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American Horror Story: Hotel “Checking In” 

American Horror Story: Hotel “Checking In”
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!

Welcome to the Hotel Cortez and a new season of American Horror Story. Not only do we have a new setting, new characters, and new story line, but we also have Lady Gaga. After watching the premiere, this season is definitely shaping up to be one of the most sexual and violent. Before we get into what worked and didn’t work, let’s do a brief recap.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX

The episode began with two Swedish girls checking into the hotel. As they did, they met Iris (Kathy Bates), the front desk clerk. After Iris gave them serious attitude, they were led to their room which contained a horrible smell. After some investigation, they discovered a man, or something resembling a man coming out of their mattress. Instead of hightailing it out of there, Iris moved the girls to room 64. Naturally, room 64 is going to be the worst place ever!

While waiting for the police, one of the girls was being dined on by what can only be described as two prep school vampiric children. Later on, these same girls were held captive in torture (?) devices as Iris tried to cleanse their bodies. However, Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) let one of the girls out. When the girl almost made it to the front door, she was met with a swift end by The Countess (Lady Gaga) slicing her neck open. Obviously at this point in the episode, we were already introduced to Sally and The Countess, so let’s back track a little.

Outside of the hotel, we met detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) investigating The Ten Commandments Killer. His or her latest victims were adulterers. Not only were the man’s eyes and tongue removed, but he was also glued “inside” his dead lady-friend. Later, John got a call from the killer saying he would commit another crime in room 64 at the Hotel Cortez. At the same time, a junkie named Gabriel (Max Greenfield) checked into that very room. Sally claimed dibs on him to Iris. Things quickly turned into a nightmare for Gabriel after he shot up. A faceless creature, called The Addiction Demon proceeded to rape him with a stainless steel drill-bit strap-on. In order to escape his misery, all Gabriel had to do was say he loved Sally. He obviously did just that, but instead of freedom, he appeared to die.

John made his way to the hotel to check out room 64. John was led up to the room by Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare), a transvestite. Liz could tell John was a broken man. In a flashback, we saw John and his wife (Chloe Sevigny) lose their son, Holden, at a carnival. While inside room 64, John takes a nap on the bed, but should have looked under it because Gabriel was underneath.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX

Now let’s get to the introduction of The Countess and her lover, Donovan (Matt Bomer). These two, in their gorgeous ensembles, proceeded to pick up a couple at a graveyard screening of Nosferatu. Back at the hotel, they began to engage in a foursome before killing the man and and woman and drinking their blood. Towards the end of the episode, Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the realtor from Season 1, brought Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) and his son to the hotel. Will purchased the hotel. Up in the penthouse, Will ran into Donovan and The Countless. The Countess worked her charms on Will before taking his son to a playroom where all the freaky, blonde-haired, vampiric children hang out, and guess who’s there: Holden.

We also learned that Iris is Donovan’s mother. In a flashback to 1994, Iris followed Donovan into the hotel after Sally brought him to her room to shoot up. After finding her son in bad shape, Iris pushed Sally to her death out a window. After returning to her son, she found The Countess sitting with him admiring his looks. Back in the present day, John was tricked by the Ten Commandments killer into thinking something happened to his wife. He really just led John to the next crime scene. John knew the killer might target his family, so for their safety, he left. Unfortunately, John has now checked into room 64 at the Cortez.

Now that we got the introduction to this new story covered, let’s discuss what worked and what didn’t work in this premiere. First the good: The set design is spectacular, yet again. The production designers managed to create a hotel that feelings claustrophobic and lived in. You can sense the horrific history of the hotel the second you lay eyes on it. In terms of cinematography, the use of fish-eye lenses and tracking shots from high and low angles helped to create an air of distortion. Last season relied heavily on static, wide shots in open spaces. This season will be drastically different as I’m sure most of the action will take place in the confines of the hotel.

Another aspect I loved about the premiere was the introductory sequence for The Countess and Donovan. It was like a silent film where we watched the predators get ready for the hunt, find their prey, and execute their attack. It’s no secret that Ryan Murphy likes to use other material as inspiration. Look no further than this sequence, that was clearly inspired by the opening of the film The Hunger. The opening of the 1983 film included Bauhaus singing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead” while David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve lured a young couple to their deaths.

The below video is NSFW:

Another aspect of the premiere I enjoyed was the introduction to the characters and the various mysteries that will need to be solved. However, these elements of the premiere also have me worried. Ryan Murphy is always great with introducing compelling story lines and characters, but he also has a knack for not following through with plot lines and keeping characters underdeveloped. What made Season 1 (Murder House) so brilliant was that it was able to contain a story that had a lot of moving parts, without ever going off the rails.

I’m also not sold yet on Lady Gaga’s acting abilities. I loved everything about her characterization until she opened her mouth. Her delivery was cold and stiff, which may very well be a part of The Countess’ behavior. Time will tell whether Lady Gaga can bring the thrills and chills.

Another very important concern is the reliance on using other artistic works as a crutch. As I said above, the episode used The Hunger for inspiration. That’s all fine and well, but I can see this season going over the top with references. In the premiere alone, I was already reminded of The Shining, Don’t Look Now, Zodiac, and especially Se7en given the nature of the murders John is investigating. I’m sure there were more, but my brain can only take in so much. I also could have done without the use of the Eagles’ song “Hotel California.” It was a little too on the nose.

Let’s also address the most unsettling scene in the episode. Gabriel’s rape by the Addiction Demon came off as needless rather than daring. If there’s an important purpose to this demon wearing a strap-on, I’ll take what I said back. However, I suspect the design of this sexually violent demon is done to shock more than propel the plot along. I’m not sold yet on this new season, but I’m curious enough to keep watching.

Here’s some other thoughts and questions:

  • What are the rules for this show’s version of vampires? The Countess and Donovan use their special sharp gloves to slice open their victims. Not a sharp tooth in sight.
  • Assuming the same rules apply to the Hotel Cortez as they did in Murder House, ghosts can not leave the premises. So how many lost souls are trapped in the hotel?
  • Is the Ten Commandments killer someone living inside the hotel?
  • How soon will John realize what happened to his son and can he get him back?
  • What in the hell was that thing that crawled out of the mattress?
  • What is the story behind the Addiction Demon?
  • Is Marcy, Satan’s realtor?

American Horror Story: Hotel airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.

Check out a sneak peek of the next episode titled “Chutes and Ladders.”

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