Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “American Horror Story: Hotel” episode seven, titled “Flicker.”
From ghosts to vampires, the Hotel Cortez holds countless horrors — that’s no secret. But in episode seven of “American Horror Story: Hotel,” we learn that something horrifying is being hidden behind the walls, and it has been kept a secret so well that not even the Countess (Lady Gaga) noticed.
Perhaps most importantly, though, we learn even more about the Countess’ backstory and, for the first time, see her pre-ancient blood virus. And, in a rare occasion, we see her genuinely, truly scared.
With Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) taking a heightened role at the hotel due to his relationship with the Countess, he leads some construction workers through renovations, and they’re surprised to find a brick wall. Will instructs them to tear it down, and it turns out to be the end for the two innocent men: two monsters attack and kill them, one of them being played by Finn Wittrock, whose character Tristan was killed in the last episode. As we’ll learn later, this is Valentino and Natasha, and that was their first meal in a lifetime. After that, they find another victim in a real estate agent staying at the hotel (Christine Estabrook, who also appeared in season one, “Murder House”), still desperately starving.
Outside of the hotel, John Lowe’s (Wes Bentley) mental state continues to deteriorate. Alex (Chloe Sevigny) has checked him into a mental health center, which he requested. But it’s not because he feels he really needs help, but because, after an outburst with his coworker Detective Andrew Hahn (Richard T. Jones), he saw a file that said Hahn had visited the hospital. John thinks this might lead him to the 10 Commandments Killer, now completely consumed with his obsession.
The meatiest part of the episode is handed to the Countess, who gets even more backstory (after all, she has lived a long life). In flashbacks to 1925 Hollywood, giving the costume and production designers on the show a feast to work with, we see a much different Countess. She’s fawning over a movie star, Valentino. Fawning is hardly something we can picture the Countess doing today, but it’s clear the virus and her century on earth have changed her. Instead of the in-control queen of the hotel, she’s just an aspiring actress who barely knows what to do when Valentino invites her to his house for dinner.
During their dinner, the conversation turns to, unsurprisingly, immortality. The Countess is in search of it through fame, not unlike Lady Gaga herself. Their dinner takes a turn, though, when Valentino’s wife Natasha appears. She intimidates the Countess, calling her “little mouse,” and, to be fair, the Countess does act a bit mousy. But it turns out that Natasha isn’t angry: in fact, the three go on to form a relationship.
The Countess’ happiness is dashed, though, when, at the grand opening at the Hotel Cortez, she finds out that Valentino has died. In her grief, she goes to jump out of the window, but James March (Evan Peters) saves her. She marries him not too long after that. While she admits that she felt nothing for March, she was drawn to the darkness in him, which is proven when he finds him killing an innocent man and, instead of being horrified, offers advice and asks to get in on the action. The Countess has always had evil in her, even before the blood virus.
It’s too bad she married March, though, because it turns out Valentino wasn’t dead after all. He and Natasha find the Countess at his grave, and he reveals that he’s been alive the whole time, infected with the blood virus (by legendary German “Nosferatu” director F. W. Murnau, of all people). Seduced by the idea of living forever, she asks to be infected with Valentino and Natasha, and they pass the virus to her.
This displeases March, though. He doesn’t sense the Countess’ feelings of indifference, and truly seems to feel some kind of ownership over her. In jealousy, he finds Valentino and Natasha and dooms them to a horrible fate: being trapped behind the walls of the Hotel Cortez for nearly a century.
Back in present day, the Countess meets March for their monthly dinner, something March very much looks forward to, clearly still in love with her. The Countess enrages him by telling him that she’s marrying Will, and implying that she never even loved March. To get back at her, March tells her about the now-freed couple that he locked inside the walls, and we get to see the Countess honestly shocked.
As for John, he does make progress in his search for the 10 Commandments Killer — sort of. He finds what looks to be an innocent little girl, Ren, who proves to be anything but. In fact, she’s been working with the killer. She was saved by the Countess in 1986 after her father left her in a steaming car and, given that she hasn’t aged, she very clearly has the blood virus.
Ren has been with the 10 Commandments Killer at some of his biggest killings, drawing an important link between the murderer and the Countess. However, she seems ready to take him down. John agrees to get her out of the institution if she leads him to the killer.
Their partnership doesn’t last long, though. Once outside, Ren runs into the street in front of a speeding bus, which kills her, leaving John with nothing once again.
And back at the hotel, Valentino and Natasha are making moves. They look awful, showing that carriers of the virus do age if they don’t feed, but they find some victims in a group of frat boys and, rejuvenated, hit the town.
They’ll prove to be only the latest horror to hit the streets of Los Angeles. What ever did happen to that classroom of vampire children introduced two episodes ago? For the city’s sake, hope they don’t find each other.