The first half of Wednesday’s episode of American Horror Story: Hotel was meandering and a bit slow, though it did properly and definitively identify lavender as the devil’s scent. (Thank you, Ryan Murphy.) The second half, though, got the jolt it desperately needed: a bit of plot tension and, more crucially, Angela Fuckin Bassett.
The episode opened with Chloe Sevigny’s character waxing melancholy about the loss of her son with a poorly acted narrative voice-over that marred her onscreen acting, and it seemed as though the next hour would focus on her tale, what it might be like to lose a child (um, to vampirism). A parallel: Kathy Bates’s Iris is cruelly and finally rejected by her son Donovan (Matt Bomer) who himself has been rejected by his vampire queen Lady Gaga, a surrogate mother of sorts, for the apparently/inexplicably more intriguing Tristan Duffy. This set the stage for a plot you can sink your teeth into: Angela (Fuckin) Bassett as Ramona Royale, a former Pam Grier-style Blaxploitation superstar who gets vampirically turned by Lady Gaga in the ‘70s. Controlling and stealthily fragile, Gaga’s The Countess forsakes Ramona after she turns her lover without permission, blowing out his brains in a recording studio (in a particularly gross but effective scene that includes, graphically, a nice little shot of half a head).
It is Ramona’s life dream to exact revenge on The Countess, so convenient when she finds a despondent Donovan sucking blood off dope fiends in a tent city as Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” plays on the score. Who better to assist her with her plan than a fellow sex vamp who’s been tossed by the Countess off for a newer model, and one whose own sensitivity is betrayed by his constant search for the next escapist fix, even in immortality?
While Hotel has had some memorable, visually stunning moments and does boast a collection of great actors, as ever, the second the venerable Angela Bassett appears onscreen she out-glitters, outshines everyone else. She brings something like fire to this moderately flailing series, and it’s apparent she’s having great fun playing Ramona Royale—who wouldn’t want to blast shotguns at poorly-wigged misogynists while wearing patchwork rabbit fur jackets, and what better badass in film history to emulate but Pam Grier. Next week’s episode promises the debut of Lily Rabe, another underrated firestarter (who’s spent the summer whiling away her time on ABC’s absurd The Whispers—I still watched it though), so expect a ramp up in the drama. But even with Bassett, with Rabe, with Bates and Paulson and Evan Peters in probably the best role of his career, this is the central problem American Horror Story has had over a couple of seasons. They’ve got all this talent, but Hotel’s success as a series depends solely on what they do with it.
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