Thursday, October 29, 2015

American Horror Story: Hotel--Episode 4

5.4: Devil’s Night

--An argument could be made that every serial killer wins. You can halt their spree, lock them up, and execute them, but it’s too late: they’re legend. James March touched upon this as he raised a glass at televison’s freakiest exclusive dinner party not hosted by Hannibal Lecter. Our species still worships a pantheon; the difference is, we are conceited enough to make ourselves the gods. And while somebody like Ghandi or Jane Goodall or Pope Francis may achieve mere sainthood, it’s the bad guys who we deify. And if ghosts are real, if negative energy and unfinished business are what causes a spirit to linger, then the great serial killers of history are truly immortal. Pleasant dreams.

--Every now and then, AHS does something where I’m not sure if I should be really, really offended. Remember when they used the racist murder of a little black boy as a set-up for rampaging zombie rednecks? They’re always crossing some line or other, and the part of me that isn’t a total freak wags a finger. It’s Halloween at the Hotel Cortez, Devil’s Night, a very special holiday. Because according to this show’s rulebook, Halloween is the one night when ghosts can wander at will. And a few of them wander over to the Hotel Cortez, where March presides over a private dinner for the worst of the worst. Jeffrey Dahmer. Aileen Wournos. John Wayne Gacy. Zodiac. Richard Ramirez. You may notice that a couple of those names were in the headlines pretty damn recently. And that’s my quibble. It’s one thing to portray, say, Jack the Ripper. But giving us Aileen Wournos, whose death is fresher than 9/11? Damn. Someone’s gonna write an angry letter or two. Anyway, they’re March’s special snowflakes, and I did find it a bit contrived that all of these killers visited the Hotel Cortez in life. The place seems to write its own reality, which is the only explanation for why no one’s noticed the FOUR THOUSAND MILLION murders committed within its walls in four episodes alone.

--Still, I think AHS did the smart thing. They didn’t try to portray these killers in a “realistic” manner, but gave us the glorified celebrity versions that the media turned them into. Wournos was played by our dearly beloved Lily Rabe, who I hope returns to her proper home on AHS now that her silly alien invasion show has fizzled. Rabe was facing the impossibly high bar set by Charlize Theron in Monster, but she was game, turning Wournos into a jittery, sneering ball of sexual fury with shark eyes. Meanwhile, in a sick little joke, Gacy, the “Killer Clown,” was played by John Carroll Lynch, aka, Twisty the Clown from last season. And was that Fringe’s Seth Gabel as Dahmer? Scrumptious. I do wish they’d acknowledged the well-known killers of the AHS-verse. Where was Oliver “Bloody Face” Thredson? Missed opportunity.

--Sheesh, I can’t believe I’m defending John Wayne Gacy, but this has always bugged me. I do not condone his murders for one damn second. I find him extra-creepy because I’ve met actual people like him: cunning, likable sociopaths surrounded by friends who witlessly deny and/or excuse their dirty deeds. Gacy was evil scum. HOWEVER, I hate the whole “Killer Clown” thing. He dressed up as a clown for certain public events. It had absolutely nothing to do with his murders. Until the media decided that it did. If we turn serial killers into gods, I blame the media for a good chunk of their holy scripture. Shit, we just turned one dead lion into a crucified Christ because Twitter said we should. I’m cutting short this rant before it goes entirely off the rails. But I’m glad this ep mostly portrayed Gacy without the clown persona. He may have worn the most unsettling makeup ever, but he was scarier as the friendly, charming neighbor with the crawlspace full of rotting teenage boys.

--Funnily enough, with a chunk of the main cast absent, it was Miss Evers who got the tragic backstory while bonding with Lowe. They share trauma: Evers lost her own son to the Wineville Chicken Coop Murderers, who I guess were too lowbrow to sit at March’s table. This apparently caused her mind to snap and her to become March’s accomplice? Maybe we’ll get the rest next week. But she’s definitely in her own purgatory.

