This review contains spoilers
So, it turns out that the Ten Commandments Killer, the sadistic murderer that John Lowe has been hunting for weeks, is none other than the detective himself. I’m sure the twist would have been shocking if it weren’t for the fact that pretty much every reviewer called this weeks ago, myself included. John’s memory gaps, his obsession with the case, and the fact that he’s played by a dead-eyed Wes Bentley all made him pretty suspect, and having James March invite him to his serial killer banquet in ‘Devil’s Night’ was a major red flag. The previous week’s episode, furthermore, made John’s guilt obvious enough that even the most clueless viewer could see what was coming. So, why wait until episode 8 to reveal what most of us guessed over a month ago?
‘The Ten Commandments Killer’ begins with John fleeing the scene of Wren’s death to demand answers from the staff of the Cortez. Sally agrees to tell him what he wants to know, and takes him to, surprise surprise, none other than his own hotel room. Hidden behind the armoire is a secret room full of ghoulish trophies, including a hand, several sets of teeth, and a pair of hearts. Sally tells John that he is responsible, causing the detective to run away in horror and hand himself in to the police. He tries to tell Detective Andy Hahn what he’s done, but his old partner understandably doesn’t believe him, thinking John to be undergoing some sort of mental breakdown.
The story of how John became the Ten Commandments Killer is this: back in 2010, at the height of his alcoholism, John stumbled into the Cortez one night looking for another drink. He is invited upstairs, where he meets James March, who is fascinated by John’s aura. It is jet black, he tells the detective, indicative of the man’s anger and instability. Convinced that John is “the one”, destined to be a killer so great that he makes Ramirez and Dahmer look like amateurs, March formulates a plan to push the already volatile detective over the edge. Holden’s disappearance, it turns out, was no mere whim of the Countess, but rather the first step in this plan.
Before long, furious with what he sees as the US legal system’s inability to grant true justice, John snaps and murders a paedophile. Disgusted by what he’s done, he tries to hang himself, but is cut down by March, who tells him that he can use the pain he feels to make the world a “cleaner place”. Thus, John decides to finish March’s work, completing the Ten Commandments Killings that the hotel owner began back in the 1920s, and making himself head detective on the case to avoid suspicion.
We are told that the reason John suffered memory gaps, forgetting both that he was a killer and also his five year long affair with Sally, was because the Cortez “will never let you take anything with you”, granting you one life within its walls and another one outside them. The episode ends with John, now fully aware of what he’s done and ready to embrace his dark side, murdering Andy (as he’d long suspected his partner fancied his wife), and running wild-eyed back to the hotel.
Never before have I been so bored or frustrated by an episode of AHS. The moment we were told, once and for all, that John was the murderer I knew I was going to be in for a hard slog. I’ve been complaining for weeks about how relentlessly boring I find John as a character, so an entire episode dedicated to him wasn’t exactly good news. Perhaps in the next two episodes he’ll become more interesting, now that he’s fully embraced the darkness and all, but I found ‘The Ten Commandments Killer’ tough to sit through.
The revelation that John was the murderer should have been deeply shocking, not to mention deliciously outrageous, but instead I just found it embarrassing that what everyone had known for weeks was supposed to be a surprise. What potentially could have been a horrifying twist was rendered simultaneously boring and ridiculous by bad writing and too much build-up.
The only thing I enjoyed about the episode was that it provided a generous dose of James March, hands down one of AHS’s greatest ever characters. Evan Peters’ performance gets better with every episode, and in ‘The Ten Commandments Killer’ he is more compelling than ever, as darkly funny as he is deeply unsettling. I really hope Peters receives recognition for this role, as it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen on television this year, not to mention one of the few things that have made Hotel bearable.
With the season just about two-thirds over, it seems difficult for the season to do anything that makes up for its flaws. Time and again, the writers have wasted a brilliant character or minor storyline in favour of focusing on John. I have so many questions – about Ramona Royale, Liz and Tristan’s relationship, the origins of the Addiction Demon, and whatever the hell happened to that school full of vampire children – but so little faith that any of them will be answered satisfactorily