Spoiler alert: Do not read on unless you have seen “American Horror Story: Hotel” episode five, titled “Room Service.”
As “American Horror Story: Hotel” gains its footing, its fifth episode, “Room Service,” feels like a particularly ambitious one, at least for its length. In a mere 69 minutes, the budding seeds of a Ramona (Angela Bassett)-Donovan (Matt Bomer) alliance are planted, Iris (Kathy Bates) adjusts to her new blood virus, backstory on Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) is finally revealed and some slight development is made between John Lowe (Wes Bentley) and Sally (Sarah Paulson).
But most importantly, the ancient blood virus leaves the Hotel Cortez. For the first time, we see the ailment’s deadly consequences in the outside world, catalyzed by Alex’s (Chloe Sevigny) introduction to the virus.
Alex, to say the least, is not handling the blood virus well. Already a somewhat reckless character, as evidenced by her decision to turn at the hands of the Countess (Lady Gaga), she’s faced with a child who is dying of measles because his mother didn’t get him vaccinated. After feasting on the hospital’s stash of blood, she injects the dying boy with the virus to save him.
In the moment, Alex clearly isn’t thinking about the consequences. And it’s no wonder, given that the virus likely distorts a person’s head when it first takes over. But there are consequences, and they are dire.
The boy brutally murders his parents, drinking their blood, before rushing off to the school bus with a smile. It’s a telling moment about the nature of the virus: not only does it obviously alter them physically, making them immortal, but it also affects them heavily mentally, seemingly removing a sense of empathy. It was seen in “Devil’s Night,” when Holden killed his own dog for its blood and as he continues to be cold toward Alex, and now it’s seen in a particularly sinister fashion.
At school, it hardly stops there. In fact, it blows up to new heights. The boy kills his teacher and infects his classmates with the virus, creating a truly “Children of the Corn”-esque scene where the children attack another faculty member. Police arrive at the school later, only to find more murdered faculty members, but the children seem okay and eerily calm. And they’ve all agreed to the same story they tell to authorities, one of a masked murderer who ravaged their school. Unsurprisingly, the police buy it — after all, the real story is much less believable.
Back in the world of the Hotel Cortez, though, the Countess’ adversaries are starting to get a plan in order. Ramona, who initially rejected the idea of a partnership with Donovan after the Countess dumped him, warms to it after seeing Iris. The newly infected Iris, they conclude, is the perfect insider for infiltrating the hotel and getting their revenge. She’s essentially invisible to the Countess, they point out, and she manages the hotel. The real question, though, is if Iris is up to such a task.
As Iris points out to Liz Taylor back at the hotel, for 20 years, she’s seen the kind of fear that comes with being around the Countess. She sees little left for her life — after all, she was in the process of taking it before Donovan saved her (which, in retrospect, seemed to be yet another selfish act on the part of Donovan’s to gain leverage against the Countess, rather than do something to save his mother). In Iris’ fragile state, she and Liz finally form a bond, and Liz, who remained one of the last mysterious characters, finally gets some backstory.
Once a married man with a wife and children, Liz’s life changed after finding the Hotel Cortez. Alone, Liz would cross dress, but hid this fact desperately from the business partners she visited the hotel with. The Countess, however, finds Liz at her most vulnerable — a common theme for the Countess — and encourages her to embrace this side of her. The Countess creates Liz Taylor, even to the extent of giving her her name.
Instead of inflicting Liz with the blood virus, surprisingly, the Countess simply employs her at the Hotel Cortez, where Liz seems perfectly at home. Iris, however, is still grappling with the effects of the virus. Two particularly horrible “influencers” (Ryan Murphy favorite Darren Criss and Jessica Lu) become guests at the hotel and taunt the now-weak Iris with their disrespect. If only they knew how awful their timing was.
After enduring demands and belittlement from the couple, Iris caves and kills them. Instead of feeling remorse when they die — something those affected with the virus rarely seem to feel — she seems liberated.
“I never knew how to live until I died,” Iris tells Liz.
Liz, for her part, doesn’t judge. In fact, she seems to relate. The Countess changed their lives in seemingly very different ways, but in that moment, the two appear to have been liberated by her. Iris, who just minutes ago was lamenting her life and saw no possibilities for herself, looks to be on an entirely differently path, one that will likely surprise Donovan, who thinks she’s wrapped around his finger.
The episode was unusually low on John, but that’s not to say that he didn’t have his role. He’s being questioned for the murder in “Devil’s Night,” and he’s sticking with the truth: that a group of deceased serial killers did it. The fact that he even tries this story is evidence of his deteriorating mental state.
Further driving him mad is Sally, as it appears the two had sex in the Hotel Cortez. John, however, swears he doesn’t remember it. In the bit of their intercourse, for a split second, John looks in the mirror and sees the Addiction Demon in the mirror, so it’s anyone’s guess what really happened.
After the development of the children, though, the season becomes much bigger than the Hotel Cortez, and that’s the real horror.