American Horror Story: Hotel
October 7, 2015
Hello, and welcome to the fifth season of Ryan Murphy Doesn’t Know When to Stop, He Can’t Help Himself. This season takes place in a hotel, features Lady Gaga and will certainly be equal parts silly, sexy, scary, stylish, bombastic, overwrought, and infuriating. But that’s what we love about this show, right?
Two impossibly Swedish blonds pull up to the Hotel Cortez in downtown Los Angeles, a hotel who has seen better days, but still rocks a gorgeous lobby and impeccable bar. However, our Swedes disagree with me, and as soon as they approach Kathy Bates — or Iris, as we are calling her this time around — at the registration desk, they’ve had second thoughts about staying someplace so far from Universal Studios. Don’t they have Google maps in Sweden? Shouldn’t they have checked that out before getting on the plane? ANYWAY. They ask for a refund, but Iris don’t play that, and promises that the place with “grow on” them. Indeed.
So Iris shows them to their room, the one down the hallway filled with questionable noises, and, in perhaps the most terrifying moment of the episode, Iris informs the ladies that there is no wifi and the hotel is a dead zone for cell service.
Once in their room, one of the interchangeable blondes heads out for ice, only to meet a 1930s-esque maid busily working a bloodstain out of a sheet, in the middle of the hallway, as you do, and a strange albino-looking child in what appears to be an Angus Young costume. Once at the ice machine, a beclawed hand reaches towards her hair, but when Blondie turns around: nothing.
Back in the room, her sister(? friend? girlfriend?) is busily lighting candles that she brought with her from Sweden, because what savvy traveler doesn’t pack a dozen candles on an international trip, right? She’s trying to kill the dead animal smell, but her companion decides that candles aren’t going to cut it and calls down to request another room. But Iris is like, “NOPE.” And that’s when they notice something … strange about the bed. When they remove the covers and sheets, they discover a long, jagged cut running down the middle of the mattress, and when they cut it open, some sort of blind, shrieking, hideous creature pops out from inside. “OH HAI! IT’S ME! YOUR COMPLIMENTARY MATTRESS GOBLIN!”
This clearly does not sit well with our flickor who are all, “OH HELVETE NEJ” and are escorted down the hall by Iris who insists that they stay and talk to the police there, rather than be taken to jail for “evasion,” and dummies are dumb enough to believe her. She deposits them in room 64, explaining that when she told them earlier that there wasn’t another room available,
she lied it’s because they never rent out this particular room.
At some point the flickor fall asleep instead of grabbing their things and heading to Universal Studios. And at 2:25 am., the haunted clock radio wakes one of the girls up, who discovers her friend collapsed in the bathroom, being gorged on like a blonde Swedish meatball by a couple of the albino children. Fun hotel! Would stay again! ★★★
Meanwhile, in a completely different story, Detective John Lowe marches into a different hotel, a cleaner, less mattress-gobliny hotel, and into a gruesome crime scene involving a couple who are quite unhappily in flagrante. The woman, who is on top of the man, is impaled through the back with a giant spear, her hands nailed to the headboard. The gentleman, who is not dead, has suffered perhaps a worse fate: his eyes and tongue have been removed and placed conveniently next to the bed, and he has been superglued inside his friend. Ryan Murphy would like you to know he intends to keep it 💯 this season.
Detective John Lowe notices that the couple has been surrounded by pictures of their families with their eyes cut out — though how he knows they are their families when he doesn’t know who they are is a completely different issue — and he deduces that the couple were adulterers. Somehow.
Anyway, Detective John Lowe goes back to his impossibly beautiful police station, where he has an assistant pull out an older case file involving a Oscar blogger who was bludgeoned to death (presumably with an Oscar), but his light reading is interrupted by a phone call from his precociously cute towheaded daughter. And so he puts everything aside, including another phone call, to read to her a chapter from Little Women: “Boys are trying enough to human patience, goodness knows, but girls are infinitely more so….”
As Detective John Lowe leaves for the night, he receives another phone call from an anonymous caller, promising to “do it again” at the Hotel Cortez in room 64.
