American Horror Story: Hotel Season Premiere: 5.01 “Checking In”

Iris (Kathy Bates) will see you now.

Ah, October already! Fall is in the air: the leaves are changing, pumpkin spice is taking over the world, and bodies are being stuffed under beds. American Horror Story is once again painting Halloween season bloody. Ah, spooky children in the hall, maids vacuuming blood off the mattresses; everything is perfect and we’re ready to check in to the Hotel Cortez.

The opening credits are amazing. It’s got a strong theme of entrapment, likely taken from theories of the theme revolving around HH Holmes' Murder Hotel (known as The Castle) and the mysterious death of Elisa Lam at the Hotel Cecil. Between names are flashes of the 10 Commandments, hinting at a possible religious theme. I love the juxtaposition of the Commandments and the general Rules of Horror. They flash across the screen so quickly, they’re nearly impossible to see.

Kathy Bates is back as Iris, the hotel clerk. She’s snide as hell and I love it. The two Swedish girls, Vandela (Helena Mattsson) and Agnetha (Kamilla Alnes), find a body in the mattress (living, mind you) and in response, Iris doesn’t bat an eye. Instead, she gives them the mysterious Room 64, which is apparently never rented out because it’s haunted by vampire children. The Hotel Cortez is very much like The Overlook. Maze-like, disorienting, haunted; the camera work does a wonderful job of highlighting and exaggerating the unease air of the place.

Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) is on the case.

Meanwhile, Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) is preoccupied with a weird, deviant murderer who delights in punishing sinner. His moniker? The Ten Commandments Killer. Guess that answers my earlier question. Lowe is driven by his work.There’s a palpable divide between him and his wife Alex (Chloe Sevigny). A mysterious phone call from the murderer leads him to the Hotel Cortez.

Our Swedish girls vanish, replaced by Gabriel (Max Greenfield), who happens to be given, you guessed it, Room 64.

Here’s where I get angry. Of course, what kind of American Horror Story season premiere would it be without yet another rape scene. Ryan Murphy, enough. It’s not cool. It’s the lowest form of horror you could choose, and yet you choose it again and again. You really can write a season where no one suffers sexual violence. Apparently, the monster within the Hotel Cortez is known as the Addiction Demon. His weapon of choice is a drill-bit dildo. I could have lived without that. I could have. And yet, here we are.

I’m sure I can only expect more.

It’s refreshing to see Sarah Paulson as a bad gal for once. Hypodermic Sally is wicked. I wouldn’t want to be on her bad side, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a good side. I also love Dennis O’Hare as Liz Taylor, the hotel bartender who takes his fashion cues from his namesake.

Elizabeth (Lady Gaga) has got to be a vampire, right?

But the best part of the premiere? Lady Gaga as Elizabeth. I’m a hardcore vampire fan, have been since I was girl, and all the Bathory references and Nosferatu and the bloodletting…They must go through a lot of silk sheets. Her lover, Donovan (Matt Bomer), is just as blood thirsty. I’m afraid to get my hopes up here: they either need to come right out and admit that she’s Elizabeth Bathory (cause it’s obvious) or never, ever acknowledge it. There’s no twist in that. Just let her eat people. It’s amazing.

Detective Lowe makes his way to the Hotel and is, you guess it again, given Room 64. Three times a charm, this place is bad news.

Iris has a double-life as a…what…rehab specialist? Turns out she’s got our Swedish girls in neon birdcages for detox purposes. Weird.

Unfortunately, the first episode is little all over the place. There are a few flashbacks, but they’re between 2010 and 1994, which leads me to believe Hotel is set in 2015. In a way, the premiere felt disorganized. Moving on, we learn that in 2010, Lowe’s son, Holden (Lennon Henry), went missing.

In the next breath, the hotel is for sale. Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the same realtor for Murder House, is back. She’s just put down her dog, which tells us that Hotel takes place after Season 1. Marcy shows the place to designer Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) and his son, and Elizabeth welcomes them. She even leads Drake’s son to a secret game room. Oh, and guess what! Holden Lowe is one of her vampire children. Excellent.

Oh, and Hypodermic Sally is actually dead because Iris shoved her out a window? Not sure on that one.

Not going to lie, closing out with The Eagles’s “Hotel California” was hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at an episode of American Horror Story, or that I ever will again. I adore Lady Gaga’s acting work, the soundtrack is well done (Hello, Sisters of Mercy!), and I’m pretty excited about the whole vampire thing.

I’m ready to see where this season ends up. I know Lily Rabe is making an appearance in the Halloween episode and I’m, somewhat unwillinging, interested in seeing how show runner Ryan Murphy connects Season 5 to Season 1 in more ways than Marcy. Check in, ducklings, and get comfy cause I highly doubt we’re checking out.


Meghan Harker grew up in a small, awkwardly-named town in Georgia. She attended Brenau University, where she earned her BA in English and a minor in Graphic Design; she also attended the University of Cambridge, England, where she didn't quite master the perfect Oxbridge accent. She's an avid reader, writer, and fire spinner. She's currently working her first novel, a paranormal thriller. Visit her blog at ExquisitelyOdd.com.

Read all posts by Meghan Harker for Criminal Element.

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