Sunday, October 18, 2015

American Horror Story 5x02 "Chutes and Ladders" (Totally Innovative, Never-Seen-Before Horror. Trust Us) [Contributor: Melanie]

"Chutes and Ladders"
Original Airdate: October 14, 2015

In this week’s recap for Ryan Murphy’s other show Scream Queens, I talked about how that show uses allusions to horror movies. Scream Queens obviously uses parody, on the level of Scary Movie, to address genre conventions. However, Hotel wants you to to take it more seriously by vaguely calling out similar-themed horror movies. This, meanwhile, causes the audience to associate the emotion and response they had to the original work without actually realizing Hotel has nothing original to say. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t watch the show for originality, but I do often find myself seething a bit at Murphy’s lack of creativity when it comes to this show. Coven was a rare exception of originality in Murphy’s work, but this season is falling flat.

First of all, Murphy wants you to associate this hotel with the Overlook. The use of the same carpet pattern from the Kubrick adaptation of The Shining is obviously meant to be an allusion or homage (though no one really acknowledges it in-show), and it’s subtle (and reasonable) enough that I’ll let it slide. However, employing the use of “dead zones” and an atmosphere of solitude to try and get this hotel –– which is in the middle of downtown LA –– to mimic the Overlook’s isolation is not something I’m buying. Using a particular color scheme and designating a particular room as the “evil” one is extremely tropey in hotel horror fiction. And tropey is not bad, if you acknowledge you’re doing it. But of course, that’s not the case here.

There are some allusions, though, that play nicely. When the two Swedish women first enter the hotel and get a sense of the atmosphere, it’s a nice parallel to the beginning of The Haunting of Hill House in which our main characters are immediately ill at ease in the house and want to leave. There’s also a little homage to Last House on the Left with one of the Swedes’ underwear-clad run through the hotel lobby, only to bite the bullet just before escaping. It’s nice incidental allusions that I’m more willing to buy than the a la carte Shining-fest, which, I’ll note, got worse this week thanks to several bar scenes where the ghosts of the hotel tempt Lowe into relapsing and a scene in Room 64 that was just short of a rip-off the scenes from room 237.

Now, on with the show.

We open on Hypodermic Sally who has shoved Gabriel, still alive, in a mattress as punishment for “thinking (he) could cheat death.” She hears cries for help and comes marching down to complain, and finds the Swedish tourist serving as a buffet for Elizabeth’s army of creepy vampire children. Our favorite drag queen Liz Taylor wheels the Swede’s body to the laundry chute, where she lands among several other decomposing bodies.

In the game room, the children give donations of blood via IV that is then delivered to Elizabeth by Iris, who asks to see Donovan before the door is shut in her face. Elizabeth berates him for not getting ready over wine glasses of blood and when he suggests they stay in for the night (and binge House of Cards), she shares some very dangerous eye contact with him before leaving for an art exhibit by herself.

After the opening credits, Alex is making a house call for a sick boy with the measles. She scolds the mother for not vaccinating her son and leaves. At the hotel, Lowe is woken by his TV and radio turning on in the middle of the night, and he hallucinates before being shocked awake. In the bathroom, he sees two decomposing bodies in the bathtub before he wakes (for real this time) and hears giggling in the hallway. He spots Holden and chases after him to no avail. Lowe then finds himself in the hotel bar with Hypodermic Sally and Liz Taylor. Sally shares her history as a poet and songwriter before her writing partner dumped her because of her addiction. Sally and Liz Taylor try to seduce Lowe into breaking his sobriety and he reveals he used to get drunk to deal with disturbing homicide cases. The day he lost his son was the result of a family outing to make up for the alcohol abuse. He walks away without drinking.

At the LAPD, it’s revealed a third party texted both victims from the previous episode (the unfortunately entangled and mutilated couple) to get them in the same room. Lowe recalls how his own wife’s phone was cloned in the same way. A package arrives for Lowe who immediately believes it to be a bomb. The explosives squad informs him this isn’t the case and reveals it to be an award covered in blood. Drake is hosting an opening night party at the hotel and Naomi Campbell makes her first appearance as Claudia Bankson, a friend of Drake’s. Lowe’s daughter arrives while Sally makes a scene about not being admitted to the party.

Drake hosts a fashion show, attended by Elizabeth who is captivated by a controversial model Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock). Drake berates him in the dressing room and Duffy mutilates his own face, effectively ending his modeling career. Scarlett and Lachlan sneak off during the show. He shows her several glass coffins where Elizabeth’s captive children are sleeping in the empty pool. Scarlett recognizes Holden and, later that night, watches old family videos. Back at the hotel, Tristan breaks into Elizabeth’s penthouse and begins looting for cocaine before being caught by Donovan, but is allowed to leave at Elizabeth’s insistence. The power goes out while Tristan’s in the elevator, and after forcing the doors open, he discovers an abandoned floor. While exploring, Tristan meets James March (Evan Peters), who allows Tristan to take the coke he finds. However, James insists Tristan will find more rush from killing a prostitute he brings into the room. When Tristan refuses, James shoots her himself. In a rush back to the elevator, he is accosted by Elizabeth.

Scarlett, after several dreams of her brother, returns to the coffins and finds them empty. She finds the game room and her brother. Holden identifies her and does not respond when she shows him pictures of the family, and he insists he is home. Scarlett attempts to take a picture and is scared off when he attempts to bite her. She’s further frightened by Hypodermic Sally and rushes home to find out the police have been looking for her. She reveals she snuck out to find Holden and is enraged when her parents don’t believe her.

Back in the hotel, Tristan is basking in the effects of “the virus” which has healed his face wound and stopped his aging (though Elizabeth notes “you’re only immortal if you’re smart”). In the midst of their trysts Elizabeth informs him that they have no fangs (“we don’t bite, we cut”) and to avoid drinking from the sick and weak and to never drink from the dead. She warns him not to get caught or fall in love with anyone but her. She reveals she was born in 1904 and misses the 1970s and her long dead friends. Donovan appears and Elizabeth speaks with him privately, warning him Duffy was not that different from him when she turned him and breaks up with him to teach him a lesson in heartbreak.

Lowe confronts Iris about Scarlett’s escapades in the hotel and Holden’s presence. Iris reveals James March built the hotel in 1925 to be used for his obsession with murder, building the hotel to suit his needs with secret passages, body chutes, and sound proof rooms (it’s hinted Elizabeth was his wife –– also, here we have Ryan Murphy referencing H.H. Holmes but pretending like he isn’t). After a gruesome spree, March was caught and when the police arrived to arrest him, he and his faithful maid killed themselves. Lowe doesn’t believe her but Iris reveals he’s sleeping in March’s old room. At the LAPD, Lowe investigates Iris’s claims and realizes there is a pattern to the killings he’s been investigating, all of which revolve around the 10 Commandments and postulates someone is picking up on March’s work. Back at the hotel, Duffy meets up with a Grindr hook-up as his first “feast.”

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