"American Horror Story: Hotel" Episode 5.1, "Checking In." Starring Kathy Bates, Dennis O'Hare, Sarah Paulson, Matt Bomer, Wes Bentley, and Lady Gaga; Written and directed by Ryan Murphy.
This review is up super late. I have a few really good reasons, though - I sustained a mystery back injury and have been in epic amounts of pain, the "m" key stopped working on my laptop, and in all honestly I really wanted to mull this whole thing over. You see, maybe it's the muscle relaxers taming my Murphy rage or maybe it's because I have a sour belly full of "Scream Queens," but... I didn't hate this.
Oh, there were certainly some problems, and rest assured we will get to those, but it wasn't bad. I went into the episode with my typical AHS mindset. You know, the one that makes me consider drinking a bottle of Robitussin before viewing? But that's the beauty of starting a venture with a piss poor attitude: It's easier to be impressed when something doesn't suck.
We're introduced to the Cortez, the titular hotel, via two pretty Swedish ladies. We know they're probably going to get murdered because they've never been in a season of AHS before. The premiere actually did a decent job of introducing several characters, giving us some history on them, and linking them in the present. And here's where that infamous bad attitude of mine creeps back up to say "welp, guess it's nothing but batshit pseudo-shocks and random fucking musical numbers from here on out!"* In the hotel, we meet Iris, Liz Taylor, Hypodermic Sally, and Donovan. They're all pretty much the Renfield to Gaga's Countess, who is - what, a vampire? Probably? She drinks a lot of blood, you guys. Donovan is her main squeeze, he was killed by Hypodermic Sally giving him a hot shot of heroin, and then his mom - Iris - killed Sally by pushing her out a window. The Countess clearly worked some dark shit and managed to keep them all around so that they might prep, taunt, and/or share her victims.
Outside the hotel, a series of murders are being investigated by one John Lowe. John's having some wife problems after the disappearance of their young son. He's led to the Cortez by a mystery caller and when he goes to check it out, shit gets weird. So of course when he and the missus decide to separate, he checks in. But shit gets even weirder when we learn that one of the Countess's little blonde minions is the detective's missing son. Cue the suspense horns.
Here's what I liked:
- The opening camera work was super cool. There's a shot in everyone's least favorite Scorsese movie "Bringing Out the Dead" where the camera rotates and follows Nic Cage climbing out of a wrecked ambulance, and this shot reminded me of that technique. The camera work in the entire episode, as is admittedly standard on the series, was stylish and symbolic, making good use of push-pulls and even some flashy tracking shots.
- Dennis O'Hare is rocking that chiffon and those fetish heels as drag queen Liz Taylor. The best part of his performance, however, was the understated way in which he plays with the androgyny. He's not some cliche female impersonator with an affected dialect or copious amounts of sass. In fact, maybe he's not even a drag queen. That was a stupid assumption, and the fact that I'm now pondering his gender or lack thereof makes me like the performance even more.
- Good LORD Ryan Murphy knows how to pick production designers. Again, as is standard, the sets and architecture are ethereal. And we've returned to the patterned symmetry that I do love.
- I love that Lady Gaga is so iconic that we can recognize her intro, even though it was only a shot of her hand. I meant to research the costume designer for this season, but I forgot. And I'm not gonna do it right now, because we all know this is going to go south tout de suite and I'll need things to talk about in later episodes.
What I didn't like:
- You guys, the Cortez mimics the Overlook Hotel a lot. The the corridors, the architecture... it was just too much all at once. One of those tracking shots I enjoyed so much unfortunately followed a character moving at great speed down a hallway, just like once upon a time John Alcott followed little Danny Torrance on his big wheel. There were apparitions of children lurking at the end of corridors. For God's sake even the carpet looks like the Overlooks's design. A hint here and there would have been so much nicer.
- Did Kathy Bates just do a weird nod to her "Misery" character? Yeah I don't like that at all.
Here's a little from column A and a little from column B:
- The question weighing on everyone's mind is certainly this: Does Gaga have the chops to pull off a lead in one of the most popular prime time dramas? (Ech, I felt dirty just writing that last bit). I don't think anyone in their right mind would call that outcome based on one episode. I certainly felt her performance was flat, but at this point I think it's intentional. She's emotionless, which to me creates a far creepier monster than a big extravagant ragey caricature. I'm interested to see where she'll take the character.
- So... I used to have a bit of a goth problem. Although, in the immortal words of Barney Stinson, its not a problem if you're awesome at it. And I still purge on the goth tunes of my youth, so imagine my delight hearing Joy Division and the Sisters of Mercy on TV. It made me smile, a lot, but it also made me roll my eyes and think "I wonder how many episodes it will take to break out the Bauhaus." As it turns out, none. None episodes, because they used one of the most cliche gothy tunes ever in the premiere. BUT WAIT. The choice to play "Hotel California" at the close certainly topped the Bauhaus decision in the "not surprised" category. Here's the new AHS drinking game: Every time kmc1138 bellows an exasperated "REALLY?" you drink.
- Those serial murders that Sterling Archer is investigating? Eerily reminiscent of events in "Se7en," no? But props to the show, I actually got the jibblies and moderately grossed out at one of the murders. Oh, and yes I've already started with the nicknames.
I have to watch "Scream Queens" in one minute. I'd much rather be watching "American Horror Story: Hotel." You can interpret that any way you like - my extraordinary hatred of one versus my tentative hope for the other. It's going to be an interesting ten weeks from here on out, I think.
*Lady Gaga is the star. You know there will be musical numbers. If it's a Bowie song I'ma punch myself in the face.