H.H. Holmes was an American serial killer of the 1800s who built a hotel in Chicago specifically for the purpose of carrying out his gruesome crimes, including rooms that sealed shut so he could asphixiate, gas, or burn his victims alive. His killing abode was called the “Murder Castle”; his story is fascinating, horrifying, and the kind of thing you can’t invent. (There’s a documentary on Netflix entitled H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer that’s as terrifying as any horror film.) Because his story is so outlandish, it was clearly ripe for integrating into an American Horror Story plot, and the crux of the dark evil vibrating from the heart of Hotel.
On Wednesday night’s episode, Hotel introduced its H. H. Holmes-inspired character, Mr. James March. He’s an independently wealthy hotelier in the 1920s who built the Cortez with murder in mind, played with almost humorous aplomb by Evan Peters, who’s really thrown himself into his Clark Gable moustache with a dandy era-appropriate accent. But about halfway into the narrative about his backstory, I stopped really paying attention. Not because I was grossed out or disturbed, although his character had just fucked the corpse of a dead girl while slashing her partially nude body with two knives, a scene that, after last week’s violent rape, seemed a little, I don’t know... extra. I stopped paying attention because the script was relying too much on its source material rather than constructing an interesting narrative, veering out of shock and into shlock.
Man, AHS, how you gonna do Evan Peters like that! He’s going so hard on that accent!
The implication here, of course, is that Evan Peters is the rapist from last week, which means he’s playing The Rubber Man yet again. Beyond that, this episode delved into so many side plots that it’s difficult to stay too invested in any of them. There’s the cop’s tow-headed son Holden, who’s clearly been inducted into some kind of Montessori vampire coven, and whose photograph appears on his sister’s iPhone as a frightening whir. There’s Sarah Paulson’s riot grrrl junkie, who strikes a compelling presence on our screens but doesn’t really have a good explanation for being there in the first place. There’s Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), the New York fashion designer, who staged a runway show and invited Naomi Campbell, playing a Vogue editor, to frow. And there’s Tristan (Finn Wittrock), a new guy who went from some sort of late ‘90s relic of a junkie model spouting tryhard bon mots, to Lady Gaga’s newest vampire inductee and boytoy, spouting tryhard bon mots even in immortality. (In case you weren’t already convinced that AHS’s self-awareness has gotten out of hand, his immediate thought upon being vampire-ized is that he wants to “hunt Kendall Jenner... bitch blew me off at Coachella.” What works in Scream Queens doesn’t necessarily translate here, AHS writers.)
Gaga continues to be the most compelling reason to keep watching this mean-spirited show, morphing ever further into a Bowie-esque vamp queen with killer taste in headwear and clothing. (The soundtrack this week included Joy Division and Siouxsie, continues to slay.) But she’s only working with what she’s been given, and her motivations are unclear, too—just that she contracted vampirism as a “virus” and gives a speech about the men she’s lost through the years that was clearly meant as a stand-in invoking the AIDS crisis. Still, at least her scenes look like a sexy ‘80s music video, particularly with the Nagel-esque pallor her neon art sculptures cast over the set. Everything, really, is pretty to look at. If only the show’s creators didn’t insist on marring it with gratuitous, go-nowhere details. The thing that really kills me is that I’m rooting for it to win.
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