On it rumbles, with a very real sense of making it up as it goes along.
Mainly, I think, because it is.
Part of the anathema of American Horror Story is that it’s a live experiment. Not all of the things it tries out work — no experiment is ever 100% successful — but it always seems to come across some interesting nuggets.
It’s a commitment to watch, in a way, because you never really know what it’s after a lot of the time. The previous four seasons have all, to varying degrees, pulled it together by the end, and are more notable for their successes than their failures. And that, ultimately, is the bar that Hotel has to meet.
I’m getting so badly behind on these, it’s really not funny.
I can’t even blame it on the fact that I’m not enjoying the series, because on balance I am. It had a shaky start, but is getting its act together bit by sorry bit.
Most of it comes down to knowing where it’s going. Once it’s got that down, characters have a defined area to run around in, and themes can begin to emerge. Without that, you’ve just got a collection of horror tropes in a grab bag.
Given that Halloween fell between two episodes of Hotel, it makes sense that two episodes would have a Halloween theme.
The first of them was actually pretty good, blocking out some of the noise of the extraneous storylines. They will presumably need to be revisited this time around, but that’s okay because it finally feels like the series has some clue where it’s going.
Part of American Horror Story‘s unique charm — not limited to Hotel — is that they start filming before they’ve actually finished writing it. So when it seems a bit lost, it sort of is. But then again, that’s what makes it one of the most interesting shows on TV.
There is a proud tradition of American Horror Story Halloween episodes, right from Murder House. It make sense that this is the time that the series pulls out its A-grade material, drawing on the Halloween culture.
So what does Hotel have to offer?
Hopefully, a little cohesion. It would be churlish to deny that things have been improving since a rather flat and lacklustre opening episode, but we’re still a long way behind the expectations that four preceding series have set.
If the first episode of American Horror Story Hotel felt flat, which it did, then the second at least felt a bit more like the series we know and love.
There were always going to be a few teething pains this time around, really. Though the anthology nature of the show allows a world of inter-season flexibility, Jessica Lange had established herself as the mainstay from the very first outing. Finding a rhythm that works without her was always going to be a tough challenge.
Thusfar I don’t see Lady Gaga as her replacement. That’s not to say that she’s doing a bad job, far from it, but she doesn’t yet have the confidence to carry the series on her own. In that respect we’re going to need a greater sharing of the weight amongst the stellar and experienced cast.
Which isn’t a problem, it’s just that the writers need to start giving them the chance to do so.
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.
So it’s back. It seems a bit weird to think of Hotel as American Horror Story‘s fifth season, perhaps due to the anthology style approach it takes, meaning that although the series’ are interconnected (Apparently… -Ed) they don’t follow on from each other and the reappearing actors and actresses play completely different roles.
But Hotel is going to be different. Season four, Freak Show, was Jessica Lange’s last. Since the start she had been the mainstay of the series, with a succession of commanding and show-stealing performances. Now, without her, it looks like Lady Gaga of all people is taking her place.
Now, Lange’s are big shoes to fill. And I’m genuinely not sure that Gaga has the acting skill to match it. Or even the vocal talents.
That said, American Horror Story has always been a series built on innovation. Given how it reinvents itself every year, I have to believe that it can overcome the loss of its big star. Hopefully with some off-the-wall writing and some creepy Shining references.