Do you watch American Horror Story to be revolted by body horror? Do you watch it for the possibility of wonderfully tawdry love scenes between celebrities you never would have expected to be in the same project, let alone sharing a tawdry love scene in it? Do you watch it for amusingly nonsensical cameos? Or for the sometimes hilarious (when it’s not incredibly boring) emotional illogic of its characters? If any or all of these are the reason you, remaining AHS enthusiast, watch it, you’re in luck: Season 5 Episode 11 (“Battle Royale”) certainly has it all, and thrives on everything the series does best (and does best by doing worst).
Interestingly, the episode begins with a Big Question (not really) — almost reminiscent of Rashomon (not really) — about subjectivity and the fluid nature of the past (not really). It takes us back about 2 minutes before the last episode, “She Gets Revenge” finished. In that episode, seen from the perspective of the Countess (Lady Gaga) and Donovan (Matt Bomer), Iris (Kathy Bates) and Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare) had stormed into the Countess’ room and begun shooting — a killing spree set to Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” In “Battle Royale,” it changes the perspective to Liz and Iris, seemingly only to set the murder to a different song. Alas, “Hotling Bling” is nowhere to be heard. Perhaps my non-theory that “Hotline Bling” is the only thing that can kill the Countess was more right than I’d assumed: in its absence, she does not die. Instead, Iris and Liz accidentally shoot and kill Donovan (Iris’s son), though they’re able to drag him from the hotel before he passes, so that he won’t turn into one of those stereotypical, tortured Hotel Cortez ghosts.
In doing this favor for Donovan, they neglect killing the bullet-wounded Countess, who gets fixed up by Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson): the catch is that she has to endure Sally’s stories about her past, and so do we. Sally recounts how in the good old days (1993), she and a couple of indie rockers were expressing their artistic admiration for one another with a heroin-heavy threesome at the Hotel Cortez. In her altered state, Sally decided to sew the three of them together because, as she claimed, she loved them so much. (The Countess aptly notes that she has abandonment issues). But then her pals OD-ed while they were still stuck to her, and died, but remained stuck to her for five days. The story has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the episode, outside of being a long-winded way of saying that Sally doesn’t like when people leave her, and of beseeching the Countess to bring John (Wes Bentley) back to the Hotel so he can die there and live with her for eternity. Sally’s care — which is contingent on the Countess bringing John to her — extends to draining two of her vampirish child laborers for her. This saddens the Countess, but she needs the blood, and through this she’s nursed back to health and elegant hairdos.
Meanwhile, Liz and Iris need to continue their plot to overthrow the Countess, since their first attempt was stymied by accidental filicide. After Iris spends some time doing performance art with Donovan’s ashes (smearing them on herself and across one of the Hotel’s beds), she asks Miss Evers to clean them up, gets some respite on the roof of the Hotel, and then resumes her plotting. She and Liz wander down to the dungeon to unleash Ramona (Angela Bassett), only to find that she’s already freed herself from her cage and has eaten the group of blood virus infected rambunctious school children.
Ramona demands more blood, and luckily for Liz and Iris, Queenie from Coven (Gabourey Sidibe) happens to be checking in: in a random addendum to the already complex illogic of the blood virus, witch blood is basically kale. Queenie is on vacation, and has come to see a taping of The Price is Right — and while she detects “bad juju” in the room she’s given, she doesn’t foresee that a hungry Ramona will be waiting for her in the shower. The two have a battle, with Ramona shocked at Queenie’s human voodoo doll abilities, and Queenie seeming likely to vanquish her. But we cannot forget that literally anything can happen to steer the plot in any random direction, and so all of a sudden the murderous ghost James March appears and stabs Queenie. Similar to Sally’s care for the Countess, he only saves Ramona in the hopes that she’ll kill the Countess, so she’ll be forcedly reunited with him in ghost romance.
John has just returned home with Alex (Chloë Sevigny) and Holden (and they even had the decency to pick up their daughter they don’t care about and explain to her that mommy and Holden need blood to survive and that daddy will procure that blood and that basically the rest of her childhood will be horrific). But no sooner than they arrive in their typical suburban den of repression and supernatural blood viruses and serial murder are Alex, Holden and Scarlett (right, that’s her name!) abducted. (The Countess seems to have fulfilled her promise to Sally).
John returns to the hotel to find them, where he’s told by March that the one task he has left in his Ten Commandments murders is the “Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder” murder — of course, he could commit suicide, and that would be the most un-hypocritical way of carrying it out. But he also happens to be in a hotel filled with other murderers.
Meanwhile, the Countess is finally confronted by Ramona, who, suddenly more hypnotized by the Countess’ allure than she’d anticipated ever being again, is less enthused about killing her than she’d hoped. The two chat — tensely, because they might try to murder each other and such, and because of their visible sexual chemistry — about everyday blood virus stuff.
“You look wonderful, what have you been eating?” asks the Countess.
“I just had me a witch,” replies Ramona. “Feel like grizzly bears are running through my veins.” Gaga once again gets to show her surprising dynamism as an actor — and that the Countess is equal parts vulnerable and manipulative. She begs Ramona that if she’s determined to kill her, to “screw her first.” And then Lady Gaga and Angela Bassett make out, as the creators outdo even Jessica Lange singing Lana Del Rey in fulfilling the fantasies gay men never even knew they had.
The Countess — having won Ramona over once again, and seemingly having given her the Hotel — is about to leave the Cortez once and for all, but then John intervenes and shoots her, having chosen her as the victim of his final murder. He severs her head and puts it on display in his murder gallery. And while March commends his work, Sally makes an attempt to literally stab John in the back, but March kills her plot before her plot’s able to kill John, claiming John still has far too much potential.
In the final scene, March has Miss Evers prepare a resplendent feast for the soon-to-be-ghost Countess, and the two discuss their first experiences realizing they were ghosts. The Countess grudgingly joins them for dinner, as March explains that his plot was fair, because the Countess had turned him in to the police and led to his downfall and death. The Countess is surprised by the allegation, and over in the corner, Miss Evers becomes overwhelmed by the urge to confess — mostly because she’s furious that, after all these years, March is still obsessed with the Countess. For, it turns out, her jealousy of the Countess was the reason Miss Evers — yes! — ratted on him to the police in the first place — so that they’d have to die together. And now that plan is seeming more futile, her love more unrequited, than ever, since March has indefinite access to the ghost-Countess. March banishes Miss Evers.
With all of this, one might ask what the series could possibly do in its seeming last episode of the season, “Be Our Guest.” This was a good episode, but with the Countess now being a ghost, Donovan being dead, and Ramona perhaps occupying the role of proprietor, what else do we really need to see happen? Of course, there’s John and Alex’s plot, but that’s become the least compelling of them all. With all the show’s tension centered on power play with the Countess, the only thing left to do seems to be to destroy the Hotel. Or bring back more characters from Coven. Which, like everything else, is not outside the too-infinite realm of possibility.