FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 2: “Chutes and Ladders”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Checking In” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mommy” – click here
After the first and at times devastating premiere episode in Hotel, “Chutes and Ladders” (definitely a reference to the original owner of the hotel based off H.H. Holmes) begins with Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) shambling around her room. She appears to be sowing Gabriel (Max Greenfield), still alive, into a mattress. Ah, the same fate as that terrifying man from “Checking In.” It’s a disturbing moment, watching Sally push Gabriel’s face down inside the mattress.
Then we zip through the vents, down to where one of the Swedish tourists, caged in the neon contraption, is being fed on by the little blonde haired children. They’re sucking at her wrists. One of them turns away: “Yuk. Tastes gross.” Only because, as Iris (Kathy Bates) makes clear – they’re dead.Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) brings the new fresh body into a room with Iris and ghostly maid Miss Evers (Mare Winningham) dump the body down a chute. It sails downward through the hotel, into a big basement, landing dusty on a pile of other bodies.
What’s creepiest is the white room again, where the children eat treats and play games and watch things on the massive screens – Iris filters off a bit of blood into a nice crystal decanter. Bringing it upstairs, The Countess (Lady Gaga) and Donovan (Matt Bomer), the latter trying his best to avoid his mother, have a tall glass of the red stuff. A little while afterwards, The Countess heads out to a function, not for the art but “for the hunt”. I love the way Gaga plays the character, I’m not even a fan of hers regularly yet I feel Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk did a great thing casting her in this role; just how she sort of moves through every scene, elegant and scary at once.
Dr. Alex Lowe (Chloë Sevigny) is out giving house calls. It’s excellent how the writing incorporates our modern day issues in this season. For instance, Lowe has to deal with anti-vaccination parents. I find this a great touch, and as always there are issues brought out in American Horror Story which are absolutely prevalent in society today.
Over at the Cortez, Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) wakes up in Room 64. Everything is pretty eerie. As if out of nowhere, Miss Evers comes in asking if he needs anything. Then suddenly, a quick glimpse of the wretched, disfigured creature (that raped Gabriel in “Checking In”) standing just above Lowe’s face, steel drillbit dildo protruding out. In the shower, Lowe witnesses to dead people having sex. But then he wakes up again in bed, radio on once more.
I feel bad for John Lowe. He’s obviously scarred by the disappearance and loss of his boy Holden (Lennon Henry). The worst part of that being Holden, we know, is in the hotel. Lowe continuously sees the little boy running around the halls yet can never seem to catch up with him.
He ends up having a brief run-in with Sally and a bar-tending Liz Taylor, trying his best not to fall off the wagon. Basically in this scene, Sally makes him talk about his worst days, the hardest times of his life, and it stirs him up. Though, for now Lowe leaves. For now…
Dt. Lowe receives a package from the Cortez where he’s staying back at the station – inside is what looks like an Academy Award stained with bits of blood. Hmm.
Over at the grand Cortez Hotel, Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) has a big party happening, lots of guests such as Vogue’s Claudia Bankson (Naomi Campbell). Things seem to be bumping in the lobby with a ton of people lounging, chatting, and so on. When Sally turns up, not allowed into the party, she mysteriously eyes Lowe’s young daughter Scarlett (Shree Crooks) – perhaps another little blonde child for the Countess? I hope not, I already feel viciously bad for Dt. Lowe. He’s seen some hard times.
At the huge fashion show Drake is putting off, we’re introduced to model Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock), whose presence there is somewhat of a major draw. Of course, Duffy is a fiendish cokehead and all around playboy, walking the runway as if every single person there wants to bed him. Amazing change for Wittrock in this season, compared to his also amazing portrayal of Dandy Mott in last year’s Freak Show. Even in that first scene, from the back room to the catwalk, he is fantastic. After his disastrous walk, Drake confronts him backstage; Duffy only cuts his face with a straight razor and announces his retirement from modelling. Savage!
Little Scarlett is taken to see something interesting by Lachlan Drake (Lyric Lennon), Will’s son. They end up in a strange room, like a pool but emptied out. He takes her down to see these strange glass coffins, where the little blonde children are sleeping. There, she sees her brother Holden who opens his eyes intensely. Spooky moment! This goes on to lead her on a bit of a journey alone.
