like a man, but smell like a woman”. The Countess then proceeds to give Liz a makeover, in terms of confidence as well as looks, doing her makeup and nails before christening her Liz Taylor. Too nervous to leave the hotel with her new look, the Countess suggests that Liz instead just take a walk down the corridor. Unfortunately, as she’s heading back to the room, two of her work colleagues appear and begin to harass her. Just when things seem about to turn really nasty, Liz shoves the two men away, telling them “see me and go to hell”, while at the same moment the Countess appears and slits their throats. Rather than give the other woman “The Virus”, the Countess instead offers her a job, and Liz has never been back to Kansas since.

What I really loved about Liz’s backstory was that, in a wonderful performance from Denis O’Hare, we got to see her go from meek and insecure to someone who loves and accepts herself. It was genuinely moving to witness her seeing her newly made up face in the mirror and tearing up at how pleased she was with what she saw. While perhaps surprising, I didn’t think the Countess’s kindness and understanding towards her felt out of character, and it was moving to watch Liz being seen and treated as the woman that she is for the first time in her life.

Furthermore, it was lovely to watch Liz pass on that same wisdom and confidence to Iris, who wasn’t having an easy time of it this episode. Her son, Donovan, manages to convince Ramona to make Iris their “inside man” at the Cortez in their plan to bring the Countess down, but things don’t look too promising as Iris can hardly even stand up. She hasn’t fed since becoming a vampire, and spends most of the episode a sweaty, shaky mess, letting herself be walked all over by unpleasant guests. Said guests are two vapid hipsters who try to patronise Iris into giving them a discount. Liz suggests they teach the pair a lesson by serving them cat food instead of the pate they ordered, and tells Iris that she needs to stop taking crap from people. When the guests are rude to her again, this time threatening to get her sacked when she accidentally drops some cutlery, she does exactly that, and proceeds to stab the pair of them to death.

The friendship that we see develop between Liz and Iris this episode is genuinely touching to witness, with two women who’ve worked together for twenty years but never actually connected realising what they’ve been missing. It’s nice to have a healthy female friendship on AHS for once instead of just a rivalry – well, as healthy as a friendship that involves disposing of corpses together can be.

On a negative note, one thing I didn’t enjoy so much about this episode is the season’s continuing emphasis on John Lowe. Dishevelled and seemingly losing his mind, John is fired from his detective job and proceeds to drown his sorrows by spending a drunken night with Sally. Maybe I’m just heartless, but I find it difficult to be even vaguely interested in John as a character at this point, let alone concerned about what happens to him. He’s easily the least interesting thing about this season, his storyline both lacklustre and absurd, and it’s especially depressing considering that he seems to be the main protagonist. If he doesn’t turn out to be the Ten Commandments Killer, I don’t really understand what the point of his character is.

If only all the time spent dedicated to John could instead be given to Ramona Royale, who unfortunately appeared in this week’s episode for all of three minutes. When you’ve roped someone as brilliant as Angela Bassett into starring in your show, why would you waste that? I can only hope that next week she’ll get to play a significantly bigger part, but it’s more likely that ‘Room 33’ will just be John stumbling around drunk for the entirety of the episode.

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