October 22, 2015 American Horror Story: Hotel – Chutes and Ladders (Episode 2 Review)
Last week’s episode of American Horror Story: Hotel, Chutes and Ladders, introduced viewers to a serial killer and a fashion model, both of whom it appears will figure prominently in the story this season. The inclusion of the latter made for an especially campy episode that featured a fashion show among other festivities.
American Horror Story tends to rely heavily on flashbacks to gradually uncover the backgrounds of its mysterious, often tragic characters. It seems that Hotel is no exception. Chutes and Ladders reveals the sinister origins of the Hotel Cortez, which was commissioned by James March (AHS regular Evan Peters), a sadist with an unfortunate mustache and a proclivity for nonsensical architecture. Viewers learn that the hotel was deliberately constructed, as per March’s directions, to include secret passages and chambers where March could confuse his victims and pursue his sinister passions in relative privacy. Also included in the original building were hidden chutes, the purpose of which is revealed in the beginning of the episode. (The odd construction of the Hotel Cortez calls to mind the real-life Winchester Mystery House, also located in California, which features the kind of architecture that would make M. C. Escher salivate, but Sarah Winchester’s hallways and staircases to nowhere were intended to mislead evil spirits, not to conceal misdeeds.)
Of course, the Hotel Cortez’ erstwhile owner still stalks its meandering hallways. Its front desk clerk, Iris (Kathy Bates), shares the story of March’s life and the building with Detective Lowe, who breaks his sobriety Jack Torrance-style at the hotel bar after a fight with Alex. As Iris relates the sordid tale, flashbacks accompany the narrative in black and white, and Lowe learns about March, his mysterious wife – the Countess? – and his faithful laundress Miss Evers (Mare Winningham), who also continues to inhabit the hotel. Lowe is impressed with Iris’ storytelling skills, but entirely unconvinced as to its veracity. Still, the story does inspire an idea about the murder case he is working on.
Before Lowe hears March’s story, March offers a demonstration of his favorite activity, inviting model Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock) to participate. Duffy declines the offer. Finn Wittrock is only slightly more likable as the coked up model than he was as Dandy Mott in Freak Show, and this is not saying much. However, the Countess – whose name is Elizabeth (perhaps referencing Elizabeth Bathory, who was thought to have drunk the blood of virgins to preserve her youth_, is quite enchanted with the young man, much to Donovan’s chagrin. However, Donovan has developed such an interest in premium television (House of Cards, specifically) that his desire to go out hunting with Elizabeth has waned. It is not surprising that Vampires grow sick of their mates. Elizabeth first notices Tristan on the catwalk at a fashion show the hotel’s new owner, Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), has arranged. Tristan is a brat, but Elizabeth, despite her one-hundred and eleven years, has the proclivities of a sixteen-year-old and interprets his obnoxious behavior as anger. She “smells the rage” on him, and this acts as an aphrodisiac. When Tristan is threatened by other inhabitants of the hotel, she rescues him, changes him, and discards Donovan.
Much like the first episode of Hotel, Chutes and Ladders has the atmosphere of a music video. This is especially apparent in scenes featuring Lady Gaga, and it seems as if the role of Countess Elizabeth was written with her in mind, or that the writers created the script after Gaga was hired. Costumes and decor are central to the show, but, fortunately, not at the expense of the narrative (yet). As far as Horror goes, the first two episodes of Hotel are a bit gorier than the show usually is, but more disturbing than the blood is the drug use. It is clear that addiction, whether metaphorical or literal, is a central theme of Hotel, and scenes depicting this real-life Horror can be tough to watch. By far the most jarring scene of Chutes and Ladders is a brief moment involving Sally’s teeth. CrypticRock gives Chutes and Ladders 4 out of 5 stars.