“Call the cops man! I don’t give a s—! I’m coming out in a Lars Von Trier movie next year!”
American Horror Story inevitably points back to Hollywood. So many failed actresses found their way from film sets to the Murder House. Madison Montgomery in Coven was the flip side: An actress spoiled rotten into decadence and sociopathy. Coven was, in its best moments, a very meta meditation on the plight of actresses, with Jessica Lange playing the wise elder raging against the dying of the light, murdering anyone young enough to remind her what age really is. Freak Show pushed that metaphor further, and exploded it: In the fourth iteration of American Horror Story, performance was both the by-product of and the cure for being weird, or unusual, or somehow anti- whatever society wants us all to be. Asylum by comparison was less interested in the dreams of show business people and more interested in the dreams they make: Recall Sister Jude, drunk on Communion wine, playing an old Cecil B. Demille picture for the benefit of her crazies; or Sister Jude, blitzed by electroshock, musical-numbering “The Name Game.”
And now, we learn that the Hotel in Hotel has an origin story that dates back to the dawn of Hollywood as Empire. Enter Evan Peters, with a pencil-thin mustache and one of those accents that died out with Method Acting. Enter James Patrick March, art-deco freak, oil tycoon millionaire, murder fetishist. The kind of guy who would build himself an undersea Ayn Rand Metropolis, if this were BioShock — or who would spend his evenings teaching people important moral lessons via torture, if this were Saw VII.
Over an hour into the second episode of American Horror Story: Hotel, we get the full James March tale. A hotel built for perfect murders, with secret rooms, walls lined with asbestos, doors to nowhere. (We see him kill a woman mid-coitus; we saw him pull the old Cask of Amontillado trick with another.) This could be less Hollywood than just California: One thinks of Mrs. Winchester and her Mystery House, filled with stairs to nowhere and hidden floors. And yet: A rich man shunned by East Coast elites arrives in Los Angeles and builds a private empire where he can live out all his worst fantasies. Isn’t that the origin story of every great and terrible Hollywood king of the studio era?
James March dies before the cops could get him. His penultimate victim is his beloved Maid; his final victim is himself. Now, decades later, James March haunts the lower floors of the Cortez, and the Maid can still get any stain out of any mattress.
Iris tells this story to Detective Lowe, one lonely night in the Cortez. Lowe is impressed: “You should be writing for the movies.”
There are ghosts in the Cortez: March and his maid, Sarah Paulsen and her bad attitude. But what of Lady Gaga, and her dude-concubine, and her little children? This episode confirmed that they are vampires, kind of, albeit vampires with their own rules. We saw the little children suckling the last pints of blood from the last remaining Swede; afterwards, they retreated to the videogame room, where Iris transferred their blood into a decanter for Gaga.
“Children” are a running idea this season. So far, the only thing Chloë Sevigny has gotten to do this season is chastise a wealthy housewife for giving her kids the measles. The housewife is an anti-vaccine kook. “We did what she thought was right,” she says, utterly wrong. The Lowes aren’t really in a position to criticize. They lost one child already; in Wednesday’s episode, their daughter slipped her police escort and went missing for hours. (Proof that there really is public transportation in Los Angeles: She rode the bus from the suburbs to downtown, round trip, in a mere five hours!)
Here’s a question: What the hell is Detective Lowe doing in this wacky hotel? “Chutes and Ladders” built up the idea that he isn’t just investigating. He’s looking to walk on the wild side, maybe. He shared a late-night drink with Sally, listening to her sob stories about writing songs with Patti Smith in the golden days before smack. He drank ginger ale; he hasn’t had a drink in quite some time. The last time he tied one on was right after he saw a grisly crime scene: A man who accidentally murdered his family and then definitively murdered himself. A dark vision of Detective Lowe’s future, perhaps? (ASIDE: For a second, I thought the house of the flashback crime scene was the Murder House. I don’t think it was? Also, I choose to believe that the show won’t go back to the Murder House until the last scene of Hotel, which will also feature Jessica Lange in a quadruple cameo as every character she ever played on Hotel, and all those characters will be playing poker with Thanos. END OF ASIDE.)
Also, yes, then there was a fashion show? In the middle of the Cortez, heretofore a completely empty and decrepit-looking ruin? I have no sense of how big the Cortez is supposed to be, which isn’t the worst thing: It feels like anything can happen here. Case in point: Finn Wittrock, Dandy that was, reappearing as Tristan Duffy, bad-boy male model. He’s the guy who doesn’t give a s—; he’s the guy who’s in a Lars Von Trier movie next year.
NEXT: Get up, come on, get down with the Virus