‘American Horror Story: Hotel’: History lessons

American Horror Story: Hotel
“Chutes and Ladders”
Octåober 14, 2015

So, Junkie Schmidt. Maybe he’s not quite dead? Or maybe he’s very dead? It’s hard to say, honestly. But what is easy to say is that he is being sewn into a mattress by the ghost of Courtney Love because this is how she amuses herself during the afterlife. According to her, it’s his own fault for thinking he could cheat death. OK?

Meanwhile, the unfortunate Swede who didn’t make a break for it is being drained by some of the Village of the Damned, one of whom complains that the Swede tastes gross. Iris pulls him off, reminding him that he has to stop feeding once they’re dead, which is just a good rule. Liz Taylor then wheels the Swede’s body down the hall on a room service tray, and she and Iris shove the blonde into what appears to be a laundry chute which dumps her body into a lye-filled basement. Preparedness!

Iris then checks on the Village of the Damned in their playroom where they are hooked up with cartoons and juice and literally hooked up to blood bags. So, I guess what is happening here is that Lady Gaga is harvesting their blood after they drink other people’s blood? This seems like a lot of extra steps just to get your iron fix. Just eat more broccoli, Lady Gaga! Iris delivers the blood to Lady Gaga in hopes of getting a glimpse of her son, Donovan, but Lady Gaga says no.


In the penthouse, Lady Gaga and Donovan spat about whether or not to go to an art opening: she wants to because she’s Lady Gaga, but Donovan wants to stay in and binge White Collar House of Cards, and besides, she doesn’t have any more space or money for new art. Lady Gaga don’t care, and she goes out without him. Bye, Boring, bye.

Meanwhile, on some other show, Ryan Murphy rants at anti-vaxxers via Dr. Chloë Sevigny as she makes a house call to a kid who has the measles because his mother was an idiot and didn’t get him vaccinated. I’mma let you finish, Ryan Murphy, but this anti-vaccination storyline better be going somewhere.


As for her husband, Detective John, he’s staying at the Hotel Cortez for plot purposes, and his haunted clock radio wakes him up in the middle of the night. He finds the TV on, the bloody sheet maid offering turn down service, sees a flash of our friend Drildo and discovers a corpse couple having sex in his shower. Great hotel! Would stay again!

He then catches a glimpse of his son, Holden of the Damned, in the hallway, but when he chases after him, the child disappears again. Detective John is really not very good at keeping track of his kids.

Detective John goes downstairs to the hotel bar to have a glass of ginger ale with Ghost Courtney Love who yammers at him about being a junkie, and writing songs with Patti Smith and uses a strained metaphor comparing using heroin to climbing a ladder so that they could get away with the episode title. Detective John then explains why he doesn’t drink anymore: after working a particularly grim case in which a father accidentally gave his entire family carbon monoxide poisoning before killing himself, Detective John went on a bender. Then, when he pulled his act together and went home, he promptly lost track of his younger child and never saw him again. Detective John is really not very good at keeping track of his kids.

The next day at work, Detective John receives a mysterious package that he assumes is a bomb because ??? But after the bomb squad arrives and pokes at it for a few minutes, they determine that it’s just an Oscar — the one Serial Killer used to bludgeon and sodomize his blogger victim. Well, that was awfully considerate of Serial Killer to provide evidence delivery! What a thoughtful fellow!

Over on a completely different show, the new owner of Hotel Cortez, the fashion designer Will Drake, is showing Naomi Campbell around the place, but all she notices are Detective John’s high cheekbones and glowery eyes. Drake and Naomi Campbell introduce themselves to Detective John and invite him and his daughter, Scarlett — who happens to be paying Dad a visit at the shooting gallery he is staying in for no particularly good reason (I’M GOING TO GO STAY IN THIS HOTEL TO KEEP YOU SAFE BUT THEN YOU SHOULD COME TO THE HOTEL AND SEE ME — this makes no sense) — to a fashion show. “Uh, sure?” they say, “I guess?”


However, despite also being a resident, Ghost Courtney Love is not on the guest list for the fashion show, and she has a meltdown. Sorry, Ghost Courtney Love, but your look is too 20 years ago, and not in a cool way.

