Last night “American Horror Story” returned with a whole new plot, but can Lady Gaga and the new crop of brunette menfolk make up for the Jessica Lange’s absence? Perhaps. Here’s what happened.
Set in Los Angeles in the here and now, the whole show starts with a single yellow cab dropping off two slender model-type creatures under a giant “Hotel Cortez” sign. Based on Los Angeles’ real-life Hotel Cecil, this Hollywood hotel is infinitely grander and overstuffed with good looking tenants. The new victims exit their ride and exclaim, as many young, single girls on holiday before them have done, “I can’t wait to go on the Jurassic Park ride!” Hmm.
This is “American Horror Story: Hotel.” We’re not here to make friends with plot lines or fall in love with goofy, but sensible, side characters. We’re here to watch beautiful people in beautiful rooms die in complicated manners. The carnage and set design stops only for the occasional powerhouse monologue or musical number. But as we learned earlier this year, there will be no singing in season five, despite the presence of Lady Gaga.
The fifth season of “American Horror Story” kicks off with a sweeping overview of the grand lobby of Hotel Cortez. Panning down and across the patterned carpeting and red hotel chairs, the first thing the series seems to whisper is, “You guys like ‘The Shining?’”
The two tourists are not amused by the grandiose display of Art Deco, so to heck with them and their floppy hats. But instead of shipping the disapproving guests to the downtown Standard, a very angry concierge named Iris (Kathy Bates) feeds them to some kind of hotel mattress monster.
Despite all signs pointing to the obvious, the tourists get a room. And although one would think that the maid in the hallway cleaning blood stains, or the feral child running through the halls randomly pointing his creepy finger of doom would be enough to scare anyone towards the the exit, the women stay. In fact they try and get comfortable, by lighting candles and exploring the funky stench from inside their room. Turns out, the smell is coming from a hastily stitched together mattress, which they then brilliantly decide to cut open, unleashing a hairless gollum from inside the bed.
Front desk, we’d like a new room please. Right after the titles Iris takes the irked twosome to a new hotel room. Someone’s getting an upgrade! The young women then make a very sound and rational choice to spend the night in the hotel that has naked goblins sewn into their mattresses. You’ll get them on yelp guys. “Cool lobby, neat bar, but overall low score because there was a naked man sewn into my bed, wouldn’t recommend.”
Moments later they’re attacked by creepy children. Not to be confused with the thing living in the mattresses. Clearly these kids feast on bad decisions.
Onto the rest of the “American Horror Story: Hotel” players.
Next up, an elaborate murder scene. Cut to a different fancy bedroom. A man and a woman are harpooned to a giant headboard in a sexual position. Their hands are also nailed to the headboard. The woman is dead, the man is still alive, although his eyes and tongue have been removed. Framed family pictures have also been placed around the room with the eyes cut out. “American Horror Story” asks: You guys like “Seven?”
Enter good cop John Lowe, played by Wes Bentley.
John is a very smart, good cop because upon entering the room he is the only detective to see the bottle of crazy glue on the floor despite its being next to the bed and in a room filled with police officers. Blue, I think we’ve got a clue.
John instructs the other cops to check the man’s blood for male performance enhancement drugs, because the victim has been glued inside the dead woman. Good police work everyone, take five.
John has a family: his wife Alex (Chloë Sevigny), their daughter and their missing son Holden who was lost, not kidding, after riding a carousel for 5 whole seconds. More on Holden later. Long story short, the serial killer who has been cooking up these oddly complicated murder scenes tells John that he (or she) is hanging out at the Hotel Cortez. So John checks in.
Also checking in a very skinny Max Greenfield from “New Girl,” now in Hollywood-junkie mode. He rents a room for a fix, and winds up being sodomized and murdered by a metal drill while Sarah Paulson’s character (also a junkie) looks on. If it were any other show, it would be horrifying. But this is just par for the course in “AHS.” The most shocking thing about this gruesome attack was the fact that it starred the usually comedic Greenfield, who looked alarmingly different (which was the point). And now Greenfield has also, eternally, checked in. Perhaps the lack of revulsion is a testament to “AHS’” ability to make the audience feel both everything and nothing, all at once.
Speaking of feeling something, let’s cut to the best part, Lady Gaga’s entrance. As far as entrances go in “American Horror Story” (and there have been some) this may actually be a favorite. It’s basically show creator’s Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s spin on “The Hunger’s” 1983 opening titles featuring vampires David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. The two troll a goth club dancing to Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in search of a meal. It is quite possibly one of the very best vampire moments in all of horror-dom, and if you haven’t seen it please stop doing whatever it is you’re doing right now and get on that.
The FX version wasn’t crazy inspired, but if you enjoy immortals that like to get dressed up for kinky romps before devouring their prey, well then yes, this hits all the vamp sweet spots. The entire scene is set to “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge. Back at the hotel the impossibly good looking couple of Matt Bomer and Lady Gaga get ready for a night out. Dressed in ensembles only the criminally attractive can pull off, the two saunter off to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where apparently their super power is never having to wait in lines to watch movies next to drunk millennials.
While “Nosferatu” plays in the background, Gaga and Bomer seduce a handsome pair nearby, just by looking them. It’s delightful, and pairs up pretty spectacularly with “Nosferatu.” Naturally, the next step is to take the new couple home to their satin, circular bed (is there any other kind) and engage in free loving vampire style sex before cutting the throats of their victims and feasting on their blood. Bonus part, no fangs. They use their accessories for murder.
This will be the last of the coherent plot lines for the rest of the first episode.
More cast is ushered into the Hotel Cortez. Cheyenne Jackson enters as Will Drake, who has bought the Cortez with his son thanks to past “AHS” character Marcy (the Realtor who sold the Harmons the Murder House from season one). Why? Because he can’t hear New York city sing anymore, which is apparently a thing. The two new faces check in. This prompts Lady Gaga to show Will’s son her secret kid room full of candy and 80s video games. Inside this secret room of Tetris and sadness, there’s something else: the detective’s lost son Holden. There is really nothing else to say about that scene that other than it exists.
In an attempt to squeeze one more bit of story into the fist episode, Iris reappears in a flashback that reveals her son is actually the blood-drinking Bomer. An ex-junkie who got high in the Hotel Cortez thanks to Sarah Paulson’s character. He overdosed, and in return Iris murders Paulson by pushing her out the window, thus enacting the first law of “American Horror Story” ghost prison: You’re trapped in the spirit world wherever you die because Ryan Murphy says so. This explains Paulson’s presence in the Hotel Cortez. Paulson dies but Bomer lives, thanks to the magically appearing Gaga, who pops out of nowhere and tells Iris, “Your son has a jawline for days.” And that probably means “I’m going to turn him into an immortal but he’s going to have to live on blood to survive.” Probably. Honestly, who knows?
And like the cat who ate the canary, “American Horror Story” cues up the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Where “The Martian,” a movie about a stranded astronaut who is stuck on Mars with only disco music to listen to, waited all the way to the credits to play Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” “American Horror Story” cranked out this bad boy in the first episode.
Overall it was all things “AHS”: gorgeous and grand, but devoid of story. That being said, what worked really worked -- specifically the immortal orgy. That was pretty great.