Thursday, October 8, 2015

American Horror Story 5x01 "Checking In" (Welcome to the Hotel California) [Contributor: Melanie]

"Checking In"
Original Airdate: October 7, 2015

In true self-loathing fashion, I continue to deplore Ryan Murphy and yet subject myself to his shows every week. But American Horror Story’s first season was really good, I’m not going to lie. The end got a little bit bumpy and I could have done without the angsty (and completely unhealthy) teen romance between Violet and Tate, but the concept was really quite good. Haunted houses are a staple of American Halloween folklore and the way the stories within the season blended together was very well handled. Season two, Asylum, was also fairly good... at least at the beginning. Jessica Lange proved herself to be the breakout star of season one and was upgraded to lead character at a Catholic insane asylum in the 1950s. You’d think that plot alone would be enough to work from, but for some reason Murphy needed aliens in his show, and –– as a result –– things took a turn, quality-wise for the worse. Season three's Coven, saw a tonal change but managed to stay fairly enjoyable. It was not enough to get me to watch Season 4, Freakshow, though.

This fifth season takes place in the enigmatic Hotel Cortez in L.A. where Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) sojourns during an investigation of a recent string of brutal murders. Residing in the hotel is front desk clerk Iris (Kathy Bates), the rock n’ roll groupie wannabe Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson), the current owner’s lover Donovan (Matt Bomer), and the mysterious owner herself, Countess Elizabeth (Lady Gaga). The first episode revealed that nearly all the inhabitants of the hotel are dead and unfortunately this might be rehashing the plot twist from the first season.

Gaga’s character, many speculated, was going to be revealed as a modern day take on Countess Elizabeth Bathory –– one of the most notorious serial killers in history, famous in the 17th century for bleeding out young women and bathing in their blood to gain eternal youth. And there is certainly a Gaga-induced blood bath in this episode, suggesting this theory might be accurate. There’s also some implied resurrecting abilities (and a subtle hint about sunlight), leading me to think Mother Monster just might be playing a vampire (Countess Bathory was considered to be an inspiration for many pieces of vampire literature).

"Checking In" was a confusing first episode, as this season seems to be inclined to steer towards mystery in an effort to make a character out of the hotel itself. But in the process, it does some unfortunate ripping from pages of The Shining. The famous carpet pattern from Kubrick film is a nice homage, but the excessive use of hallucinations and creepy children as well as the color palette feel a little too familiar. But thanks to Lady Gaga, this season doesn’t feel devoid of its usual flavor now that Jessica Lange, the former star of the show, is removed from the cast list. In fact, Gaga was probably the best part of the premiere, appearing about a half hour into the episode and stealing every scene she was in. It felt very much like Gaga was playing herself, and not just because everything was weird as could be, but because her dialogue and choices were extremely natural and gave the feel of someone who truly believed what they were saying.

So, let’s break down what happened at this would-be Hotel California.

The episode opens with a prologue of two young Swedish tourists staying at the hotel and quickly demanding a refund upon arrival, disappointed with the location and overall state of it. Iris informs them there are no refunds and they should stay the night. On the walk to their room, they get a bad vibe, The Haunting of Hill House-style, and immediately try to make a phone call, only to find the entire hotel is a dead zone (ha, I get it). There’s a lot of fish eye cinematography work in these scenes that does not return for the remainder of the episode, by the way. As one of the Swedes takes a trip to the ice machine, she spots some creepy blonde children running around before Lady Gaga('s hand) makes her first creepy appearance by pulling the familiar reach-out-but-don’t-touch move we see in horror movies. Of course, when the girl turns around, the hand is gone. But back in the room, they detect a bad odor and cut open their mattress to find a very ghoulish creature pop out.

After the credits (which feature the Ten Commandments, if anyone has any theories about that), Iris leads the girls to a new room for the night, room 64. Sometime later –– after further disconnected calls –– the ghostly children from earlier attack one of the girls, and appear to start drinking her blood. We switch over to Detective Lowe at a crime scene where a cheating husband has been mutilated and his lover murdered, with superglue… in places. Lowe pulls some Will Graham-style profiling before heading back to the office to investigate similarly gruesome murders. Then he gets a call from home, providing some exposition about his marital problems. He gets an anonymous tip, a la Deep Throat, and heads to the Hotel Cortez.