Back at the hotel, Junkie Schmidt checks into the hotel, and Iris sends him up to room 64. But instead of finding two leggy blondes being exsanguinated by a couple of kids from the Village of the Damned, Junkie Schmidt finds a perfectly empty room. There he unpacks his kit and begins shooting up.
However, just as he settles into his high, that 1930s maid shows up at his bedside, assuring him that she can get any kind of stain out, you name it. And that’s when a laughing faceless gimp with a drillbit dildo appears and has his way with Junkie Schmidt.
Remember, kids, drugs are cool.
So, Detective Lowe shows up to check out this room 64. Iris has her fellow hotel employee, Denis O’Hare, who we are calling Liz Taylor this time, take him upstairs. Liz Taylor, is, by the way, the most fabulous resident of this hotel, Lady Gaga or no Lady Gaga.
As Liz Taylor leads Detective Lowe upstairs, she notes that she can tell he’s lost something, and now he’s stuck in time: can’t go forward, can’t go back. Detective Lowe glowers. Or maybe it’s just Wes Bentley being Wes Bentley. It’s hard to say.
Meanwhile, up in room 64, Junkie Schmidt continues being brutalized by the drildo demon, while 1994 Courtney Love in the form of Sarah Paulson watches. Courtney Love warns Junkie Schmidt that the more he screams, the more Drildo likes it, but if Junkie Schmidt tells her that he loves her, she’ll make it stop. And so he does and so Drildo stops and then Junkie Schmidt dies because it’s all a metaphor for addiction or something. R.I.P. Junkie Schmidt.
Presumably moments later, Detective Lowe walks into an empty room 64. After searching the room for a hot second, Detective Lowe decides to have a lie-down, a choice which does not seem particularly professional. OR, the secret to room 64 is that it has a carbon monoxide leak. In any event, the haunted clock radio turns itself on at 2:25 again, waking Detective Lowe. When he opens his eyes, he finds one of the Village of the Damned children giggling next to his bed, and Detective Lowe is like, “WUZZA?” He chases the child down the hall, but the kid escapes because haunted hotel. Oh, and also, Junkie Schmidt is tucked neatly away under the bed.
Meanwhile, in a completely different story, Lady Gaga and her boytoy The Gorgeous Matt Bomer, whom we are calling Donovan this time around, put on some Bauhaus and get ready for a night out. The pair head to a movies at the park event for a showing of Nosferatu and to proposition the nearest couple. The foursome head back to Lady Gaga’s penthouse where they all roll around naked together and seem to be having a perfectly lovely time. That is, until Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer, I MEAN, Donovan, slice open the other couple’s throats with their special razor gloves and drink their blood. Not cool, Lady Gaga and Donovan. That’s going to leave a mess, Lady Gaga and Donovan.
Back in the other other story, Detective Lowe actually goes home to spend time with his wife, Dr. Chloë Sevigny and his daughter, Scarlett. Dr. Chloë is all sour and pissy and makes a bunch of noises about how awful anti-vaxxers are before heading out to check on some patients, leaving Detective Lowe and the kid to find dinner for themselves. They head out for sushi where Scarlett talks about how she struggles to remember “his” face, and wonders if it’s time to put the pictures back up again. Before Detective Lowe can address this sadness pile, he receives a text from Dr. Chloë’s phone with an address and a plea for help.
Detective Lowe goes racing to the scene with his daughter, which is just a good plan. To make matters worse, instead of letting the other cops handle the situation, he runs headlong into the house, leaving Scarlett in the car. But of course, Scarlett doesn’t stay in the car and goes wandering into the house after him, where she finds the victims: two men who have been dramatically disemboweled like they think they’re on Hannibal or something. So, excellent parenting all around, Detective Lowe. Good job.
And it turns out that Detective Lowe is the reigning Dad of the Year for five years running, in fact! Back in 2010, Detective Lowe and the Lowe family spent a lovely day at the fair until Detective Lowe put his five-year-old son, Holden, on a carousel and then became so distracted by Candy Crush on his phone that he didn’t notice that his kid was plucked from his ride and taken who even knows where. (Hotel Cortez to go eat some Swedes.)
