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.

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