And then, we get the oddest scene of the night when a Gabriel,(Max Greenfield), a junkie, checks into the hotel. He’s sent to 64 where he shoots up and then –– while in a hallucinating state –– is attacked by another creature, similar to the one from inside the mattress, who forcibly violates him. Hypodermic Sally appears and seems to cast some hypnosis over him, banishing the creature, and calming him down. What appears to be only a few minutes later, Lowe arrives, demanding to see room 64, but finds it empty. After falling asleep, he spots one of the mysterious children, believing one to be his son Holden. He chases Holden until he becomes disoriented and leaves to return home to find his wife distant.

What happens next is just magical. In probably the best character introduction AHS has ever delivered, Elizabeth and Donovan prepare for a night out, walking through a cemetery to a local movie screening in a park. They immediately catch the eye of a nearby couple and, through what seems to be some kind of thrall, bring the pair back to the hotel. Spoiler alert: that couple does not make it through the episode, as Elizabeth and Donovan kill them and drink their blood, vampire-style.

Downstairs, Iris has the Swedish tourists locked up and prepares to force feed them a disgusting smoothie concoction to flush their system of drugs and alcohol, saying it’s in preparation for “her,” before Hypodermic Sally stops her. She then frees one of the tourists and tells her to run. She very nearly gets out the front door before she runs into Elizabeth, who kills the escapee and warns Iris not to let a near-escape happen again.

Lowe is out with his daughter at dinner when he starts getting texts from his wife asking for help and supplying an address. At the scene, his wife is nowhere to be seen, but two disemboweled bodies are hanging over the pool. In a flashback, we learn Lowe and his wife had a son who mysteriously vanished while the family was out at a carnival. In the present day, his wife assures him she does not blame him for their son’s disappearance, but still cannot stand to be around him because of their physical resemblance (just to note: they don't look alike at all, but I'll take your word for it wifey). He agrees to leave their home, and checks into Hotel Cortez –– and into room 64, more precisely.

Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), the apparent new owner of the hotel, arrives with his son and is met with an apathetic reaction from Elizabeth, who takes his son out for a tour while Donovan escorts Drake around. Elizabeth takes him to a playroom full of video games and several creepy-looking children, one of whom is –– in fact –– Lowe’s son Holden. Another flashback, after an altercation between Iris and Donovan (who are mother and son), reveals Donovan died at the hotel twenty years earlier after a heroin overdose; it’s implied that Elizabeth somehow brought him back to life. Hypodermic Sally was also killed that day after Iris pushed her out a window for giving Donovan the drugs and then walking away.

The episode ends with “Hotel California” playing over a montage of the denizens of the hotel Is it extremely on the nose? Yes, because hat's where we live in Ryan Murphy productions!

It’s theory time…

Since seasons of AHS always seem to be incredibly confusing, I will detail some theories that pop up week-to-week as the show goes on. This week is light with very little to go off of, but here we are.

  • Elizabeth and Donovan are vampires: it was all but screamed at us from the blood drinking, to Donovan’s sweeping black outfits, to the complaint about sunlight, plus the agelessness and the fact that Donovan is very clearly dead.
  • The hotel has similar powers as the Murder House: everyone in it, with the exception of Iris and short-term residents, seem to be dead; whether or not they’re ghosts, reanimated corpses, or all vampires remains to be seen.
  • Elizabeth has a collection of vampire children: this one is a little obvious, but she seems to be in the business of collecting kids and then zombifying them into little walking ghouls and early promo showed the children drinking blood from bottles.
The first episode of this season is promising, but they all always seem to be before disaster in the form of Ryan Murphy not knowing how to write an ending. Check back here for more reviews and recaps on American Horror Story and catch it Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX.


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