Like all of American Horror Story‘s Halloween episodes, Season 5 Episode 4 (“Devil’s Night”) isn’t apprehensive about making sacrifices: apart from the actual human sacrifices present at a dinner party, there’s the sacrifice of temporarily halting the narrative flow to engage in unparalleled (if not somewhat redundant, given that it’s already American Horror Story) Halloween-y costumery and sanguine celebration. And you’ll be thrilled to know that, though it takes place on Halloween, this episode is a safe haven from the zeitgeist costume deluge you’ll surely endure (count the Left Sharks!) this weekend. Here, all the costumes are classics: they’re serial killers. Luckily, the episode is short, and the detour is just indulgent enough to remind us of America’s glut of murderous gluttons. (Interestingly, it references both those we traditionally call “serial killers” and, on a couple of occasions, police violence.)
The episode begins with the introduction of Ricky Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar) — the serial murderer and rapist also referred to as the Night Stalker. (It’s been noted that AHS’s Hotel Cortez may be a nod to LA’s own Hotel Cecil, which famously housed Ramirez — as well as Jack Unterweger — so it makes sense that Ramirez would be the first killer to show up in this reunion plot.) We’re not sure exactly who he is right away, but hints are dropped when he breaks into a couple’s hotel room, bludgeons a sleeping man, and then attempts to strangle the woman next to him; she manages to escape, but unfortunately runs into the open arms of James March (Evan Peters), the hotel’s ghost creator who, while fictitious, is perhaps the most terrifying serial killer of them all.
Back in the world of the “living,” Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) speaks on the phone to his daughter, who’s currently being sheltered from her dysfunctional parents at Grandma’s, and is making a “banana pie.” You know that anything as wholesome as “banana pie” must be a cue for bloodshed on AHS, and indeed, blood starts pouring down from his ceiling. As he ventures upstairs to find the source, we’re sent into a flashback: once upon a time in the ’20s, March’s accomplice maid, Miss Evers, wasn’t a blood-Swiffering phantom, but rather a loving mother. One Halloween, she’d taken her son trick-or-treating, and he disappeared — his bones eventually found in a mass grave dug by a serial kidnapper/killer. And presumably somehow Miss Evers had taken that as encouragement to join forces with another serial killer. She explains all of this to John — whose son Holden was also abducted — telling him she’s been watching him, knowing they’re kindred spirits. Later, John researches the death of her son, and finds out it wasn’t recent, but rather in the ’20s: clearly, he’s a little slow to figure out that just about none of his kind neighbors in the hotel are actually alive.
Speaking of Holden, Alex Lowe (Chloe Sevigny) is still in denial about how her son is now emotionless, literally cold-blooded, and more platinum blonde than when she last saw him. She brings him back to her human apartment and offers him a human juice, and, as with “banana pie,” juice is a wholesome treat mentioned on a show about destruction, and thus someone must die. This time, it’s Alex’s dog: when she returns from pouring the juice, she finds Holden sucking blood from its neck. The cup of juice crashes against the floor. This is no place for juice.
Alex takes Holden back to the hotel, on his disheartening request for his “other mommy” (rather than on, say, the fact that his temperature is 75.5) — and lucky boy, that other mommy happens to be Lady Gaga. Alex confronts the not-quite-vampire Countess about turning her son into a whatever-it-is. Gaga explains being a whatever-it-is as having “an ancient virus, a blood disorder” that brings “health, vitality and everlasting life,” attempting to convince Alex that she’s done Holden a favor by making him creepy. She likewise tries to cajole Alex into becoming a little creepy herself, but after Alex, somewhat tempted, asks the “price [she’d have] to pay to be like” the Countess, she declines the offer.
Next, Lily Rabe appears, made over as infamous Florida serial killer Charlize Theron — er, Aileen Wuornos. Indeed, after having our imagined portrait of Wuornos so influenced by Theron’s towering performance in Monster, it’s hard, at first — mostly due to cheesier costume and makeup design — not to want to see Rabe’s Wuornos as a prepackaged Halloween-store rendition of Theron’s own rendition of the actual murderer. But Rabe is a skilled and versatile enough actor to make you quickly forget this urge and lead you to give into the fact that the last thing on AHS’ mind is verisimilitude. She is not supposed to be Aileen Wuornos, but rather another amusing, Madame Tussaud’s-ish suggestion of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck’s parallel universe vision where the only things to be found in the depths of characters are blood and guts. Wuornos manages, despite looking like a famous, dead serial killer, to seduce John — who’s drinking again. But then once they’re in private, he questions her insistence that she is the dead serial killer — especially after she binds him. He escapes and rushes to check her ID, and sees that she is, indeed, the deceased murderer (all of whom carry proper identification, of course).
This is, after all, a Halloween episode on a show that takes place in a hotel where, as March soon explains, “what is impossible becomes possible.” And so, John is invited to Devil’s Night, a dinner party for American serial killer… ghosts. John Wayne Gaycy is there, as is Jeffrey Dahmer (and many others). Dahmer hovers over an unclothed twink whose skull he drills open — just like old times — as others dance in the background. John has been drinking absinthe, and is thus in something of a stupor. Could this all be his hallucination? He “wakes up” after the killers begin stabbing a businessman — on whom the creators of the show seek revenge for saying “Halloween is for losers,” and for thinking the Bonaventure is cool. When John reemerges in the “real world,” it isn’t so real after all, as Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) — his unexpected, if untrustworthy, ally — is huddled over him.
In the final scene, Alex returns to the hotel, sucks on a gash the Countess makes just above her breast, and, it seems, joins her son and the Countess in becoming one of those whatever-they-ares. And so the episode ends, having only slightly propelled the plot forward, while having also devoted a great deal of time to gimmicky Halloween digression — which, ultimately, is the realm in which this show flourishes.