2.5 out of 5 stars

“She Wants Revenge” begins promisingly, with the Countess (Lady Gaga), in voiceover, making plans to rid herself of everyone but Rudolph Valentino (Finn Wittrock); her one true love, who was recently released from several decades of imprisonment in the Cortez. The Countess is planning to build her own fortress by sealing off a floor of the hotel to the outside world. The episode’s highlight comes early, as the Countess demands the work be finished tomorrow to a beleaguered contractor who doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. The Countess gets an unexpected assist from spectral James March (Evan Peters), a character that’s really grown on me this season. As much fun as I had making up fake old time-y dialogue for March in my earlier reviews, I can’t compete with Peters’ chipper mid-Atlantic delivery of lines like “Make haste! Much to accomplish!”

However, when the best scene in an American Horror Story episode features a vampire and a ghost negotiating with a contractor, something’s off. “She Wants Revenge” isn’t bad, and it sets up a promising home stretch for Hotel. But that’s the problem—it’s the kind of late-season, exposition-heavy episode that most dramas rely on, but for a show that’s struggled to build momentum all season, it feels like Hotel is slowing down when it should be shifting into a higher gear.

american horror story: hotel - she wants revenge

The Countess’ first move is to welcome Donovan (Matt Bomer) back for another raunchy sex scene, complete with star pasties. Whatever your feelings about Gaga, you have to respect her commitment to the character. Her performance is regularly more interesting than the material the show’s writers are giving her—she’s clearly game for whatever they throw at her, and they haven’t taken full advantage of that. A Gaga season of American Horror Story should be its most unhinged, and yet most of Brad Falchuk’s script is devoted to tying together plot threads like the Countess’ impending marriage to Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), and whether Donovan is double-crossing the Countess or Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett). No other season of American Horror Story has been this soapy; scenes like the one between the Countess, Valentino and Natacha (Alexandra Daddario) are as purple as anything on my Nana’s “stories.” American Horror Story’s disdain for narrative coherence can be thrilling, even disarmingly moving, but as Hotel’s storylines grow increasingly tepid, its countless, often forgotten storylines (we don’t check in with murderous detective John Lowe this week) can’t inspire much more than a shrug.

american horror story: hotel - she wants revenge

The episode’s pleasures were, again, mostly on the sidelines. It was good to see Angela Bassett again, even if her scenes are reminders of how the show’s wasted her this year. It feels like at least two thirds of Bassett’s scenes have been expository flashbacks, and it’s a testament to how great she is as an actress that she can deliver a moving, authentic performance in a throwaway sequence that gives her a second motive for revenge (Ramona tried to turn her dying father, only to watch him suffer with dementia for 20 years). It was good to see Liz (Denis O’Hare) again, and a relief to find that the show’s writers haven’t shrugged off his heartbreak over losing a boyfriend. And though the sequence where Iris (Kathy Bates) murders three guests making a porno in their room is tangential to any of the main plotlines, I did enjoy Iris’ monologue on her complicated feelings about pornography.

american horror story: hotel - she wants revenge

The show also checks in with the gang of vampire kids that are busy murdering homeless people and pizza guys (I like to imagine that Thomas Barbusca, as one of the kids, is playing his a-hole bully character from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp). The show has been particularly cagey about the vampire kids subplot, and I’m hoping it’ll play into the finale, along with the Countess’ demon baby. If it’s too late to hope Hotel will be one of the show’s stronger seasons, at least we can keep our fingers crossed for an entertainingly gory conclusion—especially if it lets its underused actors come to the fore. Chief among those is Mare Winningham, who finally gets one great moment this week, as Miss Evers predicts with great accuracy how Will Drake’s life will end. Whatever bloodbaths await in these last few episodes, it’s good to know that Miss Evers will be there to take care of the laundry.

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