A bit back, I wrote my initial thoughts on the first episode of American Horror Story: Hotel, after it appeared on Netflix. After not watching for a month, due to concentrating on NaNoWriMo, I finally got around to seeing the last four or five episodes over the past few nights.
I figured I’d follow up on those initial thoughts with how they panned out.
Beware, there are most likely SPOILERS ahead… but, you know, most fans have already seen this series.
Overall thoughts at the end of the season were that it was a good ensemble piece, probably more-so than Freak Show, although this season’s characters murdered people a lot more readily than any series before. Sure, the Hotel Cortez was built by James Patrick March as a more terrifying murder house than the Murder House and that generally corrupts people, but generally there was some form of motivation or (often tenuous) justification to the killings in previous seasons. In this, aside from the vampires and the actual serial killers, multiple murder is just something to do when you’re dead and bored.
Throat-slashing: an excellently done make-up effect, but it was so overused that it became boring to see. The one time it had any impact was the Countess’s final kill, although maybe that was the point: take the signature murder move of the series and make it meaningful.
The Sarah Paulson Game was pretty much all done by the second episode, but it was a hell of a revelation to realise that Eileen Wuornos was actually played by the gorgeous Lily Rabe. Angela Bassett turns up as well, although never quite materialises as a noteworthy antagonist, since she’s outmanoeuvred at every turn and eventually becomes just ‘one of the guys’ at the hotel. Sadly, no Jessica Lange or Frances Conroy, although there was a nice, if bloody, guest appearance by Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie from Coven, which revealed the big flaw in her witchy superpower. The winner of the Sarah Paulson Game has to be Finn Wittrock (Dandy from Freak Show), who plays not one but two characters in Hotel, one of whom apparently reminds the Countess of the other. That’s not to say that Sarah Paulson herself doesn’t have a good stab at the crown, reprising her minor role from Murder House in the final episode.
This is a good season for crossovers as well, reaffirming that AHS exists in one shared universe, rather than as unrelated parts of an anthology. The only previous crossover I can remember was when Pepper turned up in Freak Show, some years chronologically before her more plot-important appearance in Asylum. This one not only features Queenie, but also confirms that the events of Coven did actually make witchcraft a thing, although possibly only amongst supernatural nerds like the hotel residents. Several characters turn up from Murder House, and it turns out the Countess gave birth there way back in the 1920’s, when it was a backstreet abortion clinic.
What the hell happened to Bartholomew the hideous, unkillable, half-vampire, monster baby anyway?
I wasn’t sure about Liz Taylor to begin with and wondered if the transgender aspect of the character was intended to be just another bit of creepy weirdness for the Hotel Cortez. Thankfully, it turned into a remarkably sensitive portrayal of a transgender character (from this cisgender male’s perspective anyway), while also being a well-developed character in her own right. It probably helps that American Horror Story rarely portrays any but the most callous and sadistic murderers as being bad people; yes, like the rest of the cast, Liz was a cold-blooded murderer.
Denis O’Hare played the role excellently, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Jeffrey Tambor’s comment during his Emmy acceptance speech for Transparent: “I would not be unhappy if I were the last cisgender man to play a transgender character.”
And I can’t mention Liz Taylor without her incredibly touching friendship with Iris, and the amazing performance in that role by Kathy Bates. They like casting Bates as mother figures that are lacking in confidence, don’t they? Even Coven‘s Madame LaLaurie had wobbly moments when she appeared close to renouncing her horribly racist ways after hanging around with Queenie.
The scenery porn may have calmed down as the audience settled into the hotel, but the sex didn’t. Yet still, besides a pair of buttocks or four, no nudity. It was as if the Countess was actually meant to be wearing black electrical tape during her scenes. As I mentioned last time, despite the liberal attitude towards showing characters having sex on screen, the prudishness about actual nudity feels incredibly at odds with the exceptionally graphic violence in this show, but at least that keeps it focused on being horror.
Oh yeah, the Addiction Demon, to give Sally’s strap-on-wearing stalker its proper name (I’d been referring to it in my head as ‘the rape goblin’, for reasons I can’t quite remember). Rather than being something that Sally has called up and is in hiding from, as seemed to be implied earlier on in the series, it actually turns out to be a manifestation of the evil of the hotel itself (the major theme of the series being addiction, whether to heroin, alcohol, murder, sex or whatever). Not sure if this is the result of an aborted story arc that they didn’t have time to expand on later in the series, but the Addiction Demon just felt unnecessary, particularly in light of its sole reason to appear on camera being to rape people, usually to death. I know that it was a creation under March’s control, and that March himself is shown to sometimes include rape in his killings, but he wasn’t primarily a sex killer. In fact, refreshingly for a TV serial killer, most of the murders we see him performing are both non-sexualised and of men. Yeah, the Addiction Demon felt wrong.
The vaccination storyline went a little haywire, and seemed to exist largely to give Alex Lowe something to do when she wasn’t arguing with John. That said, it was a nice little subplot and a welcome diversion from the vampire’s castle politicking of the Hotel Cortez. I get the feeling that the showrunners wanted to comment on the insane way that school shootings have become normalised in American culture, particularly after their horrifying portrayal of one in Murder House. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook and all those other tragedies, the lockdown scene was chilling, even when the audience knew what was actually killing people.
Oh yes, and vaccinate your children, or they’ll turn into vampires with measles!
I’m looking forward to the next series, Roanoke, appearing on Netflix…
(Oh cool, WordPress allows you to pick out previous posts when you insert a link! Nice touch.)