The fashion show happens, and Detective John’s daughter is seated next to that one child who has too much hair, Lachlan, who complains that this is his bajillionth fashion show. He then suggests to Scarlett that they go see something really cool, and they just up and leave the fashion show and Detective John doesn’t even notice. Detective John is really not very good at keeping track of his kids.

Lachlan leads Scarlett to an indoor pool, empty but for the four child-sized coffins containing four child-sized children, one of whom Scarlett recognizes as her little brother. Which is something that perhaps she should alert her father to. She does not on account of plot. Instead, later that night, she watches old videos of her brother on an iPad and mentions nothing to her parents.

Meanwhile, at the fashion show, one of the models, Dandy with a purple streak in his hair, or “Tristan” as we are apparently calling him this season, is dangerous! and a rebel! and does dangerous and rebellious things like snort the cocaine and walk sassily down the runway and kiss an audience member and then start a fight with the same audience member. So edgy! Lady Gaga is immediately smitten.

Tristen then stomps back into the dressing room where when confronted by Will Drake about being a nightmare, he takes a pair of scissors to his face and slices it open and declares his modeling career done.


Tristen then breaks into Lady Gaga’s suite, and trashes the place in search of MOAR DRUGS. He’s caught by Donovan, who is not interested in another pretty boy hanging around, and Donovan begins choking him, presumably before he eats him. However, Donovan is stopped by Lady Gaga, and Tristen flees the penthouse and into the elevator.

The elevator stops on the 7th floor, where Tristen waders off, eats some moldering room service left out in the hallway and stumbles into a hotel room that appears to be trapped in the 1940s. This does not deter Tristen from riffling through the place, again looking for drugs, because he hasn’t learned his lesson. This time he’s happened upon by a rather dapper Evan Peters who offers him whatever he wants from the room; personally, Evan Peters is into darker things than pedestrian Bolivian marching powder.

And that’s when Bloody Sheet Maid delivers to Evan Peters a bound woman whom she declares to be a prostitute she found in the bar. Evan Peters places a gun in Tristan’s hands, and orders him to “take her last breath.” When Tristan balks, Evan Peters removes an ascot from his neck, revealing a long gash across his throat, before taking the gun and shooting the woman himself. Understandably, Tristan flees, and is pulled back into the elevator by one Lady Gaga.

As for Detective John’s daughter, Scarlett, the next day (?) she chooses to get on a bus, drive across town and investigate the Hotel Cortez all by herself rather than mention to her father — a police officer — that she is preeeeety sure she saw her presumed dead younger brother in a coffin at the bottom of an empty pool in the hotel where he is staying for no good reason, you know, the hotel where he keeps having “visions” of the same presumed dead younger brother. Detective John is really not very good at keeping track of his kids.

And so she just wanders into the murder hotel with no problem, but when she goes to the pool, the coffins are empty. She wanders around until she finds the secret playroom with just absolutely no problem, and inside discovers her younger brother playing video games. “It’s weird that you haven’t aged a single day, and are sleeping in a coffin,” she says before being like, “OK! COOL! LET’S GO HOME!” But Holden of the Damned is not interested: he likes it here, what with the video games and the candy and the never aging thing. So she asks if she can take a picture of him, and when she does, he leans in for a chomp of her neck. Understandably, Scarlett flees, passing Ghost Courtney Love in the hallway who spits her teeth out at the girl for laffs.

When Scarlett returns home, she discovers her house swarmed with police because her parents are convinced she’s been kidnapped, too. Whoops.

She goes inside and is like, “Hey guys, sorry about the panic attack, but I think I found Holden at dad’s skeevy hotel, and I took a picture.” But instead of hearing her out — after all, it’s not like they ever found a body or anything — her parents put their fingers in their ears and are all, “LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU.” Scarlett, in a fit of frustration, hurls her phone at her parents before storming off to her room because SERIOUSLY, HOW HARD IS IT TO GO BACK TO THE HOTEL WHERE YOU ARE STAYING AND JUST TAKE A LOOK AROUND? Ugh. Parents just don’t understand, amirite, Scarlett?

Anyway, Detective John does manage to look at her phone, but only finds a picture of his daughter sitting next to a blurred figure. Hmmm.

