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‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ Premiere Recap ‘Checking In’

Let’s just say that my expectations for Hotel have, thus far, been very low. I haven’t really kept up with any press releases or casting news. I’ve deliberately held back from watching any of the promos. Much of my investment in the show has hinged on Jessica Lange’s presence—she was the sole reason I started watching. And with her now gone, I had to figure out whether the show itself could hold my interest.

After watching the first episode of this new season, I’m glad to say it has. For me, AHS still has a mystique and intrigue that no other show I’ve seen offers. It taps into the darkest recesses of human nature and brings the dark into the light. That uniquely dark quality of the show is the thing that I’ve come to appreciate the most—with or without Jessica Lange.

Aside from Lange’s departure, the casting of Lady Gaga also made me reluctant to take this season seriously. I thought Ryan Murphy and company had jumped the shark, but I was pleasantly surprised by Gaga’s onscreen presence. She brings something entirely different to a show that has essentially been repeating itself for four seasons.

Not only is she as youthful as she is glamorous, but one gets the sense that there’s much more beneath the surface than first meets the eye. Somehow, you can kind of tell that, if given the right material, she could really be compelling. Hopefully she gets that chance this season.

One thing that stood out to me with Gaga now in place is how much AHS really did become “The Jessica Lange Show.” For a few seasons there, it truly was all about her character. It will be interesting to see how the show unfolds without that to fall back on.

Another thing that really struck me about Gaga is how much control she has. Physically, verbally, and emotionally, she’s rather self-contained. She knows exactly what she is projecting and it comes off really well for her character. In fact, I’d say her choices sort of harken back to the actresses of Old Hollywood.

As an aside, I loved the references to Tony Scott’s The Hunger—it’s one of my favorite films. The Countess and Donovan certainly recall young Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in this episode. Very nice touch.

But enough about that, let’s move on…

I’m glad to see Kathy Bates back on the show. For all the glitz and glamour the show offers, Bates always brings us back to reality. Her performances are just off the charts and the show seems more grounded the more screen time she gets. Because she’s the ‘every man’ of the show, Bates makes the suspension of disbelief a bit easier to digest.

For this season, that suspension of disbelief is going to be an important part of the viewing experience. After watching this first episode, it looks like we’re going to be asked to believe a lot of things. Like that Lady Gaga is a vampire who feeds on the blood of innocents. And that people or monsters can live inside mattresses for an unspecified amount of time. And that junkie ghosts have the power make the sexual horrors of the Hotel Cortez stop.

With all that going on, it’s a bit difficult to gauge the overall message of Hotel. If I had to guess, I’d say addiction is going to be a key motivator for the main characters. We know Sally is an addict and we saw her alleviate the pain and trauma of a fellow one. We also saw Iris “cleansing” the Swedish girls, presumably to eliminate toxins (like drugs?). It remains to be seen whether John Lowe has any hidden, addiction related secrets.

Whatever this season has in store for us, I’m more than ready for the chaos that’s sure to ensue.

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Tara Martinez

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Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.