American Horror Story Freak Show Review: "Mommy"

(Episode 5.03)

TV Reviews American Horror Story
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<i>American Horror Story Freak Show</i> Review: "Mommy"

Last week’s episode of American Horror Story: Hotel (“Chutes and Ladders”) presented the larger theme of the season, beyond the scares and Ten Commandments-themed mysteries, a story that would focus on addiction as a way of losing oneself. In the previous episode, we saw various vices—everything from heroin to blood-sucking—that helped the users get lost in their drug of choice. “Mommy” however, a surprising example of American Horror Story continuing a theme within two back-to-back episodes in a row—continues that focus on addiction, but this time around it’s about using addictions to find your way home.

As “Mommy” begins, we see Tristan returning to James Patrick March’s room a completely different person. When he first ran, he didn’t understand the atrocities he had witnessed. Since then, he has become a vampire-like creature, taken his first victim and Googled March, of whom he is now a huge fan. After gaining a reputation due to his reliance on substances and his behavior as a result, Tristan has found his home in the drug that finally gives him meaning: the killing of others.

This point gets hit right on the head with Alex, who explicitly states that smelling the lavender-scented head of her son Holden was and always will be her drug of choice. In spite of her daughter and husband, who clearly love her dearly, Holden was her soulmate and nothing can replace that now. We watch as Alex tries to fill this void, first with hope, then with pills, eventually giving up, cutting her wrists in the bathtub before her husband pulls her out. Now as a pediatrician, Alex goes around trying to save other people’s kids from their illnesses. She can help other families, but when it comes to her own, she feels the need to give up, as we see in “Mommy,” when she presents John with divorce papers, even though they both admit that they’re still in love.

Alex’s depression is one of the few aspects of Hotel that feels like a relatable, real issue, but it’s undercut by Alex pointing out just how cliché her situation is to the audience. Sure it is slightly cliché, but drawing attention to it makes the whole thing feel like a cheap, easy and lazy way out. Alex’s story does gain a new level of excitement, however, when she finds Holden in the hotel that will either save her marriage, slowly destroy her even further, or maybe even both.

Much like Alex can’t let go of Holden, at the Hotel Cortez, Iris refuses to let go of her son Donovan. Now that The Countess has dropped him for Tristan, he has nowhere to go. Iris sees this as the opportunity to move forward with her son, offering that they now move to the hotel where Whitey Bulger was captured. But Donovan explains that his mother has been terrible to him, to the point that drug users completely understand why he uses when discussing Iris, and suggests that she kill herself. Since Iris has too much love and is addicted to her son, she does exactly what he wants—goes to Sally’s room and asks her to kill her. When filling Iris with enough drugs to knock out a marching band doesn’t work, a plastic bag over the head does the trick.

Donovan meanwhile has tried to roam the streets for a few hours and has found it way too hard for nature. He is kidnapped by Ramona Royale, a former B-movie star that had a decade and-a-half romance with The Countess. When Royale turned her back on the Countess for a rapper named Prophet Moses, Royale killed Moses and moved past Royale. The Countess has made Royale one of her creations and now that Royale is trying to turn Moses, she can’t handle or accept one of her creations creating something else. Now Royale wants to kill the children that The Countess has made, and needs Donovan to be her man on the inside. Unfortunately, Donovan has been replaced, much like Royale was, which makes him useless to her.

Unlike the other vampiric characters in Hotel, Royale and The Countess are motivated by their addiction to something other than drinking blood. The Countess’ addiction is power, which she had taken away from her when she trusted her money to Bernie Madoff and lost it all. Bringing Bernie Madoff into this story is maybe the silliest thing this season has done so far, but it’s a simple shortcut to get The Countess to the desperate point she is at right now. Her goal is to marry Will Drake, then kill him and take every penny he has. Three episodes in, we can already see how, with Drake, Donovan, Tristan, March and Royale, The Countess loves being a puppetmaster, and gets off from the control she can create.

And Royale’s addicted to the idea of revenge against The Countess. At first The Countess dragged Royale away from her first addiction of fame, then lead her to an addiction of love and now she has become addicted to taking the power away from The Countess. Many of Angela Bassett’s characters in American Horror Story have been focused on revenge, but Royale might be the first time that Bassett has had so many fun layers to play around with, from jilted lover, to ‘70s B-movie star.

After being rejected by both The Countess and Royale, Donovan returns to the Hotel Cortez and whines to Liz Taylor, who reminds him that no matter how horrible his mother might be and regardless of how long he lives, no one will love Donovan the way that his mother does. Once again, “Mommy” takes an incredibly easy and convenient short cut, and after years of anger and hatred towards his mother, all Donovan needs to hear is someone else telling him that his mother loves him, for him to run right into her arms. When Donovan finds his mother dead, he cuts himself and feeds her his blood, returning the favors his mother listed to him earlier, that she had given him life and that she saved his life.

“Mommy” makes plenty of convenient choices in order to simplify the evolution of its characters. But considering how all over the place past seasons of American Horror Story have been, it’s amazing how long Hotel has stuck to this one theme, running with it for three episodes, rather than indulging the attention-deficit from which this series usually suffers.

Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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