02 “Chutes and Ladders” (American Horror Story: Hotel) [SPOILERS]

american horror story hotel

American Horror Story is all about the big bang. Not necessarily loud, but it should hit you in the gut like a sledgehammer. It’s not altogether encouraging, then, that the opening episode of Hotel felt a little…weak.

The pieces were all there, particularly the aesthetics, which I have to say showed an attention to detail. But there was little in the way of overarching plot linking it together. Really, it felt like a lot of glamorous and good-looking people  simply moving around in front of some amazing sets.

And that is just not what American Horror Story is about. True enough, it has those facets. It uses them for dramatic effect and to dress the window, but the importance is that window reflecting onto the darknesses of the human soul.

The second episode remembering that fact would be very welcome.

With Detective Lowe now living in Hotel Cortez, and being driven slowly mad in the most haunted room in the place, its secrets start to pull his family in. Meanwhile, the Countess becomes bored and divests herself of Donovan, in favour of male model Tristan Duffy. And through flashbacks we see the creation of the Hotel Cortez, by deranged psychopath James Patrick March.

It is fairly clear from the off that AHS has realised that it needs to put the flesh on the bones of some of these characters. Through Hypodermic Sally’s inquisitive poking we get a story from Detective Lowe about a murder suicide, with a man having shot himself after poisoning his family. Except, Lowe deduced, what actually happened was the man had rigged up a generator when his power had been cut off, and come home to find his family dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. As Lowe says, it’s enough to make a man shoot himself.

It’s tired nicely into Lowe’s own guilt over his missing son. And when the hotel’s new owner Will Drake puts on a fashion show and persuades Lowe and his daughter to stay, Drake’s son Lachlan shows Scarlett a bunch of blonde children sleeping in glass coffins. One of whom bears a striking resemblance to her missing brother Holden.

Mainly because it is. And he hasn’t aged in the time he’s been missing, which is a pretty obvious hint. Scarlett runs away in order to seek him out, and to have a spacey chat with him before he certainly seems to be about to nibble on her. When she gets back to her parents, they are angry at her going missing, and very reluctant to believe her.

But Detective Lowe does go back to the Hotel Cortez, to confront Iris the receptionist. Iris tells him the history of the hotel, being built by a psychotic billionaire called James Patrick March, who built it full of secret passageways and weird rooms so he was free to murder and torture people at his whim. All goes well, until the police come to arrest him, and he kills his devoted housekeeper — a fantastic character, who fetishises stains — and then himself.

Except he’s still knocking about.

One of the models at Will Drake’s party-cum-fashion show — Finn Wittrock’s triumphant and welcome return to the series as Tristan Duffy after playing Dandy in Freak Show — goes full on self-destructive prima donna, and lurches off into the hotel. After sharing a moment with the Countess, who stops Donovan from killing him, he wanders into a room where Mr March, the equally brilliant Evan Peters, gives him a talking to. Of sorts. Scornful of Tristan’s use of cocaine, he offers murder as a substitute, with housekeeper Miss Evers bringing in a bound and gagged maybe-prostitute she has caught in the hotel. Tristan won’t kill her, but March does, showing no compunction about blowing the poor girl’s brains out.

Tristan flees, straight into the arms of the Countess, who makes him a vampire.

So, here we get some background exposition, courtesy of Lady Gaga. The first thing that is worth mentioning, is that it is described as a “virus”, which boosts the immune system. Sunlight weakens, but does not kill, them, and they can still be killed. There’s a scene at the beginning where the children are feeding on one of the Swedish girls from the last episode, before their own blood being drained and drunk by the Countess and Donovan. So that’s…distilation, maybe?

We also learn that the Countess was born in 1904, and her favourite era was the 1970s, where we flashback to her as some sort of disco queen on a horse.. There is also a passing reference to the person who turned her, who is “long gone” (Ambiguous much? -Ed). And they don’t have fangs; they cut.

Poor Donovan, though, is out on his ear, as Tristan is the Countess’ new murder/sex partner.

So this was better. We’re not there yet, but this was definitely better. The vampirism is more clearly defined, and in play as far as the whole missing child thing is doing. There are still mysteries, but I have a clear enough idea of what is going on to believe that the writers know what is going on.

It is still far too focused on the aesthetics — which, as I say, it does very well — at the expense of story or character. Detective Lowe, James Patrick March and the Countess stand out all the stronger, but they have a truly excellent cast here and need to find a way to make them more defined in the time that they have. The fact that plots are intertwining is a good starting point, and I feel much more hopeful.

But we’ve a way to go yet.

Closing thoughts:

  • It is very distracting how much Wes Bentley looks, at times, like evil Peter Parker from Spiderman 3.
  • I’m with Donovan. Binge watching House of Cards does sound more fun than an art show.
  • Embarrassingly, it has taken me nearly two full episodes to realise that Liz Taylor is played by Denis O’Hare.
  • I’m getting a flavour of Murder House from Hotel. There are a lot of dead people wandering around seeming markedly not dead.
  • Introducing…the murder chute!
  • Actually, the story of the building of the Hotel Cortez feels very Rose Red inspired.
  • And James Patrick March’s “wife” is very definitely the Countess.

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