American Horror Story returns to Los Angeles and sets up camp at the Hotel Cortez, which boasts a lushly restored art-deco lobby and a super-swanky penthouse—but ordinary guest rooms reek of recent death and nasty surprises.
Upon this gorgeous/creepy onslaught of visuals drapes a plot that’s either tissue-thin or amazingly uninteresting, or both. In the season opener, “Checking In,” we meet homicide cop John Lowe, played by Wes Bentley, who moves into the hotel after he’s lured there by the artfully gruesome serial killer he’s tracking (he also thinks he spotted his long-missing son running through the hallways). Probably, this will not be a wise choice, but perhaps it will protect his wife (Chloe Sevigny) and young daughter from tangling with any more evil than is necessary. Wouldn’t count on it, though, since Lowe takes up residence in Room 64, a.k.a. the most sinister spot in the joint.
Already posted up inside the hotel: a glamorous woman who is by all appearances a vampire, played by Lady Gaga (doesn’t age, drinks blood, collects children, enjoys Nosferatu, hosts gory orgies); her boy toy (Matt Bomer), a onetime junkie whose mother (Kathy Bates) now runs the Cortez’s front desk and oversees its more unsavory activities (“I gotta go feed that thing in Room 33”); the needy, apparently undead Sally (Sarah Paulson), still clad in the Courtney Love-esque leopard coat she wears in flashbacks to 1994; and various other creatures and beasties, including this guy, who lunges out of a grimy mattress in the opening act:
So we get some Euro tourists and a heroin addict who wander in and suffer an array of hideous fates—though even the monsters get a little nervous when the hotel’s new owner, fashion designer Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), swans through to check out his investment. All the monsters, that is, except Lady Gaga’s Countess, who’s presumably not going to have any trouble staying on top of whatever situation she finds herself in ... even an eviction notice.
As much as Lady Gaga’s presence feels like stunt casting, she’s the most promising thing Hotel has going for it, which is otherwise a little too delighted with slathering on violence for the sake of violence (including a some Hannibal-esque posed corpses, and a truly disturbing rape scene). The hunting-a-serial-killer plot has been done a million times; will Hotel be able to tie it into the show in a unique way? Will having a cop in their midst make some of the hotel’s more unusual residents pull back on their more destructive habits, or will Lowe pick up his own grim vices? Why does the alarm clock in Room 64 go off at 2:25 every day? Was this the most obvious use of “Hotel California” that has ever been seen in any form of media, ever? How can we get a room hidden behind a false wall that’s tricked out with candy dispensers and video games?
Some of these questions may be revealed. Others (like that last one) will likely leave us wondering. We will tune in next week to see if the plot does anything other than facilitate a new occasion for another fab outfit for Lady Gaga ... and to see if anyone can top this line, delivered dry as a weather report: “Our victim’s eyeballs are in the ashtray.” We’re not sold yet on Hotel. But we’re intrigued.