'American Horror Story: Hotel' S5E2: Chutes and Ladders

★ ★ ★ ★

Hotel dug into a lot of backstory with "Chutes and Ladders" which focused on the Hotel Cortez’s messed up history, and how Lady Gaga’s "vampirism" (officially they’re not vampires) functions as she introduced Tristan to her lavish lifestyle.

James March (played by Evan Peters) takes heavy inspiration from H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Like March, Holmes was "new money" and invested a lot of it into creating an elaborate murder lair: a hotel. What made Holmes so proficient at killing so many victims was his medical background. Like the basement of the Hotel Cortez, Holmes would dump the bodies there and then used a variety of methods to dispose of the bodies(like we saw with the hydrochloric acid). After, he would sell the skeletons to medical schools. And much like March, Holmes (despite his intelligence) was a very sloppy killer who left too many loose ends. Evan Peters (great in Murder House and Asylum, criminally underused in Coven) does a fantastic job portraying James March, complete with a pre-war regional accent, and has a strong Vincent Price (or Lucious Lyon) vibe when he giddily murders his victims.

March is joined by his giddy maid Ms. Evers (the Mrs. Lovett to his Sweeney Todd) and boy, is it fun to watch her go from discussing stains to choosing her very own murder weapon. (The eenie-meenie-miney-mo moment was hilarious.) It’s so great to see ghosts again! While both Coven and Freakshow had their respective ghosts, the Axeman and Mordrake lacked the appeal and emotional torment of the spirits of Murder House. It may have something to do with their ability to roam about. But now that we’re back to the more traditional portrayal, there are several ghosts in the Hotel Cortez and their sexualized nature better reflect the delirium inflicted on the guests staying at the Hotel and all of the lore attached to it.While the Overlook had room 237, the Hotel Cortez not only has room 64, March’s old office where he and Ms. Evers died along with (presumably) several other victims, but it has an entire floor dedicated to its more… permanent residents.


Sarah Paulson’s character, Sally, continues to be fun to watch as goes between being chaotically evil and dismally lonely. That being said, Sarah Paulson is striking in every individual scene she's in, and while Sally doesn’t appear to have far too much of a purpose in the overall story of Hotel, simply having her around adds a sense of completeness to the environment Hotel is creating. Also, knowing that she is the reason why people wake up finding themselves sewn into mattresses (so that she can keep them around to love her) is an extra devious element on her already incredibly flawed persona. Sally’s scene with Lowe at the bar was interesting to see play out as she lives vicariously through Lowe’s drinking. Like the ghosts of Murder House, Sally has stern feelings about wanting to move on (thus her "ladder" monologue) and tying her feelings of addiction to her feelings of being trapped was a smart allegory.

A lot of "Chutes and Ladders" is dedicated to setting up all of the Countess drama while simultaneously giving us her background and perspective. All of the characters on the show are addicted to something, and the Countess is addicted to heartbreak — but seems to enjoy inflicting it on others rather than enjoying it all herself. There was a rather subtle tie-in to the AIDS crisis where, when listing the people she had turned, the Countess had listed two real people who died of AIDS complications (demonstrating that even their dietary needs can kill them). Like the Countess told Tristan, the virus renders the host immortal and ageless, but not invulnerable, so they are able to be killed by normal means. Additionally, they have very specific drinking rules (you can only drink from the healthy and clean) and the sun saps their youth. Either of those options would be interesting to see either (but hopefully both) impact of that on the infected.

Since Freakshow, 70-minute time slots has become something of a staple for AHS, but while an hour of material is a format that works for shows with complicated individual storylines like Game of Thrones, it feels like overkill for Hotel, which found enough time to shove in a rather unnecessary speech about the dangers of not vaccinating your children. All in all, "Chutes and Ladders" was a thrill ride through lots of (occasionally unnecessary) exposition.


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