But back to a completely different story: Apparently Lady Gaga turned Tristan into whatever proto-vampire thing she is before going into a long rambling explanation: it’s a virus; they don’t age; they can be killed; they don’t bite, they cut; they don’t drink from the dead; they should avoid the diseased or drugged; they prefer blackout curtains to coffins; the sun won’t kill them, but it should be avoided; he can hunt Kendall Jenner, but he can’t be reckless or get caught; he can’t fall in love; she’s 111 years old and the person who turned her was much prettier than him. That’s a lot of information!

Lady Gaga then reminisces about the 1970s and Studio 54 because even though she was born in 1904, she is actually a gay man in his 70s. (This is actually true of both the character and the real Lady Gaga.) (In fact, all of the above is true about both the character and the real Lady Gaga.) And that’s when Donovan arrives and has a tantrum that she turned Tristan. She assures Donovan that this doesn’t have to end badly, and Donovan is like, “WAIT, WHAT IS HAPPENING?” But Lady Gaga goes all Chad Radwell on him because she’s done.

Down at the reception desk, one very angry Detective John demands answers from Iris about the hotel — but not about his missing son, don’t be silly. Instead, he wants to know in the broadest sense possible, “what is going on in this place.” Where to even begin?

Iris takes him over to the bar, and explains that to understand the hotel, he has to understand the history of the building, before we are swept up into yet another flashback. It seems the hotel was built by Evan Peters, who we are calling H.H. Holmes Mr. James March this season. Mr. March was a self-made millionaire who moved out to California back in the 1920s. Once there, he built this hotel to satisfy his “peculiar (read: homicidal) appetites.” The building made little to no sense to anyone but him, with hallways with no rooms off of them, secret passageways, torture chambers, soundproof rooms, and body chutes. According to Iris, Mr. March averaged about 3 murders a week, and often made the unfortunate Mrs. March watch him kill. However, his best friend was his ever loyal maid, Miss Evers, who helped him with his biggest challenge: clean-up.

However, someone eventually turned Mr. March in to the authorities (Iris thinks it was the wife who stood to inherit everything), and as the police closed in on him, Mr. March killed himself and Miss Evers in his office: room 64. You know, the room Detective John is staying in. Detective John has a skeptical.

But the story sticks with him, and the next day at work he is reminded of it as he goes through his serial killer crime photos. Suddenly, he has a revelation: “OUR SERIAL KILLER IS THE GUY FROM 7EVEN, BUT INSTEAD OF THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, HE’S DOING THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.”

Me. Right now.

Back at the hotel, Tristan waits for the lumbersexual he met on Grindr (I assume), whom he leads upstairs so that he and Lady Gaga can feast on him. Mmm. Hairy.

This episode was so expository that there is very little to actually dissect, but I will point out a couple symbols embedded in the episode. For starters, the coffins were of interest. Coffins are, obviously, associated with vampires which is probably where the intention began and ended here. But, I’d be remiss to not discuss coffins as a box symbol, a symbol that represents mystery and the unknown. Coffins also obviously serve as a symbol of death, and because of that, they also represent rebirth and passage into a new life. This clearly applies to Holden and the other Village of the Damned children; they have been separated from their previous life and been reborn into this vampiric nightmarish one.


The other notable symbol in this episode is the mirror, particularly as it is associated with Tristan. Tristan’s character is introduced to us in a room full of mirrors. After cutting his face in the dressing room, he goes upstairs to the penthouse where he searches for drugs and is surrounded, again, by mirrors. Then, when he slips through time, or whatever, again, he is discovered by Mr. March while standing in front of a mirror.

Mirrors are symbols of truth and of the act of facing who one truly is, for good and evil.


But mirrors also serve as thresholds to other realities, to worlds that might look like ours, but are fundamentally different. It’s interesting that it is through Tristan that we are introduced to Mr. March: in this episode, both men are seeking their genuine selves. Mr. March’s hotel is a shrine to his true homicidal self; and Tristan, who has been made miserable as a model, finds happiness when he embraces his darker, blood-drinking impulses. Tristan travels from one world — the world where he is an angry, drug-abusing, disaffected pretty boy — to another world, where he is a murderous, but happy! immortal. Through The Countess’s infected blood, he passes through the mirror and becomes his real self.

American Horror Story: Hotel aired on FX.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.

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