Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “American Horror Story: Hotel” episode three, titled “Mommy.”
If there’s anything that can be safely said about “American Horror Story: Hotel,” it’s that it’s rich in backstory. The third episode of the season, “Mommy,” brings along another history-filled installment — though when it’s the introduction of Angela Bassett’s fierce Ramona, who may be the one to finally match the Countess, it’s welcome.
Though the episode starts off with the men of Hotel Cortez, it doesn’t focus on them for long. It turns out Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock) has taken a liking to killing since his first murder, and has even become a self-proclaimed fan of serial killer James March (Evan Peters). March only appears after Duffy goes into how much he knows about him, which he learned from a simple Google search (and March clearly doesn’t know what Google is — when Duffy tells him he Googled March, he replies, “That sounds obscene!”)
March refers to the hotel as his “murder palace,” and it’s a noticeable throwback to season one, widely referred to as “Murder House.” It’s also another clear reference to H.H. Holmes, the serial killer on whom March is based. The media referred to Holmes’ place of killing as his “Murder Castle.”
Meanwhile, Alex Lowe (Chloe Sevigny) is dealing with a child patient who contracted measles after his mother wouldn’t vaccinate him. Alex had a troubled childhood, so she devotes herself to children, though none more than her missing son, Holden. Alex says herself that she loved him more than anyone else, even more than her husband, John, or her daughter, Scarlett. It’s clear Alex’s addiction, as everyone on the show seems to have one, is Holden, and she can’t bear to live without him. In a flashback, we even see her slit her wrists in a bathtub after his disappearance, only to be found by John.
And still, no one believes Scarlett when she says she saw Holden at the hotel. Unsurprisingly, John is the only one who is willing to listen (for obvious reasons). Scarlett says Holden smelled like lavender when she saw him, and that he didn’t have “normal feelings” — and she’s probably not wrong.
After that comes the next Hotel Cortez victim: Claudia (Naomi Campbell), who is killed after Max Greenfield’s Gabriel (remember him?) emerges from her mattress and stabs her to death.
John’s distracted by another crime scene, though, one undoubtedly caused by the 10 Commandments Killer. He and his detectives find a brutal scene at an office of a gossip site, finding several journalists brutally murdered (and they’re only the latest journalists to be killed off; in the last episode, a Gold Derby blogger was the victim of a murder). Their tongues are nailed to the desks, and as John points out, the killer was probably carrying out the “Thou shalt not bare false witness” commandment.
John later returns to the hotel and finds a distraught Gabriel, who begs for help even though he is the one who just became a murderer. At the hospital, Gabriel reveals that it wasn’t Claudia who he meant to kill. He thought it was Sally, who trapped him in the mattress.
The detective, looking for answers, heads back to the hotel to arrest Sally, and by this point, it seems more unusual to see Sally without tears than with them. Sally even brings up the 10 Commandments herself, saying that “killing can be a righteous act.” After seducing John in the elevator, Sally manages to escape from him, possibly with the help of the drill-bit-dildo-wearing Addiction Demon.
John is thrown another curveball when Alex stops by to serve him with divorce papers. He becomes hysterical and begs her to stay. She does for a while, but leaves after he suggests they have another baby. And, because no one is really ever dead at the Hotel Cortez, she runs into Claudia, who, even in death, manages to insult her outfit. More significantly, though, Alex sees Holden, who doesn’t run when he sees her: He simply greets her with a chilling “Hi, Mommy.”
Donovan (Matt Bomer), though, isn’t in good shape, and his mother, Iris (Kathy Bates), seems positively overjoyed that he’s been dumped by the Countess. Iris reveals that she left Donovan’s father, but Donovan idolized him. Donovan, who seems to become more of a brat the more he’s around his mother, rips into her without mercy. After she tells him that she doesn’t know who she is if she isn’t his mother, Donovan tells her she should kill herself — advice that, as we see later, she takes to heart.
Back in the world of the Countess, however, the unpredictable Duffy attempts to seduce Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) with intentions of killing him, Duffy’s new-found favorite hobby. The Countess saves Drake just in the nick of time, because it’s not Duffy who’s meant to seduce him.
The Countess and Drake have a night out on the town, and when they get back, the Countess makes her move on him. Drake, however, is gay, but that doesn’t stop her. Things get steamy, and Duffy interrupts. Before she leaves, though, the Countess, pleased with herself, informs Drake that he has an erection.
The Countess has an insidious plan, which she reveals to Duffy when he confronts her. She lost her money after her financial adviser, Bernie (whose look and story bear a striking resemblance to Bernie Madoff, convicted swindler and former stockbroker) went to prison. “Will Drake can’t die until I marry him and take every goddamn penny,” she tells Duffy.
The episode reaches its peak, though, with the introduction of Ramona. Donovan finds her on the street, and it’s presumed that she will be his next victim. Ramona, however, turns it around and takes him, with Donovan later waking up in a contraption that drains his blood. Ramona is out for revenge, and wants to use Donovan to do it.
Ramona was a past lover of the Countess’. A former movie star who struggled to break out of ’70s blaxploitation films because of Hollywood racism, she put her career in the backseat for her relationship with the Countess, who gave her the ancient blood virus. Their relationship lasted years — however, Ramona found herself attracted to a rapper who was staying at the Hotel Cortez. She went on to have an affair with him, saying the he was the “great love of her life,” not the Countess. When the Countess finds out, she’s furious and murders him in cold blood, right in front of Ramona.
It’s the first time we see the Countess crack. She’s clearly the one who’s used to doing the heart-breaking, and she can’t stand it when one of her “creations,” as Ramona calls them, is the one to leave her.
Ramona seems to give up on Donovan when he reveals that he was dumped by the Countess, but maybe she shouldn’t. He returns to the hotel and, after being put in his place by Liz Taylor, goes to find his mother, who has taken his advice and turns to Sally to be killed.
Sally makes Iris swear that she has no “unfinished business,” as that will leave her trapped in the hotel, like Sally is. After drugs don’t work, Sally wraps a plastic bag over her head, which seems to finally kill her. Donovan shows up only to find Iris already cold. His feelings clearly changed after experiencing loneliness; he drips some of his virus-laced blood into her mouth, hoping to save her from death. As Sally points out, it’s “some twisted poetic justice.”
More than anything, the odds are finally starting to stack against the Countess. Though it’s hard to see her sweat, the team of Donovan, Iris and Ramona might give her a run for her (gold-digging) money.