From True Detective to Fargo, the anthology series format has gained in popularity big time over the last few years, and arguably it was American Horror Story which opened our eyes to how much fun series can be when they reboot every season. Fargo is a great example: season one told a surprisingly original story (given that it was loosely based on the movie) and garnered huge acclaim. Season 2, with an all-new cast, repeated the trick - for my money it's even better.
But True Detective and AHS have demonstrated the cons of the anthology format. Whilst season 1 of TD was probably last year's most hyped TV series, season 2 found that sometimes it's just not possible to recreate the magic - true TV magic is fleeting, after all, which is why most series burn out creatively after three or four seasons (if they're lucky). A lot of AHS fans seem to agree that Freak Show was a relatively weak instalment, with Coven and Asylum the best regarded.
Long story short, there are never any guarantees, which poses the question: have the months of hype constructed around season 5, American Horror Story: Hotel, paid off to create the wildest AHS chapter yet, or is Lady Gaga merely a smokescreen for a series which is running short on ideas?
V is (not) for Vampire
Creator Ryan Murphy may insist that Hotel is not a vampire story, but whatever the semantics, it's basically a foray into that well-worn genre. It's difficult to find fresh stories to tell in the (not-)vampire genre, particularly coming on the back of a decade which has given us True Blood, The Strain and Hemlock Grove, among many others.
Unfortunately, there's nothing particularly original in the way Hotel tells its vampire story (whereas True Blood, for instance, infused vampire blood with the sensation of heightened sexual appetite) but it still manages to find some emotional poignancy, such as in the story of Alex Lowe's (Chloe Sevigny) transformation, which she's granted by the Countess in order to be closer to her lost son Holden. In episode 5, Room Service, we see Alex feasting on the blood packets of hospital patients, which is pretty gruesome. But whereas Murder House arguably found a fresh take on the very congested haunted house trope, particularly with Evan Peters' utterly creeptastic gimp, Hotel just seems content to feed off others that have come before. And that's fine - it's just a case of missed potential.
A Deal With the Devil and the Coke-coon of sin
One of the more interesting theories I've come across (credit to kfgold on reddit) is the idea that the Countess (Lady Gaga) and James March (Evan Peters, the show's less than subtle homage to real-life hotelier and serial killer H. H. Holmes) each made a deal with the devil back in the 1920s. Candids taken on set revealed Gaga in 20s costume, which has yet to play out on screen. The notion that the Countess made a deal of eternal youth and vanity whilst March took wealth correlate with her being broke in the present and he being, well, dead.
On another note, one of season 5's most arresting teaser trailer visuals was the mattress being sewn up with a living person inside...
Hypodermic Sally (fan favourite Sarah Paulson) has a habit of sewing guests at the hotel into a mattress, but what's the significance of this beyond the visual appeal? Well, it could be that Sally sees herself almost as a moral arbiter whose mission is to reinforce the idiom "you've made your bed, so lie in it". The mattress therefore becomes a cocoon (a cokecoon?) or a physical representation of sin. I like this interpretation because it allows Sally to be perceived as a character with at least a degree of inner goodness, or at least morality.
There's a lot of crazy shit happening in American Horror Story this season, which is par for the course. I still feel it's too early to compare season 5 with previous seasons, which might invalidate the question in the title - apologies for that, but it can be answered later. For now, let's just say that Hotel is a wild ride, and I won't be getting off any time soon.
What are your thoughts on American Horror Story: Hotel? Did 'Room Service' maintain the quality of previous episodes, and do you have a theory worth sharing? Leave a comment!