by NICK BUCHANAN
Welcome to Hotel Cortez. The rooms are musty, wireless Internet access is absent, and half-living humans are sewn into the mattresses. Oh, and you’ll be automatically assigned to room 64, where you’ll be violated, mutilated, and sucked dry of your blood. Don’t like it? What a shame; you’ve already paid your deposit and there are no refunds.
Within the first 25 minutes of the season premiere of FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, two privileged foreign girls and an uptight drug addict all occupy and vacate room 64 – and by vacate, I mean held captive or killed away without remorse.
Want to speak to management about your problems? I wouldn’t.
Meet the blood-sucking, cocaine-snorting master of the facility: the Countess, played by the incomparable Lady Gaga. FX has promoted her starring role to no end, given that she replaces Jessica Lange as the visually-commanding female figurehead of the series.
Gaga’s most prominent scene of the first episode, in which she and her lover (Matt Bomer) seduce another couple into a foursome in order to kill them for their blood, is almost completely mute on her part. The role was written just for her, meaning that she doesn’t have to shed her larger-than-life “Gaga” image; her presence alone commands more than enough attention in this episode. It will be interesting to see if she retains that haunting power in following episodes when the novelty of her role wears away, though.
Opposite of the Countess’ situation, enter detective John Lowe. He is on a city-wide hunt for a serial killer who justifies his murders based on the rules of the Holy Bible. The so-called Ten Commandments Killer finds direct access to Lowe’s personal telephone line and warns him of his most recent victims: adulterers and homosexuals.
Lowe’s connection to Hotel Cortez, you may ask? He gets a call from the Ten Commandments Killer that supposedly originates from room 64. It is also revealed that Lowe is the biological parent of one of the Countess’ three children – she kidnapped the boy from Lowe and his wife at a carnival and kept him for her own. But most importantly, Lowe becomes room 64’s newest occupant at the end of the first episode.
Visually, this is American Horror Story’s most intense season yet. Sex, rape, blood, gore, drugs… you name it, the first episode had it. And while previous seasons focused on underlying themes like the afterlife and mortality, Hotel zeroes in on the power of addiction – nearly every introduced character is addicted to something. It’s hard to tell where these addictions will take the characters; the two scenes that were fueled on drug use in this episode both ended in death, so maybe that’s a good hint.
With a title like “Checking In,” this episode is exactly what you’d expect: just a glimpse at the happenings at Hotel Cortez that should intrigue viewers just enough to come back for the real scoop on this place in future episodes. Who else lurks in this skyscraper hotel minus Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, and occasional victims/guests? And speaking of Sarah Paulson, what’s going on with her hair? Where is Evan Peters? Why does Gaga keep her three kidnapped children in a futuristic jail cell packed with video games and wall-length televisions? Why do her kids look like troll dolls? Why did I scream, “YAS GAGA SLAY ME,” at my television despite the woman saying not even one word for her first five minutes of screen time?
The first episode may leave a lot of questions, but it also fulfills its purpose by leaving viewers begging for more. It’s a slow start, as every initial episode of American Horror Story has been before, but Ryan Murphy is sure to take us a twisted trip soon enough.
New episodes of American Horror Story: Hotel air on Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX. The first four seasons of the series are now available to stream on Netflix.
P.S. – I still miss Jessica Lange.