Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “American Horror Story: Hotel” episode 2, “Chutes and Ladders.”
“American Horror Story” has always been drawn to excess; in sex, in violence, in drama. And, in the second episode of “Hotel,” in pure length. “Chutes and Ladders” clocked in a whopping 102 minutes, but it wasn’t just its feature-length time that made it feel like a movie.
If influences of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” weren’t evident before, they are now, especially in Wes Bentley’s Detective John Lowe. A tortured father under pressure, he’s lured into a drink (ginger ale) by Sally (Sarah Paulson) and bares his soul, as Jack Nicholson’s character was pushed to alcohol by the Overlook Hotel’s evil spirits. His emotional confessions to Sally — who seems one of the saddest characters on the show, tears frequently smearing her makeup — tell the story of a man who left his generator on to keep his children warm, and comes home to find his family dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. The man, understandably riddled with guilt, proceeds to kill himself.
It draws plenty of parallels to Lowe, who is also plagued with guilt after the disappearance of his son, Holden. But this is the episode where his young daughter finds out that Holden is still alive, living in the hotel, and not aging. When she insists that she bring him home, he (really milking the scare factor of creepy children) tells her that the hotel, where he sucks on the blood of hotel victims and donates his own to the Countess (Lady Gaga), is his home and he’s not going anywhere.
Still, the revelations in the Lowe family take a backseat as we’re introduced to Evan Peters’ character, Mr. James March. In case there was any doubt, the man, who built the hotel in 1925, is clearly the most evil of them all. A serial killer with influences in H.H. Holmes, March, as Iris (Kathy Bates) explains, built the hotel specifically to conduct his evil doings in. We see him carry out some of these heinous murders, slashing people as he has sex with them, sealing them into walls and more.
The most interesting character in all this backstory, though, could very well be the hotel maid, Miss Evers (Mare Winningham). She stayed with March from the hotel’s beginning, literally cleaning up his messes after his murders. And, if she has no other virtues other than being able to get even the bloodiest stains out with “love,” she stands as a pillar of loyalty, not even flinching when March asks who should die first out of the two of them. He kills her first, per her request, then slashes his own throat. Though, this is “American Horror Story,” where the dead are never truly dead. Winningham still cleans up the Hotel Cortez, and March still roams the halls as well. In fact, the mysterious Room 64, where all the truly brutal events happen, used to be his “office.”
Among other things, we learn March has a big issue with religion. He goes on an anti-religious tirade before murdering one of his victims, vowing to kill God. What kind of odds might this put him at with the 10 Commandments Killer, who Lowe is starting to catch on to in his investigation into a string of killings?
Meanwhile, in the world of the Countess, new drama brews, and questions regarding what she is, as well as what her boy toys are, are answered. At a fashion show thrown by Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), the Countess finds herself attracted to the newly introduced Tristan Duffy, with “Freak Show” alum Finn Wittrock making his first appearance. She’s drawn to his “rage,” which smells like copper, she says. After Duffy makes a scene on stage, he goes backstage and announces to Drake that he’s quitting modeling, inflicting a deep cut on his cheek to seal the deal.
Donovan (Matt Bomer) finds Duffy rummaging through his things, and nearly rips him to shreds. The Countess, however, stops him, and recruits Duffy into her crew, giving him the vampire-like “virus” that makes him immortal, to a point. He can still be killed, the Countess explains: “You’re only immortal if you’re smart.”
She details his new affliction, and, yes, most signs to point to vampire. There’s the obvious blood-sucking, and the sun, while it doesn’t kill them, “zaps their vitality.” They don’t bite their victims, though; they cut, then suck the blood out. Duffy’s excited to get to it, saying, “You know who I can’t wait to kill? Kendall Jenner. That bitch blew me off once at Coachella.” The Countess warns him that his recklessness will be his downfall, and he would most likely be right to believe her.
Donovan finds the two post-coitus, furious with the Countess. She then calmly kicks Donovan out of the hotel, and after he unsurprisingly responds in anger, she replies: “It isn’t who you kill or who you screw. It’s the heartbreaks. The bigger, the better.”
While the plot isn’t so linear quite yet, “Hotel” has begun to find its footing in its second episode. Hotel Cortez has been given a backstory, making it even more of a character in its own right, and the situation continues to heat up with the Lowe family and the Countess’ domain. Where it will likely get interesting, however, is when those two worlds meet.
Other stray observations:
-At the beginning of the episode, when Sally leaves Max Greenfield’s Gabriel inside of a mattress after having suffered a brutal anal rape at the hands of a man armed with a drill-bit dildo, tells him that it’s his “own damn fault” for thinking he could cheat death. This feels a little hypocritical, given Sally’s presumably fatal fall from the hotel window.
-A blogger from Variety sister site Gold Derby was murdered on the show, and one has to wonder if that was personal, Ryan Murphy…
-Two “AHS” alums stole the show: Paulson and Peters, who are both playing overt baddies for the first time in the franchise (though Peters’ season one character, Tate, was clearly not a good guy, his malice was not so immediately straight forward). Both chilling and complex in their own ways, it’s clear that they were up to the challenge.