Thoughts on “American Horror Story: Hotel”

Jessica Lange doesn’t appear in this season, and so they need to replace her as the headliner.  This season, she is replaced by Lady Gaga, which at least means that the heavily sexualized storyline that that character has makes a bit more sense.  And before people insist that my entire problem with the previous ones was that they had an older woman being sexual instead of a younger one, I have two responses.  First, I’ll talk more about the sexual content overall when I summarize the series at the end.  Second, while I’m not opposed to older women having sex and Jessica Lange is not unattractive, most of those roles rely on the character being seductive, and since this one is based on vampires it’s even more so.  That an older woman would have sex isn’t all that odd, but being not only generally attractive to pretty much anyone involved but also being mostly irresistible requires a bit more generic sex appeal.  Lady Gaga is attractive enough, at least for the most part, to pull that off.

But the main issue with the entire series really rears its head here.  As you might guess from the title, this season is set in a haunted hotel.  What it most reminded me of was the Hyperion Hotel segment from “Angel”, which worked really well for the one episode where it was the main story and is an idea that could easily be expanded into something really great.  The season in fact uses the song “Hotel California” at one point and having a bunch of lost souls there could have produced a wonderful season.  Instead, the season, as per normal for this series, packs in vampires, serial killers, ghosts, a transgender/transvestite man trying to reunite with his family, drugs, and all sorts of other things into one very, very loosely related set of stories.  As usual, the stories are too intertwined to be taken as separate but too separate to play off of each other effectively.

This isn’t helped by the fact that, again, the characters that are focused on aren’t exactly sympathetic.  Lady Gaga’s head vampire is, as usual, the headliner and for some reason it seems like we’re supposed to find her sympathetic — she even gets an at least neutral ending — but she really is a selfish monster.  In fact, part of the story pits her and her rival vampire against each other and it isn’t clear who the story wants us to cheer for.  Her “death” is portrayed not as justice, but as tragic.  And it doesn’t help that the vampire storyline is inconsistent and ridiculous.  At the start, they seem to have no fear of weapons, but at the end they are killed by, to be fair, a hail of bullets.  The characters in the arc aren’t sympathetic, and the vampires are just different enough from ours to make things unclear and confusing since we don’t understand the new rules and the show seems to assume that we either will understand them or else we won’t care.  Ultimately, I found this storyline rather uninteresting.

The woman behind the desk — played by Kathy Bates — could be a sympathetic character, but she was perfectly willing to go along with helping the main vampire torture and kill people and was thoroughly unpleasant.  We could have seen her taking out the head vampire — along with the transgender character — as being a badass moment of redemption for them … but they are still unpleasant and have done nothing to actually be redeemed.  And for someone who had in general a minor impact on the plot, the character is focused on a lot.  If she had been used as more of a viewpoint character, accepting the strangeness and just doing her job until the climax, this would have worked better.  But that’s not what happened.

The big problem, though, is with the detective plot, which by presentation should be the main plot except that, as usual, the season overshadows it with the plot that features their headliner.  A detective moves into the hotel to pursue a serial killer who taunted him from there.  As things go along, he seems to get more disturbed and even deranged, but we never actually see that happen.  All that happens is that we seem him looking more tired and less shaven.  The show hints that he’s obsessing over the case and that’s what’s causing his mental breakdown, but the show never actually shows that to us.  We see an evidence board sometimes, but he never really spends any time focusing on it, so we don’t really get to see the descent into madness that the show is implying that he had.

These problems continue into the main twist.  The killer is the Ten Commandments Killer, who is killing people in indicative ways who have broken the Ten Commandments.  What we eventually discover is that a serial killer who owned and died in the hotel was the original killer, but the twist is that the detective has taken over and is completing his work.  Why?  We don’t know.  The series implies that the reason he turned to it was an obsession with seeing justice done, but again that’s never really established as being part of his character.  And we don’t get anything else, and never really discover when he took it up or why.  The time spent on the arc suggests that it’s a if not the main arc of the season, but the development it gets is too shallow to pull that off.

Which really hurts the ending, as there are two main emotional events associated with it.  The first is the one I just outlined.  The second is that his son had disappeared and his wife, at least, was having trouble with that.  It turns out that the son was taken by the head vampire and turned into a vampire.  The wife finds this out and gets turned into a vampire herself (and does an incredibly stupid thing that causes a bunch of child vampires that need to be taken out and, worse, take time away from actually developing the arcs).  The detective in some ways was trying to kill people to bring them blood once he finds all this out, but he ends up being killed by the police and, worse, can’t die on the hotel grounds and so can’t stay in the hotel forever.  He ends up being able to come back once a year when the hotel owner has a dinner for serial killers, and so he ends up spending the night with his wife and son who will never age, and his daughter who does.  I will say that the scene itself is fairly effective, but it lacks the emotional charge it should have because, again, I don’t know enough about these characters to care about them.  The lack of development pretty much kills off the entire arc.

This season also made more links to previous seasons.  Neither of them work.  The first is that they bring back the voodoo witch from Coven, only to kill her off so that the rival vampire can drink her blood and get superpowered up to take on the head vampire.  If you didn’t like that character, you might be okay with her dying, but won’t care that they brought her back.  If you did like the character, you won’t be happy that her end is essentially as a power up for a relatively minor confrontation in this story.  On top of that, we know that the coven still existed and was still powerful — she notes that the Supreme magicked her ticket so that she’d get on stage on “The Price is Right” — and so the fact that she went there and was killed really should have garnered some kind of response.  Witches don’t really have power over ghosts, but with all of their abilities they could at least burn the entire hotel down, and we know they had clairvoyant abilities in a number of ways and so would find out.  But this is ignored, which makes her inclusion all the more perfunctory.

The other character is I believe a medium from “Murder House”, but again her inclusion is only to the detriment of the character if you actually cared about it.  She’s trying to expose the ghosts in the hotel and ends up being threatened by all the serial killers to stop doing it or else she’ll be killed.  This wasn’t at all necessary and again only serves as a disservice to the character if you liked her, and if you didn’t then you won’t care that she showed up.  In trying to create the shared universe, they end up, it seems sacrificing characters for no real gain.

If I want to watch horror hi-jinks around a hotel, I’ll just watch “Angel” again, and not this.  It squanders the opportunity it had and the great atmosphere that old hotels can give with too many muddled plots and arcs that, ultimately, don’t generate the emotions that they were trying to generate.

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