Step right in to the Hotel Cortez, a downtown L.A. mausoleum filled with smoky despair, neon signs, and creepy children disappearing across geometric carpets à la The Shining. Downstairs, we can barely tell the truly dead from the merely dead inside. But up in the penthouse, a sexy four-way crackles with life. This art deco master bedroom has everything: fishnets, original sculptures, elaborate lace overlays, so many random bare butts, guyliner, and bedazzled leather gloves with the cutest tiny daggers on the fingertips. I’m too excited! IT’S TOO MUCH LIFE! Slit the throats of those two unsuspecting extras at once! Hey, what did you expect? No hyper-stylized music video sequence in the middle of a television premiere can last forever. And so, moments after their perfectly syncopated double murder, American Horror Story’s new bloodthirsty power couple, Countess Elizabeth and Donovan, sprawl out, lightly panting over their prey, imagining all the past and future Lady Gaga productions this might look like if not for all the red splatter. “Call housekeeping,” Stefani Germanotta purrs to Matt Bomer. Aw. Aren’t you glad you came to camp?
The fiery killing trance in the middle stood in stark contrast to the rest of the season 5 premiere, a murky patterned loom-gloom of mechanical sodomy and regret. Los Angeles in a nutshell. The closing montage set to the Eagles’ “Hotel California” was a bit on the nose, but I liked how it suggested that anyone who dwells in the depths of the Cortez long enough becomes trapped, walled off from the sunshine in a permanent waking dream. You can check out any time you like, but the fierce allure of addiction, decay, and Denis O’Hare’s swishy silk capes will never let you leave. Since it’s unclear as of yet (get used to it) how most of the sub-plots relate, let’s run down the rest of the characters we’ve met so far: Donovan (Bomer) is the son of Iris (Kathy Bates), the Hotel Cortez’s grumpy manager whose entire life seems devoted to ruining the day her baby turned into a drug addict, and supplying the Countess with fresh blood. In a 1994 flashback, Iris pushes Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) out of a window about 10 stories high after finding her sharing a needle with her son. Yet the ghastly Sally wobbles through the Cortez to this day, grazing the room numbers with her crimped hair and daring junkies to follow her into the dreary afterlife.
Sally has plenty of character on her own — Paulson channelled former AHS star Jessica Lange in the premiere, especially while tilting her head and smoking cigarettes — but she’s also the human-shaped sideshow to something called The Addiction Demon, a tall thin figure who wears a strap-on drill-bit dildo to overcompensate for his skin being wrapped in plastic or wax or brain matter or who even knows what. Glam-boy junkie Gabriel (Max Greenfield) had the weirdest and most brutal rape scene witnessed on television and Sally very knowingly drifted in to gently lure him out of the pain. All he needed to do was whisper that he loved her. Later, Gabriel awakened in a silent scream under the bed in Room 64 (which seems important enough to be a character), but it might have just been his lurking spirit. Strange things tend to happen in the hotel during the extended lull between 2:24 and 2:25 a.m. That’s when L.A. homicide detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) rose from the same bed to follow a cherub-vision of what looked exactly like his missing son, Holden, down the hallway. It’s also when ill-fated Swedish tourist Vendela found two similar white-blond little monsters sucking the blood from her friend in their bathroom. But these are no mere visions. They are a collective of real, sugar-spun children, whom the Countess has been sequestering for at least five years in the Cortez’s only brightly lit room: a high-tech wonderland featuring floor-to-ceiling retro video games and colorful candy dispensers. What?! That seems like its own show!
But back to reality: Detective Lowe is our tether to the outside world, so far. At the end of the premiere, he checked in to Room 64 as a new resident. Here, he’ll get to both investigate the hotel’s connection to a serial killer and escape the placid emotional torture of his household, where John’s wife Alex (Chloë Sevigny) can barely look at him anymore since he reminds her so much of their kidnapped son. I hate to see this couple in so much pain, but they did name their children Holden and Scarlet and that’s just begging for drama. The modern-day L.A. setting should provide plenty of connections to AHS season 1 (Murder House). Tonight, Christine Estabrook’s realtor character Marcy dropped by the hotel to show it off to its new owner, flashy NYC fashion designer Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson). Hallie, the Harmon family’s dog, has tragically passed. Buzzkill! But what did you think of the premiere – are you all in on season 5? And perhaps more important: Which neon sign would you prefer for your own haunted-by-the-past house: “WHY AREN’T WE HAVING SEX RIGHT NOW?” or “I LOVE YOU TO DEATH”?