By Sean Ray | a&e editor
The latest season of “American Horror Story,” titled “Hotel,” delivers a great cast of characters, wonderful acting all around and a jumbled plot that makes very little sense and often leaves the viewer unsatisfied.
Taking place in Hollywood, “Hotel” centers on the Cortez Hotel. Constructed in the 1920s by murderer James Patrick March (Evan Peters), who is very clearly based on real life serial killer H. H. Holmes, the Hotel is a fortress of hidden hallways, secret rooms and body disposal chutes used by March to hide his illicit activities. Now the Hotel is ruled by March’s vampire wife, known only as The Countess (Lady Gaga), and is haunted by the various people murdered within its walls, including March himself.
Meanwhile, a new serial killer who models his M.O. off of the Ten Commandments, is making a trail of terror through Hollywood and it’s up to police detective John Lowe (Wes Bently) to stop him while keeping his family from falling apart after the disappearance of his son. As the investigation draws him in deeper, Lowe finds himself drawn to the Cortez and its many secrets.
As one might be able to see, the plot of “Hotel” is very complicated, and a major reason for it is that the season lacks a proper main story or main character. Episodes vary widely on who they focus on and what issues they are facing, with few of the plot lines tying in to one another in any meaningful way.
As a result of this, the season is a veritable roller coaster of enjoyment depending on which characters an individual viewer enjoys. For example, I found the episodes featuring March to be a real treat with his suave and sophisticated brand of insanity, while ones focusing on Lowe’s family could not be more boring or uninteresting.
Only contributing to the confusion is the fact that many of the plots are not fully explained until much later on in the season, which makes the actions of characters seem strange and unrealistic at first.
On the positive side of things, however, “Hotel” features one of the best casts “American Horror Story” has ever had. Lady Gaga gives a remarkable performance as the Countess, perfectly encapsulating the decadent lifestyle of an immortal vampire who has grown bored of all common pleasures, though her delivery can be a bit stale when she tries to be emotional. Denis O’Hare is at his A-game as Liz Taylor, the transsexual bar keeper in the Hotel Cortez.
Furthermore, many smaller things are improved in comparison to previous seasons; the music was much more effective at capturing the eerie mood of “Hotel;” the cinematography made the maze-like interior of the Cortez that much more confusing; and this season really ramped up on the horror part of its title, delivering much tenser and more suspenseful moments than before.
Perhaps the strangest thing about “Hotel” is that while its story is an absolute mess, its characters are top notch. Cortez front desk woman Iris, played by horror veteran Kathy Bates, was a surprise favorite character of mine and her character arc completely subverted my expectations. Indeed, many characters who start out bland become much more interesting as the season goes on as their plots become more developed and better explained.
Ultimately, “Hotel” lives or dies depending on how much its viewers like the cast and characters. If someone watching cannot find any character to get invested in, the story is certainly not going to hold their attention for an entire season. Hopefully the next season can deliver a more balanced experience.