This happy memory from the film Face/Off is brought up to give us some context as to why Dr. Chloë is not so happy with Detective Lowe and therefore totally down with him checking himself into a seedy hotel for a while, just until
she and her daughter can be kidnapped by this serial killer he solves this case. I mean, obviously it makes more sense for Dr. Chloë and Scarlett to go stay someplace else — preferably in another state — but that’s too logical and would get in the way of plot, so Hotel Cortez it is!
Back at the hotel, Iris delivers room service to our Swedish friends who have been moved to matching cages in some sort of ballroom. After accusing them of being junkies, Iris blends up a nice cocktail of oysters, chicken livers, kidneys, and a little wine, but the Swedes are uninterested and scream a lot. Courtney Love shows up and she and Iris sneer at one another for a while, and basically Iris accuses Courtney Love for being the reason she’s stuck in this lousy place. Iris then leaves the Swedes in Courtney Love’s care to go feed that thing in room 33. And Courtney Love had better do a good job with these missbrukare or she’ll have to explain to Her why they taste like lingonberries and Xanax.
Instead, Courtney Love decides to make trouble, releases one of the Swedes and screams at her to “RUNNNNNNNNN!!!!” And the Swede is more than happy to oblige. Running through the hotel, running through the hotel, running through the hotel, and just as Swede is about to make her escape, who should appear at the door but Lady Gaga. And with one swipe of her razor glove, Swede’s throat is slit and she bleeds out onto the lobby’s Shining tribute carpet. That’s going to leave a mess, Lady Gaga.
And Lady Gaga has reason to be worried about the condition of the carpets: she’s in the process of selling the hotel to one Cheyenne Jackson, or the fashion designer Will Drake as we are calling him. Mr. Drake and his son (who is in desperate need of a haircut) Lachlan are given a tour of the hotel by our first season realtor, Marcy, who informs us that she killed the Harmon’s dog just that morning. R.I.P. Hallie.
The sale of Hotel Cortez is news to its employees and residents, however, and they are none too happy about it. “WHAT ABOUT US?” they pout and stomp. But Lady Gaga doesn’t have time for that. She sends Mr. Drake off to go see their James Turrell light sculpture, while she takes Lachlan to see the Hotel Cortez Kiddie Playland. In a secret room, three white-haired children play Tetris and eat Skittles and Lachlan is like, “I’m totally down with this.” Oh, and yes, one of the Village of the Damned is definitely Holden Lowe because of course he is.
Downstairs, Donovan has a snit about the sale, and as he storms out of the building, Iris tries to talk to him because, as it turns out, he is her son. But Donovan is NOT INTERESTED. GAWD, GO AWAY, MOM.
Flashback to 1994: From a parked car, Iris watches as her son heads inside the Hotel Cortez with 1994 Courtney Love and she has An Alarmed. Iris follows them into the hotel, but the desk clerk, one Liz Taylor, refuses to tell her which room they are in — at least not for that pile of change. So Iris runs to an ATM, and then storms upstairs to room 64 to confront Donovan and Courtney Love. There, she finds her son unconscious, possibly dead, from shooting up whatever trash heroin Courtney Love offered him. When Iris pleads with Courtney Love to call 911 or help in any way, Courtney Love is all, “NOPE.” So Iris shoves Courtney Love out an open window to her death.
When Iris returns to the room, she finds Lady Gaga perched over her son’s body, cooing that he has “a jawline for days.” INDEED, LADY GAGA.
And then “Hotel California” plays over the final sequence of Detective Lowe checking in to the Hotel Cortez because Ryan Murphy just can not help himself. He can’t help himself!
So there’s a TON to talk about here, but I’m only going to be able to get to some of it in this entry. First, let’s talk theme. Hotels are great settings for ghost stories — the most famous ghost story being, of course, The Shining, whose carpet is directly alluded to in this set. And like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, The Hotel Cortez has a history, it has a past that has not quite moved on.
Hotels are liminal spaces: they are places we pass through, in contrast to homes, where we live and make our lives. And because they are not our homes, because they are not spaces we share with our families and loved ones, they are places where we feel we can open up our inhibitions. In hotel rooms we can behave in ways we might not otherwise behave; we can do things we might not otherwise do. It is easier in a liminal space to open up a secret or darker part of ourselves, because we are strangers there. We are strangers who are merely passing through. Strangers who don’t have to clean up our own messes. But some of those messes just might leave stains, or spirits, that are hard to remove.
