Netflix recently published results of a study about the number of episodes of a television series someone has to watch to be “hooked.” I can eliminate a show after one episode if I don’t like it. However, I give a show two episodes if I’m uncertain. After that, there are just too many other things to watch that I know I enjoy. I was thinking about this study in relation to American Horror Story; specifically its new season, Hotel.
If you’re not already a fan like me who is going to watch every episode regardless, you’d have to give Hotel at least two episodes to decide. That’s because episode one, Checking In, really just introduces us to this season’s colorful cast of characters and barely sets in motion any plots and subplots for subsequent episodes. It also clearly demonstrates the bloody tone it’s going to take. I think this episode alone is gorier than many episodes of previous seasons combined.
Iris. The first of the recurring cast we see in Checking In is Kathy Bates as Iris, who works the front desk of the Hotel Cortez. She’s sassy and sports a huge set of glasses. When two “dumb Swedish meatballs” ask for their deposit back, she refuses, saying, “Welcome to America.” She doesn’t seem to want to be there, but we later learn why she is. In an argument closer to the end of the episode, another character asks her, “Why don’t you go? You’ve been complaining about the same thing for 20 years.”
John Lowe. In the second segment of Checking In, we meet Wes Bentley as Detective John Lowe. He investigates a gruesome murder that may have ties to a previous case. Then he begins receiving mysterious phone calls from a man who we assume is the serial killer related to both. John suffered a great loss when his young son disappeared off the back of a merry-go-round horse, but still has his daughter, Scarlett (Shree Crooks) and wife, Alex (Chloe Sevigny) to take care of.
Hypodermic Sally. Sarah Paulsen plays a drug-addicted woman who doesn’t seem to have aged between present day and the 20-years ago flashback we see at the end of Checking In. We first see her watching a new guest arrive at the hotel. “I’ve got dibs on this one, Iris. I haven’t seen one this sweet in a while.” He’s Gabriel (Max Greenfield), getting a room to do drugs. Sally watches him shoot up, then get raped by a slimy white creature with a metal cone for a penis.
Liz Taylor. Denis O’Hare is unrecognizable as a scantily clad cross-dresser who assists at the front desk. He’s the one who comments to John in the elevator up to room #64, which they never rent out, but always seems to get a lot of action, “I can see the pain in your eyes. It’s very familiar.” We don’t know much about Liz yet, but he/she is clearly representative of not only the staff of the hotel, but also the clientele.
Elizabeth/The Countess. In the third segment of Checking In, we finally experience the highly publicized debut of Lady Gaga as the current owner of the Hotel Cortez. Neon lettering on her wall reads, “Why are we not having sex right now?” She and Donovan (see below) are getting gussied up to go out. They pick up another couple at an outdoor screening of Nosferatu and proceed to have crazy, bloody four-way sex with them.
Donovan. After their sexcapades, Elizabeth says to Donovan (Matt Bomer), “And you didn’t want to go out tonight.” He responds, “It’s not the getting ready; it’s the cleaning up.” She responds simply, “Call housekeeping.” It turns out that Donovan is Iris’s son and 20 years ago, she followed him into the Hotel Cortez with Sally, who was providing him a fix. She wasn’t happy that Sally was enabling him and shoved her out the window. Elizabeth laid her eyes on Donovan and told Iris, “Your boy has a jawline for days.”
Will Drake. In the next to last segment of Checking In, Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) and his son arrive at the hotel via Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the real estate agent who provides a common thread among some of the AHS seasons. Elizabeth is selling him the hotel, the news of which sends Iris into a tizzy and catches Donovan by surprise. The closest this episode comes to a cliffhanger is wondering if, as Iris says, they’re all going to be “turned out onto the streets.”
Miss Evers. I’m not sure what kind of character, played by Mare Winningham, Miss Evers is going to be. She first appears in the endless maze of hallways, dressed as a maid, steam cleaning a rug. She later appears in Gabriel’s room. After he meets his gruesome fate, she comments, “When people die they soil the sheets… I can take care of every stain there is. I wonder if she’s the “housekeeping” to which Elizabeth referred earlier in the episode. She reminds me of Moira (Frances Conroy) from season one.
That’s quite a number of characters to introduce with quite a bit of backstory for some of them. I’ll reserve any additional comments about American Horror Story: Hotel until next week. Until then, we’re left with the last segment of Checking In, where John decides to temporarily (?) move into room $64. During the scene, Hotel California is playing on the soundtrack and the final lyrics before the show closes are sung: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”