--Lowe may be as well. Because the poor bastard was the guest of honor at the killers’ dinner, absinthed all to hell as they cavorted. And everyone else on the internet is calling the upcoming twist, so I won’t brag about guessing it. But I got the gist when Liz Taylor dramatically revealed Lowe’s personal invite. And when March was very cryptic about said invite and the reason behind it. Guys, I didn’t consider this at all. John Lowe is the Ten Commandments killer. His weird, dazed demeanor may well be covering up the fact that he himself is out murdering and doesn’t remember it! Devil’s Night may help trigger his horrified emergence. As the night wound down, Sally provided dessert -- a juicy man for the ghosts to prey upon -- and also provided solace to Lowe, writing off his experience as a boozy hallucination. I think Lowe’s about to become one cheatin’ husband.

--Alex has other problems. In the second major plot of the evening, she brought Holden home but changed her mind when he exsanguinated the dog. With Holden snug in his coffin, The Countess cast her spell over poor, confuzzled Alex. She was awfully confident that Alex would choose option A) willing vampification over option B) running to the fucking cops, one of whom is her fucking husband, who would presumably drop everything to help rescue their fucking long-lost son. Alex, you’re a tool. And now you’re a vampire. You and Iris can form a book club. First up: Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, I’m hearing theories that there’s some sort of power struggle going on between the ghosts and the vamps, with Sally as an independent go-between. I might be down with that.

--Countess costume commentary: During the no doubt massive police investigation following Holden’s disappearance, nobody at the amusement park reported seeing a woman dressed as Mary Poppins with a geisha parasol and her hat pulled down to her chin? Inconspicuous The Countess ain’t.

--AHS normally does Halloween as a two-parter, but this felt like a standalone episode, so who knows what next week will bring. I do think a little of those serial killers goes a long way. Except Lily Rabe. We can never have enough.

--This doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but I’m fairly sure that in one shot, they digitally erased a dog’s butthole. I’m also fairly sure that the FX artist knocked back an extra glass that night.

--Hey, I sure hope Alex cleaned that broken glass off the living room floor. Someone could really get hurt! And she’d better have disposed of her dog’s corpse, because Scarlett is already gonna need copious therapy when she learns her entire family are vampires and/or serial killers. Girl can’t catch a break.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

American Horror Story: Hotel--Episode 3

5.3: Mommy

--“Hi, Mommy.”

--Not “mother.” Mommy. This episode cracked open the case files on two women who lost their sons early and never got over it. Iris and Alex have plenty in common, including their helpless selfishness: He’s my son, no one else can have him! The difference is, Alex was a good mother, and she knows it, and Iris is a shitty mother, and she knows it. But both their children are now monsters, and both mommies may be heading down that path. Alex got an effective opening voiceover; we saw her dealing more with the dynamic duo of Anti-Vaxxer Mom and Measles Kid, and you could tell she was screaming on the inside: You did this to your son! HE’S YOUR SON! After losing Holden, Alex tried to kill herself once...that we know of. Now she wants a divorce, because she won’t admit that pushing her family away just agitates the wound. Never forget that AHS can be really powerful when it tackles simple human drama.

--Still, supernatural drama’s okay too. Claudia sure didn’t last long. Did they cast Naomi Campbell just so they could show her in a sexy nightie? (Hey, she looked DAMN good.) Without much preamble, the blonde junkie dude (I think his name is Gabriel?) exploded from the mattress, perforated Claudia to death, then collapsed in the arms of a startled Detective Lowe and later flatlined in the ER. Dafuq? I thought he’d already died and become a ghost! What is going on here? I demand an explanation, and I’m also okay with Claudia sticking around as a haunt. Just saying.

--The Hotel Cortez is giving Drake a serious case of blue balls. After March and Evers whined about their favorite murder-floor being renovated, Tristan sashayed to the penthouse suite, seduced Drake (bisexuality is the norm this season, and I’m not complaining), and was just about to kill Drake when The Countess silently stopped him. Later, it was The Countess’s turn to nearly get Drake’s rocks off and Tristan’s turn to cockblock. Poor Drake; guess his evening ended with a box of Kleenex and The Countess revealed to Tristan that she lost all her dough to Bernie Madoff (this show uses famous people like punctuation marks) and she’s now planning to pull off a classic: marry Drake for his money, then axe him. Witness the return of the patented Finn Wittrock Demon Grin. He’s so onboard.

--Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. The Ten Commandments killer’s motto seems to be, “Go big or go home,” because his/her latest deed was to murder the entire staff of a gossip site and nail their tongues to their desks. Slurp. Lowe’s at his wit’s end, not helped by the fact that he keeps getting quasi-seduced by Sally and her pointy-dicked buddy, definitely not helped by Alex and her folder o’ divorce papers. To the list of possible Ten Commandments killers, I must add Tristan (unlikely, though, as he only recently learned about March) and Liz Taylor (no one suspects........the BARTENDER!). But I still want it to be Alex. Because I’m sick.

--Donovan is not a character I like very much, and it didn’t help that he hates Iris so much he wants her to die. Model son, huh. But Iris isn’t much better, as she can’t admit that children grow up and become adults. Neither one of them is in the right. And it hardly matters, because I’m more interested in Angela Bassett. Aww, yiss. She snatched Donovan off the streets for a bondage and exposition party. She’s Ramona Royale, a Blaxploitation queen in the 70s. When that dried up, Ramona met The Countess and became her vampire lover. When that dried up, Ramona fell for a studly rapper and tried to vampify him, but the rapper and all his homies got murdered by a jealous Countess, leaving Ramona thirsty for revenge. She banished Donovan upon learning he’d been dumped, and I sure hope we don’t have to wait three more eps for her return. Bassett is, of course, just playing the same role as ever (a sassy, dangerous diva who gnaws on her dialogue like rare roast beef), but in this case, I reeeaaaally don’t mind.

--You could argue that The Countess is also an overly controlling mother figure, which is why it gave a nice jolt when Ramona revealed her notion to kill The Countess’s four little children of the damned. And our other hapless mommies suffered unusual plot twists as well. Alex stormed out of Lowe’s room after spreading the blue-balls virus, was snarked at by Claudia’s ghost, and then ran smack dab into Holden. Rather chilling was the utterly blank look on Alex’s face: she loved Holden so much that she instantly knows he’s...changed. Meanwhile, Iris enlisted Sally’s help in committing suicide, swearing she wasn’t gonna stick around in ghost form. But Iris proved death-resistant enough to linger until Donovan, who’d gotten some wisdom from Liz Taylor, burst in. Unable to revive Iris in the traditional way, Donovan opened a vein and fed her his blood. Iris is now a vampire. The Countess will be mad. Probably because she thought all vampires had to be thin and sexy. Now Iris is gonna want to raid her wardrobe.

--Speaking of one scene, The Countess wore what looked like a church organ on her boobs. And during the Madoff flashback, she was dressed like Cruella de Vil on African safari. Is costume commentary my new running gag?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

American Horror Story: Hotel--Episode 2

5.2: Chutes and Ladders

--OH MY GOD EVAN PETERS. I have been waiting SO LONG for this damned show to give him a good role again. Stop trying to make him the “everyman hero.” He does psychopaths! That’s his thing! And now he’s back in top form, having an unholy blast, elevating Hotel to new levels of excess. Keep the momentum going!

--Have the episodes gotten longer, or is it just me? Can’t complain, I guess. This ep was rather expository but featured some decent plot momentum here and there. We should, I suppose, be discussing the difference between ghosts and vampires. Ghosts are...well, yeah, I delivered a tongue-lashing last week about reusing the gimmick from Murder House. But now that I’ve thought about it, every season of AHS has the same rules in regards to spirits. You die in a particular cursed location and your ghost remains there for good. Except on Halloween, when you may roam. Coven implied this with both Spalding the butler (killed; ghost trapped in house) and the Axeman (ghost trapped in house until returned to life by magic), and Freak Show had Edward Mordrake (ghost free to wander on Halloween Night only). Now there’s Sally, who can’t leave the hotel and who is responsible for sewing undead dudes into mattresses. Except, the two Swedes seem to have died for real. Huh.