Interestingly enough, Murphy himself has said that this season is partially based on a real hotel in Los Angeles: the Hotel Cecil where the super creepy death of Elisa Lam happened. The Cecil has a dark history beyond Lam, though: The Night Stalker lived there, as did serial killer Jack Unterweger, so, you know, it’s a spooky hotel.
The hotel might also be inspired by a second creepy hotel, specifically the 19th century H.H. Holmes’ “Murder Castle” in Chicago. Holmes built the hotel to serve guests at the 1893 World’s Fair (and is the subject of the book Devil in the White City), and to provide him with murder victims. From Wikipedia:
The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over 100 windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that “they were doing incompetent work.” His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building …
After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies, for which Holmes would pay the premiums, but was also the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests, whom he would later kill. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Holmes would also lock his victims in a room where the walls were covered with iron plates and had blowtorches installed to incinerate them. Some victims were taken to one of the rooms on the second floor, called the “secret hanging chamber”, where Holmes hanged them. Other victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate. There was also a secret room that was completely sealed by solid brick that could only be entered through a trapdoor on the ceiling; Holmes would lock his victims in this room for days to die of hunger and thirst. The victims’ bodies were put inside either a secret metal chute or a dummy elevator which led to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also buried some of the bodies in lime pits for disposal. Holmes had two giant furnaces used to incinerate some of the bodies or evidence, as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons and even a stretching rack. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.
YIKES. Also, regarding the bolded part, the second episode of this season is entitled “Chutes and Ladders.” Ahem.
As for our hotel owner, Lady Gaga’s character is actually named “The Countess Elizabeth.” I am pretty sure this is a reference to another famous real-life “vampire,” the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a monster who killed over 600 young women because she believed bathing in virgin blood would help her retain her beauty and youth. Murphy has expressed explicitly in his Entertainment Weekly interview that Countess Elizabeth is not a vampire:
I liked doing vampirism but I didn’t wanna do vampires. Gaga has a big line in the second episode where she turns somebody and they ask her all questions. I was interested in it being some sort of weird, almost biblical virus that has its own good and bad properties. It leads to a super-charged immune system. But we’re not doing the thing about you can only kill them with a silver bullet or a stake. If you walk in front of a car, you die. They are very much mortals but they have this virus that impedes the aging process. It’s based on stuff that’s happening right now with stem cell research and all that stuff. It’s really not to me that crazy or fantastical of what could come in the next couple of years. The show always plays with mortality and the idea of aging and beauty.
So, yeah, Countess Elizabeth Báthory, if you will.
But also interesting about Gaga being in this particular role is that, at least in the fringe corners of the internet, she was accused a few years back of performing a blood ritual in London’s Intercontinental Hotel:
Lady Gaga allegedly left “large amounts of blood” in a hotel bath.
The eccentric singer reportedly shocked staff when she checked out of London’s lavish Intercontinental Hotel last summer and they discovered a pool of red liquid in the tub of her suite.
One housekeeper claimed the pop superstar was “bathing in blood as part of a Satanic ritual”.
She told website Truthquake: “Lady Gaga left large amounts of blood in the suite during a stay this summer. The incident was reported to the concierge, who was told to put it out of her mind.”
And so, Lady Gaga who has never been afraid to address crazy rumors about herself, might, with this character, be poking fun at this weird story. (That, or she’s really a vampire. You never know with Gaga.)
Finally, to prepare us for the next episode, it’s worth noting that the protagonists in Little Women, the novel Detective Lowe reads to his daughter, is the March family, a name that will prove to be important on this show. How the novel and the show relate to each other, however, is as of now a mystery. I also don’t know what to make of the fact that Lowe’s children are named after two great American literary characters: Holden — as in Caulfield, and Scarlett — as in O’Hara. But we can put a pin in that one until later in the season, yes?
American Horror Story: Hotel aired on FX.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.