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I’d like to preempt this review by saying I am not a diehard American Horror Story viewer. I caught all of season one, and then only a handful of episodes of each subsequent season. It’s always been my intention to binge watch the entire thing, but I’ve never got around to it.
So my guilty confession: the only reason I AM watching season five now is because of Lady Gaga. But we’ll get to her in a moment.
I understand the basic premise of American Horror Story, and that is to throw in as many wacky characters as possible and see which storylines can fizzle out the quickest. And ‘Checking In’, the premier episode of season five, subtitled Hotel, is certainly brimming with ideas.
Here we meet two Swedish girls, whose sole purpose is to unearth some grisly discovery in Hotel Cortez, and that they do. They discover a bloody humanoid hidden within their mattress, which shows exactly that we already know: that this hotel is deadly.
Later one of them gets eaten by vampiric children, and later still they’re both cleansed for ‘her’ to feast upon, before one of them is released and subsequently killed. All of this is madcap, of course, but the visual imagery is very potent. The fact that they are being fed caviar and cava to purify their blood is both ghastly and overt, and something that sticks with the viewers.
The star of this first episode has to be Wes Bentley’s Detective John Lowe, who is investigating the Ten Commandments Killer, who has superglued a dude inside of a woman he killed, and then gouged out the mans eyes and tongue. It’s sickening, but then so is pretty much everything that comes out of Ryan Murphy’s head.
Later still, we see the same killer has disemboweled two men. What connection, if any, this killer has to Hotel Cortez remains to be seen. But John is haunted – not from a killer – but from the fact that five years ago his son, Holden, went missing.
All of this leads to the collapse of his marriage, and John later checks into Room 64, whose two previous occupants met grisly ends. Yes, the Swedish girls stayed in Room 64, too, as did Max Greenfield’s Gabriel, who is anally raped by The Addiction Demon, a killer roaming the hotel dressed in veiny latex and a drill bit dildo. Yes, you read that right. So surely it’s only a matter of time before John, too, falls victim. But most likely he’ll survive until the end of the series.
It definitely looks as though there is an abundance of storylines at play in Hotel, but for now it is quite hard to discern how they come together. Hotel is also connected to Murder House, as they are both set in the present day, whereas the previous three seasons were set in the past.
Marcy, the real estate agent, from season one, pops back up here to sell the hotel to Will Drake, played by Cheyenne Jackson. It’s only a matter of time before he beds Gaga, right?
Elsewhere we meet Sally, who seems to require love from The Addiction Demon’s victims, even though she herself is seemingly dead. The vendetta between her and Iris is interesting, but it would have been better if it was kept secret for a while. Iris is simply a delight, and Kathy Bates is revelling in this role clearly. I can’t wait to see more of her. Likewise, Denis O’Hare’s crossdressing bellboy Liz Taylor is STUNNINGLY FIERCE. The more of him, the better.
But all of this, of course, has been amping towards Gaga. Her introduction is fabulous: we see fleeting shots as she gets dressed, and then her and Donovan (Matt Bomer) head to an outdoor cinema to watch Nosferatu (of course), before seducing a couple and taking them back to the hotel.
There they engage in a foursome, before The Countess (Gaga) and Donovan kill the couple and feast upon their blood. This is a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in one of Gaga’s music videos, so the impact is lessened somewhat, but it is still glorious to behold. And most surprising of all: Gaga can act. She’s pretty darn good at it, too.
Elizabeth/The Countess craves blood and sex, and has a penchant for fashion and music (of course). But she also has a secret (of course). In a secret room in the hotel we see her vampiric children playing video games, one of which happens to be John’s missing son Holden, who hasn’t aged a day since he was taken. So surely John will try to kill The Countess.
I just hope Gaga has the final laugh. Fingers crossed her next album imbues the darkness of American Horror Story: Hotel to rival her masterpiece The Fame Monster.