The secrets of the Hotel Cortez are charging right through the walls and into the Hollywood streets. With deadly renovations underway and a flashback that’s to die for, Episode 7 proved to be well worth waiting for.
For the construction contractors assigned to give the Hotel Cortez new life, what starts off as a typical on the job quickly turns into a nightmare. As walls come down and century-old doors open, two of the hotel’s oldest residents see light once again and feed the blood thirst that’s gone unquenched all that time. It’s a scene that takes a page from The Walking Dead—two dusty and decrepit looking creatures feast quite heartily on the fresh blood of thriving contractors, much to the chagrin of Iris and the Countess. And in discovering the mess from this renovation mishap, we finally sense that the Countess isn’t as cool and calm as she always appears. There’s fear inside her, too—perhaps because she’s not sure how such a horror could have happened under her watchful eye. Or maybe it’s because she knows none of her creations would have dared to expose themselves in this way.
If not connected to the Countess in present day, we are left to question who these creatures are—or were. And a nifty flashback to the days of Old Hollywood gives us the answer.
Anyone who knows me well knows I love Old Hollywood. The glitz, the glamour, the scandals. I love it all. So, anytime AHS recalls the days of the Silver Screen, I’m all for it. In fact, one of the reasons I really appreciated Freak Show was because it brought one of my Old Hollywood favorites, Marlene Dietrich, back into public consciousness. This time, Ryan Murphy and crew decided it was time to bring Rudolph Valentino back into the fore. And in his return, we finally become privy to who the Countess was before she became, well, the Countess.
Once a flapper trying to make it in the movie biz, she meets MGM superstar Rudolph Valentino (played by Finn Whitrock) and falls head over heels for him. But there’s a hitch—he’s married to the multi-talented Natacha Rambova. Luckily, both Valentino and Rambova accept the young flapper with open arms and they form a passionate threesome that only death can separate.
And it does. Valentino dies suddenly, leaving the Countess alone and in grief. With her true love and her Hollywood dreams behind her, she hastily marries Mr. March. Yes, the very one who builds the Hotel Cortez. Now we understand the Countess’ ties to the old hotel—it was her marital home, where she grieved the loss of Valentino, and where she ultimately learned to be the Countess as she appears today.
But it wasn’t the hotel or James March who made her a member of the undead. It was, in fact, Valentino and Rambova who once again welcomed her into their world. Infected by a man determined to preserve Valentino’s youth and beauty, Valentino and Rambova live quietly, waiting for the right moment to enlist the young woman who would one day become the Countess.
A jealous Mr. March entraps Valentino and Rambova in one of the hidden parts of the hotel, where they wither and age until they’re rediscovered by Will Drake’s contractors-for-hire.
Although American Horror Story can be something of a superficial show, I have to give the show runners credit for their depth of entertainment knowledge. I don’t think I have ever seen this show miss the mark when referencing the top stars of days passed, and the Valentino tie-in in this episode was well developed and superbly executed.
But unfortunately for movie buffs like me, the entire episode wasn’t all about Old Hollywood. We also followed John through his first round of psychiatric treatment.
With hypocritical Alex by his side, we find John at the local mental health ward checking himself in. As he seems to unravel further, he discovers that the main suspect in the Ten Commandments case is residing just down the hall from his own digs at the hospital. With the skill and savvy of a seasoned detective, John sleuths his way into the room only to find himself face to face with a young girl named Ren.
Perplexed and frustrated, John grills her to find out the whereabouts of the true killer. What he finds, instead, is a mirror image of his little boy Holden—except he doesn’t know it yet. Ren, too, was a neglected child who finds ‘salvation’ in the arms of the Countess.
For John, Ren also serves as a reminder of how his relationship with Scarlett has been dismantled by his own instability. He sees in Ren a chance to redeem himself—he can save this little girl from her own horror story while also putting a stop to the Ten Commandments murders.
But none of it goes as planned. Ren agrees to help him locate the killer if only he can help her escape the mental health facility. As soon as she’s free, she flees, putting John’s independent investigation at a stand-still.
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.