American Horror Story is a show that, while not always the best, changed the TV landscape by its mere presence. A hyperviolent, hypersexual show that changed up the premise every season that had everyone guessing what would be the next theme. However, the show’s fifth season, Hotel, was incredibly lackluster, with many fans skipping it all together. So it sort of raises the question, is this season as as bad as everyone says it is or does it find a way to redeem itself towards the end?
Just as I have the week before, I’ll be using a new system by breaking down what I’m talking about into The Good Candy, aka the great stuff, The Off-Brand Stuff, the kind of bad but potentially salvageable, and The Toothpaste, the stuff that should have been immediately thrown out because it is garbage.
American Horror Story: Hotel follows the lives and afterlives of residents of the Cortez Hotel in Los Angeles. Vampires, ghosts, witches, and serial killers all rolled into one hotel looking for love, vengeance and family. There are several plots happening at once, including the life and times of a vampire simply known as The Countess, a detective turned serial killer with ghostly guidance, and the drama between a mother, her vampire son, and the ghost of a drug dealer who killed the son and then was pushed out the window by the mother. Yes, it’s needlessly complicated.
The Good Candy: There are some residents of the Cortez that are genuinely a delight to watch. Denis O’Hare is truly a delight as Liz Taylor, who ends up being the real heart and soul of the story. They do her a great disservice having her story really develop towards the end of the season when most people stopped watching. I think of all the arcs, hers is the most sincere and the most endearing. I also loved that they paired her up with the shallow and beautiful Tristin, because there is more to love than two traditionally attractive people being traditionally attractive together.
Evan Peters as John Patrick March was just a ton of fun, especially considering they could have made him utterly stuffy and uninteresting. While a bit on the nose, the serial killer party was actually pretty ingenious, and would have been great to see more of. His ever faithful maid Hazel, played by Mare Winningham, is also great as she goes around fretting about sheets with dead people all around her. The serial killers at the Halloween party were all great, and I wish they had gotten more screen time.
The subplot with the vampire children on a rampage was fascinating and disturbing, and I would have loved to have seen that expanded. Ramona Royale creates a interesting narrative that continues to tie the Countess to one of the most famous fashion era, and she is just a fun, vindictive character over all. The look at the Cortez throughout the years is fascinating, and even though it takes place throughout the modern day, it is the segments that happen in the past that end up being the best. The show has a beautiful aesthetic — the hotel is Old Hollywood while the outside tends to be big and gothic, with lots of shadows and stark whiteness. The costumes are gorgeous, the inside of the hotel is dingy and extravagant, with some rooms looking straight out of a Lady Gaga video and others giving you a creepy, crawling feeling.
The Off-Brand Stuff: Sally is the kind of petty, vindictive character that has to be wielded with care, and not the kind willy-nilly wielder of the death hammer they turn her into. It’s funny how at the end they make her a famous Instagammer to keep her from going on anymore melodramatic murder sprees. It could have been an interesting tale of addiction and loss, but she just wound up being a whiny character played by a good actress. Cheyenne Jackson’s Will Drake is boring, Chloe Sevigny’s character is a little off-kilter, and most of the child acting cringeworthy.
I know some of you were expecting to find Lady Gaga in either of the two other categories, but I have to say I found her performance in the middle. She has the right attitude, the slick and stylish Countess who screams gothic horror maven. However, there are moments when the acting just isn’t there, and that’s a real shame considering how her character shines in some of the episodes. The whole Countess’s story is intriguing, tying together the history of the hotel, but is shallow in the long term and ultimately is not satisfying in the way antagonists have been in this show.
The Toothpaste: One of this season’s biggest problems was how it tried to connect itself to all of the other seasons of the show. We have shout outs to Season 1, Season 3 (poor Queenie), and in terms of feel, Season 4. It also has the same problem as Asylum — putting in too many types of monsters. Ghost, demons, serial killers, vampires, random murderous monster baby — it just ends up feeling too much. It drags the show down by having too many plots to juggle, too many characters to develop and keep track of and of it done well.
Kathy Bates as Iris feels more like her character from Freak Show except downgraded to be less likable, which is simply bad writing. Donovan, played by Matt Bomer, is also pretty boring, with no strong motivation either way except for being totally obsessed. Wes Bentley’s Detective John Lowe is overly grizzled and kind of bored, until he goes full serial killer, and then he’s gleeful and boring, and constantly belated by his terrible wife. All of these characters contribute to the main problem of the plot: when death has no real consequences, there are no stakes. Sure, they try to raise them with people who do and don’t want to die in the hotel so they will/won’t be trapped but it’s just not the same.
I don’t even know where to begin with the cop-turned-serial-killer storyline. That whole plot was just a literal a seven car pile up that caused a train wreck then sparked a forest fire. The fact that he gets chosen to be a serial killer just because is a little ridiculous, and then having his son coincidentally kidnapped by the children. What were those children even for? Also what was with the whole “true love” of Chloe Sevigny’s characters life being her son? I know for a story about family they needed an actual nuclear family to observe but they couldn’t write one better than this? In the end, it is the weakest part of the story and it makes sense that it was dropped halfway through.
Trick or Treat? Ultimately, I would liken American Horror Story: Hotel to those clear rolls of Smarties. Some people really like them, but most people will just sort of ingest them and move on, or not bother eating them period. There was a lot going on this season, with some strong imagery but a bizarre storyline that just doesn’t play out logically. The theme of the season is family, and this is one dysfunctional family if there ever was one. It has some flavor to savor but it’s gone as fast as it arrives and just ends up chalky, which is a real tragedy given all the potential it had.