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.
We’ve come so far, that it feels like a lifetime ago that I sat down to watch the first episode of Doctor Who‘s ninth series, with that familiar mixture of excitement and trepidation; hoping against hope, but expecting to be disappointed.
Actually, that familiar disappointment hasn’t come. There haven’t been any out-and-out bad episodes, or even any mediocre ones. The odd one or two which hasn’t worked has been a noble failure, in that I could see what it was trying to get at, and it’s failure was not any real disgrace to the series, simply experiments that did not quite pay off.
And along the way, we have had a few episodes which weregenuine greats, up there with the likes of “Midnight”, “Blink” and even old greats like “The Genesis of the Daleks”.
The question now is whether the season finale can finish on that high note, or whether the dying chord will let the whole thing down.
My favourite Doctor has always been the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee.
Partly this is because he was the Doctor I grew up watching, on Saturday morning re-runs of old serials. Partly it’s because I have a soft spot for the slightly cantankerous old git in the role (See also: Patrick Troughton -Ed).
The reason that I bring this up is that Peter Capaldi is giving dear old Jon a serious run for his money.
I was delighted when he was chosen for the role — even if he was not my first choice — because he makes such a contrast with the recent run. And with series 9 it feels like the writers have actually used him to his potential.
But anyway, this is meant to be a review, not a hagiography…
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.
When the next series of Doctor Who rolls around, somebody please remind me to stop making predictions about series structure? Clearly I just wind up embarrassing myself.
Despite what I said in my review of the last episode, “Face the Raven” is not another standalone episode. It is, in fact, in the same vein as the third series’ “Utopia”, the first part of a climactic trilogy.
Which, naturally, means that we are now approaching the endgame of the series. A series which has gone blisteringly quickly, and mostly without missed notes. I’ve been banging on about this in basically every review so far, so it can’t be a surprise to anybody really, but I‘ve been very impressed with the quality of the storytelling this series. Like, really impressed.
But as everyone must surely get bored of me saying, the most important part of anything is how it finishes. That’s what you take away, that’s what sticks with you. Disappointment there can be fatal.
So it looks like not every episode this series is going to be in the two part mould. “Sleep No More” — and necessarily its…counterpart, I guess? — seems to be a standalone.
Actually, I was having a conversation a few weeks back, about how what this series really needed to make it was a “Midnight” or a “Blink” (It should be noted that despite popular opinion, “Midnight” is the superior episode to “Blink” -Ed), a stripped down and story-focused offering without the bells and whistles of most offerings. These invariably turn out to be some of the best episodes (Though we won’t dwell on “Love and Monsters”, eh? -Ed).
So coming on the coattails of last episode’s, frankly, excellence, could “Sleep No More” be the elusive jigsaw piece so far missing from series 9?
I won’t say just yet whether that’s a good thing or not, save that me putting off my review for this long either means a very good episode or a very bad episode.
And I want it so badly to be the former. I have loved this series so far, even at its lowest ebbs. It has finally seemed to grow into the promise that the role has always had waiting in the wings. An irascible but loveable Doctor, with some meaty writing to get his teeth into, and even the ever annoying presence of Clara hasn’t been able to keep it from greatness.
So is this the crowning glory, or the long-feared stumbling block?
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.
There are a number of classic Who villains of whom I have never seen what the fuss was about. The Cybermen are one. Given how clunky the buggers are, you’d think you could escape them by simply walking at a brisk pace. Or failing that, by sprinkling some water over them and waiting for them to rust.
The Zygons are in a similar camp for me. I get that shapeshifting aliens are scary, but it sort of spoils it when they have to keep the person alive in order to remain them. Or maybe I was spoiled by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Anyway, series nine has been on a bit of a roll so far, so let’s see if they can repeat it with the Zygons, shall we?
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.