--Maybe it’s a vampire thing? The vamps of the Hotel Cortez are a mix of tropes both traditional (they don’t age; sunlight is bad for them) and newfangled (no fangs. And no pun intended). They’ve hit the nail on the head in regards to immortality: it gets boring. The Countess admitted that the only time she really comes to life is during the bright, brief periods of decadence America goes through now and then. During the late 1970s, she was queen of the disco, feeding off the night, off sex and drugs and reckless pleasure. And now...could Pandora’s Box be opening again? Will Drake used the hotel to stage a trashy, trendy fashion show. Among the models was Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock, yum yum), a glamorously horrible meth-gobbler, a glittery trainwreck waiting to happen. The Countess smelled Tristan’s rage, his jaded first-world frustration, and knew he was her next partner in grime. Thus did Donovan get the heave-ho, as well as a rude lesson: vampires don’t love. They only lust. Eh, I’d rather have the hypnotic Wittrock over the whinging Bomer. No offense.

--Drake’s show also set the stage for a couple more plot-related thingummies. First, we met Claudia (Naomi Campbell?!), a pouty Vogue-head who’s all set for ghastly and gruesome ordeals, I’m sure. Secondly, Lachlan Drake, who’s made the hotel into his own personal Super Mario 64 castle, took Scarlett Lowe to visit a basement swimming pool where The Countess’s four little children of the damned sleep in stylin’ coffins. Scarlett recognized her baby brother, Holden, and visited him later, snapping a haunting iPhone photo and freaking her parents all to shit. As if her dad didn’t have enough to brood about!

--Best line: “C’mon, let’s stay in! We can binge-watch House of Cards!”

--Normally it bugs me when a show (or a movie, or a book) rams a social agenda down our throats. But I fucking hate the anti-vaccination movement. I hate it in ways I can’t articulate. I literally equate it with child murder. So I was very happy when Alex delivered an outraged rant to a lady whose kid was down with the easily-preventable measles. We need more of this.

--Detective Lowe, meanwhile, is sinking into the strange malaise of the Hotel Cortez. Sally got him to open up about his alcoholism (he’s seen things, man...he’s seen things), and then he got a package containing an Oscar trophy that had previously occupied the anal cavity of a dead blogger. After hearing the hotel’s backstory (more on that in a sec), he connected the dots. The Ten Commandments! They are the basis for this string of murders. We’ve seen Thou Shalt Not Steal (dead thief), Honor the Sabbath (dead migrant workers), No False Idols (Oscar up the butt), Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery (lovers dead in bed), and Honor Thy Father and Mother (discount Menendez brothers). Five more to go, and I wonder if any of our cast of weirdos is gonna end up a victim. And who is the killer?

--Well, I called it last week. Now I may have to backpedal. While galumphing about the hotel, Tristan met an unsettling man with an icky little mustache and an accent suggesting Howard Hughes by way of Tom Hardy’s Bane. The man dragged a bound woman onto a bed and shot her. Later, Iris gave Lowe the whole sordid tale. James March (Evan Motherfucking Peters!), a self-made oilman, built the Hotel Cortez specifically to be a staging ground for his endless, savage need to murder the shit out of people. Secret rooms. Chutes for disposing of corpses. March made H.H. Holmes look like Big Bird. He hunted for new ways to kill, often while wearing that steampunk headgear we glimpsed last week. He was assisted by the maid, Miss Evers, the Harley Quinn to his Joker. His office? Room 64. When the police came a-knocking, March and Evers killed themselves, forever stamping their mad phantoms into the hotel’s woodwork. And it was March who began the Ten Commandment killings. Ahh, but how can he have continued them in the present day, being a ghost who can’t leave the hotel? And was The Countess really his wife, or are we misled?

--So the mystery deepens, and my current pet theory is that the modern-day killer is none other than Alex. Wouldn’t that be a great twist? As a private doctor, she can be in many places, and Lowe did get a text from the killer via Alex’s phone. Occam’s Razor! But we’ll see. Drake is also a decent suspect (did he buy the hotel because he hero-worships March? Hmm). And it’s kinda nice how, so far, we don’t have any utterly pointless subplots. Eh, but I’m sure they’ll be along soon.

