American Horror Story: Hotel– 5×01: ‘Checking In’

Did you somehow miss the premiere date of the new season of American Horror Story? Here’s a recap of went down in episode 1 ‘Checking In’:

Two Swedish tourists check into the hotel.  They instantly get a bad feeling about the place, but the manager, Iris (played by Kathy Bates) refuses to give them a refund on their deposit.  They decide, against their better judgement, to spend one night there.  We get a virtual walking tour of the Hotel Cortez– it looks like a maze lined with fun house mirrors.  One of the girls goes to get ice for the room and she encounters a maid steaming out a bloodstained sheet (“Terrible accident” she gaily says) and two pale blonde children.  When she returns, her friend complains of a “rotting animal” smell.  The two search the room and discover a blood-stained man sewn into their mattress.  What’s worse is that he’s still alive.

Iris apologizes to the girls, tells them she has called the police, and gives them a different room– one that the hotel never books.  They tell Iris that they’re going to leave.  Iris tells them that if they do, they will be arrested for evading questioning.   The girls can’t get cell phone service and just when it seems like a simple case of the “bad hotel blues,” one of the girls discovers that her friend is being fed upon by the two blonde children.

We switch over to John Lowe (Wes Bentley)– a homicide detective and father of a precocious daughter.  He’s just been called in to check out a gruesome crime scene.  A man and a woman in bed together (mid coitus), with an spear impaling the woman’s heart.  The man is still alive– his eyes and tongue have been cut out and placed in the bedside ashtray and his hands have been nailed to the headboard.  Framed photographs of the victims’ families surround the bed.  John concludes that they were having an affair.  He returns to his office later that night and reads Little Women with his daughter, Scarlett (Shree Crooks), over Facetime. He then gets a call from someone claiming to be the murderer.  He tells John that he’s going to do it again– at the Hotel Cortez, in room 64.

Back at the hotel, a drugged-out young man, Gabriel (Max Greenfield), checks into the hotel for a night– he wants to get high in private.  Iris gives him the keys to room 64.  After Gabriel shoots up, he begins to see things in his room that he thinks are drug-induced hallucinations.  Until one of them, a faceless humanoid creature with loose, wrinkled skin, rapes him with a pointed strap-on dildo.  During the assault, Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) appears.  She tells him that the creature will stop if he tells her that he loves her.

John arrives at the Hotel Cortez and meets Iris, who tells him that she’s dealt with her fair share of law enforcement.  She summons the gender-bending hotel employee Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) to lead Lowe to room 64.  The room is (seemingly) empty and has no indication of any wrongdoing.  John takes a short power nap, during which we get a glimpse of Gabriel under the bed, and one of the blonde children who runs away from John after he wakes up.

We are then (finally) introduced to Lady Gaga’s character.  Countess Elizabeth is a glamorous, coke snorting seductress who is in some form of romantic relationship with a resident named Donovan (Matt Bomer).  The two go to a late night screening of Nosferatu in a graveyard where they pick up another young couple.  They all head back to the hotel and proceed to have a foursome.  Unfortunately, sexual adventures can be regrettable; Elizabeth and Donovan cut their new friends’ throats and devour their blood.  “And you didn’t want to go out tonight,” the Countess smirks.

Remember the two Swedish tourists from the beginning of the episode? They’re still alive.  Iris has them locked in cages and is about to force feed them a disgusting puréed mixture of raw meat to “detox their systems.”  Sally enters the room and it quickly becomes obvious that she and Iris loathe each other.  Sally tells Iris to have some compassion; she is left alone with the girls.  She unlocks one of them and tell her to run.  The girl bolts for her life, abandoning her friend, only to have her escape halted by the Countess, who slices her throat open without even a moment of hesitation.  “She escaped,” Iris says desperately, “I don’t know how!” Countess Elizabeth warns Iris not to let it happen again.

Meanwhile, John goes home to his daughter and emotionally distant pediatrician wife, Alex (Chloë Sevigny).  She leaves to make a house call and John takes Scarlett out for sushi.  How very LA.  The dinner is interrupted when John receives a distressed text from Alex.  He takes Scarlett to the house where Alex said she would be; the police are already there.  He tells Scarlett to wait in the car so he can go investigate.  Scarlett goes into the house where she discovers a gruesome sight: two dead men, suspended from the ceiling, with their intestines spilling out.

A flashback reveals that Scarlett was not always an only child. John and Alex also had a son.  Little Holden Lowe (Lennon Henry) disappeared without a word or a trace while the family was at a carnival.  John was the one looking after him while Alex was teaching Scarlett how to properly throw darts.

Back to the present: Alex and John discuss the events of the night.  John assures Alex that armed officers have been assigned to guard her and Scarlett and be discreet about it.  They also come to the conclusion that John should leave the house for awhile.  And although Alex doesn’t blame her husband for the disappearance of their son, she acknowledges that their marriage is disintegrating and they need time apart.  John checks in for a long stay at the Hotel Cortez.

Another flashback tells the backstory of Donovan, Hypodermic Sally, and Iris.  Donovan was/is a heroin addict.  Sally was his supplier and lured him into the Hotel Cortez to get high with him.  Iris, revealed to be Donovan’s mother, frantically follows them to the hotel and forces Liz Taylor to reveal their location inside.  When she finally find them, Donovan has overdosed and Sally couldn’t care less.  She goes on her merry, strung out way– until Iris pushes her our of an open window.  Iris returns to the room to find Countess Elizabeth stroking her son’s face.

In the next scene, a wealthy New York designer, Will Drake, comes with his son to the hotel– he’s buying the property, much to the dismay of the residents.  While Will is inspecting the rest of the building, Countess Elizabeth brings Will’s son to a secret room equipped with video games and candy. It’s apparently the playroom/living quarters of those mysterious blood-sucking children.  Including John Lowe’s missing son.

First impression:

This may actually be the scariest season of American Horror Story yet.  It’s already gruesome, brutal, and genuinely frightening in the first episode.  And we know from experience that it’s only going to get better.  Stay tuned each week for a recap of American Horror Story: Hotel!

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