Up in the penthouse, Duffy is scavenging for cocaine (a nice little reference to Lars Von Trier; a favourite director of mine). He’s interrupted by Donovan, they have a bit of a row. But the Countess shows up as well to stop anything further from happening, letting Duffy wander off. She’s playing a bit of catch and release, I believe, no? When former model Duffy finds himself a bit lost in the darkness of the Cortez’s shadowy corridors, things go from a little unsettling to a whole other level of madness. First, it’s a sandwich from room service he tries to eat in the hallway – it looks good to him, but after it’s in his mouth the sandwich appears rotten, full of maggots wriggling in and out of the bread.
But secondly, when Duffy goes into a room to try and look for more cocaine, or anything else, he runs into Mr. James March (Evan Peters) whose Old Hollywood charm is more than evident. It’s only after a few minutes, the situation becomes murderous. Miss Evers brings in a tied up prostitute and March orders Duffy to kill her, but he refuses. Revealing a nasty neck wound, March then kills her himself. This sends Duffy back into the darkness of the halls until he’s snatched up by the Countess herself.Scarlett Lowe manages to get back to the Cortez on her own. When she locates the room where Lachlan brought her during the fashion show, the coffins are open, empty. Where are the children? Are they in the sterile white room? Well, Holden is anyways. Scarlett enters and meets him, again after all this time. She shows him a picture of their family all together. She further wonders why Holden hasn’t grown up thought she has herself. Instead of being happy, though, Holden is very happy at the hotel telling her “I am home.” The kicker comes when she tries to take a picture of her and Holden, he leans in almost to bite her neck; you just know the picture will not be coming out correctly.
One of the nastier scenes comes when Scarlett runs into the hall – Sally scares her with a huge smile, a laugh, and then grinds her own teeth and gums into a bloody mess. What a freaky shot! Great, great makeup effects, as usual.
The Countess has turned Tristan Duffy into a vampire like her and Donovan. They have an intense bit of sex afterwards, Tristan loving the new life of vampirism. Will this cause some tension now between these two and Donovan, between the Countess and Donovan more so? You bet your ass it will. Almost more animosity comes from Donovan towards Duffy, though. They’re the boy toys of the Countess and neither are hugely happy about them both being in contention for her attention.
We’re also privy to the rules of American Horror Story‘s vampires, such as the sun doesn’t kill but should be avoided, coffins aren’t needed as long as you’ve got nice black-out curtains, you can die though being immortal can be achieved through being smart and intelligent about how one handles the effects and responsibilities of being a vampire. This whole sequence is fucking awesome! Not only are Gaga and Wittrock incredible together chemistry-wise, we further get to hear more about the Countess, her birthdate, all the wild stuff she did back in the day, what she lived through, and more. Real good writing here that I found super intriguing!
Dt. Lowe tries to leak information out of Iris – after Scarlett returns safely, obviously her parents are livid. She gives him the lowdown on Evan Peters’ new character, James March; the original builder/owner of the hotel.
For those who don’t know, this character is hugely based on H.H. Holmes, right down to his appearance – he built a massive murder hotel, essentially, including chutes for dropping bodies, secret passages, and so much more. Here, we get a look at 1925 when James March built the hotel. Excellent, eerie scenes shot in black-and-white showing us a brief glimpse of March and his strange ideas about how the architecture of the hotel ought to be constructed. When a construction foreman asks questions about the strange design, March brings him up to this office, stabs him in the neck, then slides his body down a chute where the body heads to the basement. There was asbestos lining the walls, thick to dull out any sound, hallways which lead nowhere, plus tons of other creepily constructed torturous elements. A vicious and interesting sequence from its beginning to end. There are some savage moments, some funny ones, and lots of intensity.
Most fun of all? Room 64 is the office of James March, exactly where Lowe is staying.
“Just ‘cause I‘m sucking on a dude doesn‘t mean I‘m gay.”
I won’t spoil all the fun. Great episode, especially the Countess and Tristan together near the finale. Could not get enough!
Look forward to the third episode, “Mommy”, directed by Bradley Buecker once more. Stay tuned for more madness, my friends!