--Two episodes without Angela Bassett is a crime. A crime, I say. It’s hard enough to deal with the loss of Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy. I get it, Ryan Murphy: you have a thing for hot white guys with dark hair. You’ve packed this season full of them. But I need a diva fix! Lady Gaga can wander through as many random clumps of marble pillars as she wants, but I’m getting fidgety for Bassett. Don’t make us wait.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

American Horror Story: Hotel--Episode 1

5.1: Checking In

--What. The FUCK. Did I just watch.

--Yeah...sorry, anyone who was hoping to hold onto their sanity. Did you think I wasn’t gonna recap American Horror Story this year? I may not have unpacked its luggage in advance, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t check in. And hopefully the previous sentence is the only hotel-themed analogy I will use during Season Five. As October began, I experienced the same old tingly excitement of knowing AHS was about to punish my senses. I’m a bit more jaded about this show than I once was. But it remains a juicy guilty pleasure if nothing else. Will Hotel be the season that pumps a fresh dose of mojo into the proceedings?

--Probably not! Still...shall we?

--I can already tell people are gonna haaaaaate this season. In part because people hate every season. Look at any year of American Horror Story and you’ll find an angry subgroup calling it the worst. Murder House was a repetitive soap opera with zero likable characters. Asylum was a bleak, pretentious sobfest. Coven was an embarrassing clusterfuck that used gallows humor to try and hide its lack of coherence. And Freak Show was basically Glee with mass murder. So sayeth the hater brigade. The premiere episode of Hotel was a total fever dream. A love letter to Kubrick that included a severed nipple in the envelope. Nothing made much sense. Everything was fisheyed and queasy. Our latest malevolent locale, the madly Art Deco, trapped-in-the-past Hotel Cortez, defies all logic, or so it seems. Is there method to the madness?

--I sure as fuck hope so, because while I dug the sumptuous production values (great music, too!), I found the Hotel Cortez to be almost too horrific. It doesn’t even seem like a real place that became bad; it seems like a giant man-eating plant disguised as a building. It sits in the midst of Los Angeles, awaiting its victims, first represented by a pair of Swedish blondes who met the sort of fate you’d expect on this show. The Hotel Cortez has no wifi. Its elevator doors are clearly waiting to lop off a dick. Behind the front desk is Iris (Kathy Bates), an ill-mannered toad of a woman in giant eyeglasses who seems to hate...well, a list of what she doesn’t hate would be shorter. The hallways curve upon themselves and are patrolled by freaky little ghost children. The chambermaid is Mare Winningham (never good news on this show), and is probably a ghost as well. Peeps are sewn up in mattresses. Room 64 seems to be a locus of dark energy, especially in connection with 2:25 AM? Maybe? The Hotel Cortez is evil.

--And that’s my problem. It’s almost too much. Not only is the building evil, so is everyone who inhabits it on the regular. Iris may take no joy in forcefeeding raw organs to gibbeted victims, but does anyway. Her coworker is a bald gender-bender known as Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare), who straight-up don’t give a fuck, and is already more entertaining than all three of O’Hare’s previous AHS roles put together. And then there’s Sally (Sarah Paulson), a trashy, predatory drug addict. A fellow junkie, blonde and ditzy and played by Max Greenfield, checked into Room 64 and wound up sodomized to death by this season’s freaky-monster-who-probably-won’t-last-past-the-first-four-episodes. Said monster has Elmer’s glue for a face and wears a drill-shaped strap-on, and Sally watched with a mix of relish and tears as the blonde ditz met his icky fate (or did he?). Sally remains a mystery, but I’m still super elated by how well Sarah Paulson can vanish into a role when need be. Emmy win? Maybe? Finally? Sally and the demon vanished very quickly when Detective Lowe barged in, which should have been a big hint that...

