FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 11: “Battle Royale”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Ned Martel
* For a review of the previous episode, “She Gets Revenge” – click here
* For a review of the Season 5 finale, “Be Our Guest” – click here
The penultimate Season 5 episode “Battle Royale” begins with Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) and Iris (Kathy Bates) coming together, bed full of guns, just before the events of the previous episode’s finale, when The Countess (Lady Gaga) and Donovan (Matt Bomer) were reuniting briefly before getting gunned down, seemingly.
Here, revisiting those moments, we hear “Seconds” by The Human League. As the guns finally blaze, Liz and Iris get a few into The Countess, while Donovan also takes shots. Iris wants to help her soon who wants nothing else but to not die inside the Hotel Cortez. Naturally, right? The pair try and help Donovan, in an excellently filmed scene which almost puts you directly in his shoes, the waving camerawork, the point-of-view, all of it. Luckily they get him out onto the street where Donovan bleeds out – his final word? “Mom.” This season is winding up for a nice, and surely at times brutal finale.
For The Countess, there’s bullet removal by Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson). Then later she wakes to flashes of nastiness before finally coming to all the way. Sally needs her to stick around because there’s all but literally no one else left for her; to use, to manipulate, whatever. Sally reminisces about a drug dealer, whose past included a first handjob from – you guessed it – the woman herself. This leads into a bit of backstory for her, a slight and tenuous bonding between her and The Countess.
Flashback to 1993 in Los Angeles, as Sally’s musician friends use her songs, record them, and go to the top. Meanwhile, she’s more like the nasty delinquent enabling the talented people around her to do all sorts of drugs, et cetera. Not that they weren’t eating it up, but still. “Do you trust me?” Sally asks them, before we see cuts of them sewing one another together, higher than the sky on drugs. Of course, then they both overdose, as Sally’s trapped between them, linked up. A sort of nasty Human Centipede-like homage except better, more fitting; Sally was truly trapped with addiction for five long days. This is where the Addiction Demon comes in, torturing her for days. Finally she ripped herself out of the bonds. WOW! Amazing, amazing story to Sally. Never expected such brutality. This episode is honestly one of the most filmic in the entire history of the series, to me. The way it’s filmed, the look, the heaviness, every bit amounts to an incredible masterpiece. And that’s only the first 12 minutes. Lots more to come.
Over at the Lowe household, John (Wes Bentley ) and Alex (Chloë Sevigny) bring their children home, to be “a family again.” Alex calls drinking blood taking medicine, though, young Scarlett knows better. But John’s committed to shedding his life as The Ten Commandments Killer, everything at the Cortez; he wants a normal family life again.
The Countess is still suffering. Sally brings in the little white haired children, saying she’ll have to use them for blood. Even though Countess doesn’t want that, the children agree: “Let us help, mommy.”
At the same time, Iris is grieving the loss of her son. Liz helped by incinerating him, so as to not have to throw him down the chute with all the rest of the trash killed in the hotel. It’s funny how among all the horror, the murder, the blood, you can really feel for a character like Iris. She only ever came to the hotel for her son, now he’s gone, dust. He was her world. “We were so much alike,” she reminisces, “maybe that’s why we couldn‘t be close.” Afterwards, leaving Miss Evers (Mare Winningham) to clean up the mess she made with the ashes, Iris heads up on top of the hotel, looking out to the horizon. A sort of beautiful, weird moment all in one.
Dressed and made up, Liz strolls down the hall some time later with a now clean Iris. They head down the locked up hallway, where bodies are strewn everywhere, from that of Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) to the bunch of vampire children. Not to mention, Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett) who emerges strong and healthy from around a corner, blood stained, spiteful.
Up shows a witch from down in New Orleans – yes, it’s Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). She’s going to do a bit of game show fun and all that Los Angeles type of stuff. Unfortunately, though, I think she checked into the wrong hotel.
“There‘s a lot of bad juju in this room,” says Queenie after entering the place she’s meant to stay all night. She doesn’t like the place, but Iris and Liz con her into staying. Then when Ramona comes out of the shower, slashing away at Queenie, there comes the voodoo doll stuff. Pretty interesting fight starts between the two – a sort-of-vampire versus a voodoo witch. Out of nowhere, James March (Evan Peters) stabs Queenie with a big blade from his cane – he’s a ghost, remember? So the rules are skewed. Ramona drinks Queenie’s blood, getting her fill. Then James says: “I want you to kill The Countess“… he’s got big plans. He doesn’t want to see his love walk away from the hotel.
John Lowe arrives home. In his trunk, he has a man whom he questions about being clean. Do you know what he’s got in store for him? I know I do. Some of that medicine Alex was talking about earlier. Is the new way for the Swiss Family Lowe? We’ll see. Inside, John finds nobody. Only a key for the Cortez hanging from a light fixture.
Cut to Lowe back at the hotel, running through the halls. Straight to Room 64. There on the bed is Sally, waiting. She claims March took his family – “One last kill and I can take you to your family,” says Sally. The final commandment left? Thou shalt not commit murder.
Busy fitting Ramona Royale for a dress, Liz is preparing her for the coming slaughter. But Ramona has “witch‘s blood” flowing through her, she doesn’t want any of the assorted guns or weapons Iris and Liz have got kicking around.
With “I Wanna Be Adored” by The Stone Roses playing in the background, The Countess is having a reunion with Ramona. They talk of how their blood smells – “almonds” for Ramona, “black licorice” for The Countess. They miss one another, even if Ramona wants to kill the bitch. Likewise, Countess misses her, too. No matter what’s happened, or what may come next.
Just after the two make love, and The Countess is let free, she meets John Lowe when the elevator heads down. He blasts her away, letting her bleed on the elevator’s floor. Countess is the final commandment. Her head is now in a jar on the shelf upstairs, everyone reeling with pride over John’s accomplishments. Only Sally’s got further plans – thwarted after March stops her from stabbing him, keeping him there forever. Relieved? Well, John’s a killer, as well. Shouldn’t be too relieved for the man.
March sits at his table and asks Miss Evers about when she first discovered being a ghost. Then he gets upset over the dinner arrangements. At the door is The Countess, whose arrival at dinner has prompted James to be a little tempestuous, and Miss Evers to be get a bit saucy. Countess is adjusting to her “new state,” as March calls it.