--What? Detective Lowe? Sorry; it’s hard to recap this damn show in a coherent manner. While the hotel is Kubrick on acid, the outside world is bearing witness to a low-rent version of Se7en. Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) investigates a pair of canoodlers glued together and nailed to a bed, and something clicks. He’s seen this before. There’s a serial killer a-serial killing. Every fictional detective has to have either a tragic past or an unhappy home life, and Lowe has both. He’s on great terms with his daughter, Scarlett (Shree these days have weird names), but his wife, Alex (Chloë Sevigny), is distant. Their son, Holden, vanished at a carnival in 2010. Good to see Sevigny again; her ill-fated sex addict in Asylum was lame, and I hope Alex will prove to be more interesting. Anyway, the killer’s taunting Lowe on the phone, pointing him to the Hotel Cortez and then to a third murder, and we don’t know what the murders have in common yet (well, we do, but the show hasn’t officially called it), but Lowe has left his family and checked into Room 64 himself. Possibly with more than one motive.

--Okay, okay, okay, but WHAT ABOUT LADY GAGA? She’s the whole reason I put this season on my Cautious Enthusiasm list. Considering her overexposure in the show’s promos, is she a cool thing to have, or an awkward gimmick? Well, she plays The Countess, who may or may not be the hotel’s owner, but is definitely a vampire. Yep, a vampire. AHS hasn’t done vampires yet, and I’m sure they wanted to avoid cliché, so they ripped off Byzantium instead: this breed of vampire bleeds its victims with a spike-nailed glove. The Countess and her prissy boytoy, Donovan (Matt Bomer), were seen seducing another couple at an outdoor showing of Nosferatu (ho ho ho), engaging in a pansexual threesome, and turning it into a blood orgy. I can’t tell if Gaga can act or not, since all she has to do is be sexy and aloof. So far, so decent, I suppose. Also, backstory: Iris is Donovan's mother. Iris remains at the hotel to be close to her son, because back in 1994, Donovan died of an overdose, thanks to Sally. Wait, what? Iris then shoved Sally out a very high window. Wait, WHAT?

--I hope this doesn’t mean what I think it means. The blonde junkie and one of the Swedish babes also appeared to die and then return to life. Are they just doing Murder House again? Really? You die in the Hotel Cortez, your spirit is trapped there? If so, that is such a blatant act of recycling that I cannot forgive the showrunners. Hotel certainly seems to be hyperlinking itself closely to Murder House. Because who should waltz in but Marcy the bitchy realtor (Christine Estabrook), and I’m okay with this particular return because Marcy is the BEST THING EVER. I love her. I do. She was selling the hotel to a well-groomed fashion dude named Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), who has an annoying son named Lachlan (Lyric these days have WEIRD names) and who is quite taken with The Countess. So was Lachlan, after The Countess showed him a secret room full of ghostly kids, gumball dispensers, and decades-old video games. It would’ve been hilarious if Lachlan had whined, “No Call of Duty?” But it mainly served to confirm that one of the ghost kids is Detective Lowe’s son. Are we surprised? And if some invisible owner is selling the hotel to Drake, does that mean The Countess is not herself the owner?

--Dunno. It was a lot to process. I’m really annoyed that they seem to be using the exact same ghost gimmick from Season One, but maybe there’s more going on than we’ve been shown. We certainly haven’t learned everything. Like, there was that big dude with weird headgear, and a reference to something bad in Room 33. And the poor person inside the mattress, and the eerie maid. And we have yet to see Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, and Finn Wittrock. (I’m already pretty sure Peters, who plays the Hotel Cortez’s original builder, is also the serial killer in the present day.) Yeah, this ep left me plenty baffled. And oddly tickled. It was so lurid and attention-starved. There was enough sex to almost be softcore porn. There were so many murders than I can’t believe the LA police haven’t descended on the hotel by now. But I got the sense that the hotel runs on dream logic. Don’t think too hard. Just hold on for the ride.

--People will hate this season. I bet they’re already tearing it apart on forums. But maybe the Hotel Cortez will messily give birth to something, not profound or all that original, but certainly memorable. I’m ready to witness the birth. So far.