“I don’t know who I am if I’m not your mother.”
American Horror Story seems to have a fetish for motherhood. Each season thus far has had a prominent thematic twist on motherhood, so it is unsurprising that ‘Hotel’, still early in the season, takes motherhood and injects it with its own dark, campy aesthetic. The sacrifices a mother makes are profound, somehow even in the face of such great and violent horrors that haunt a mythic L.A. hotel. After a premiere that stunned, whetting audiences’ appetites and a second episode that too often luxuriated in its own proclivities, finally the third episode finds a way to balance the thrills with the story and style. The result is captivating but it’s clear that the season’s engines are still revving up. And that’s okay. For now at least. This episode attempts to slow things down a bit and focus on its characters’ development, especially the mothers, both literal and figurative. “Mommy” still cries bloody murder, but does so in a dark purr as opposed to the obnoxious screeching of the past few installments.
If there is one character in desperate need of some development at this point, it is Alex Lowe (Chloe Sevigny). We get a full five or so minutes of her story as a mother; a role she stepped into with much reluctance and even fear. She didn’t even know she wanted children until she found surprising and immense joy in her son, Holden. Chloe Sevigny gives an understated performance as Alex and in contrast with the gaudy theatrics this series parades in, it works. I believe her pain and confusion without any help from metaphorical demons with drillbit dildos or excessive music cues. It’s one of those cases in which the show calms itself down and begins to take notice of its characters instead of its toys.
Alex may not be one of my favorite characters at this point in the season, but she gives a more affecting impression than her husband, John has thus far. In his defense, his character seems to be sterilized of all fun on purpose. This episode even speaks to that fact very briefly when Alex presents John with divorce papers. Alex has been relatively apathetic and distant regarding John and her daughter, Scarlett since the premiere. It’s apparent that the only thing holding their family together was Holden. Being with John and Scarlett is only a reminder of her son’s absence and John remains occupied in his effort to remain in constant control. His effort might finally begin to crumble soon enough. Maybe when Alex reveals that she’s found Holden lurking among the musty halls of his hotel. That won’t end well. By the way, who wouldn’t love the ghastly ghost of Naomi Campbell. It’s a shame she had to die in such a violent manner, but hopefully she will stick around to haunt the place by eagerly degrading everyone’s outfits from beyond the grave
The theme of addiction extends beyond recreational drug use and abuse. Here, mothers are addicted to their children in one way or another. Alex, for instance, has been a zombie sense losing her son. She merely trudges through life, aching in withdrawal of motherhood. Being a mother to Scarlett won’t do. Now that Alex has found her son—her fix—it is likely that she too will fall prey to the Hotel’s seduction. The Hotel Cortez has a personality that draws all addicted persons to its dark and opulent halls, whether their drug of choice is heroin, blood, motherhood or even death.
Another mother in withdrawal is Iris. Kathy Bates brings so much to this character—a character that is so familiar for this series and could have been a trite reiteration in lesser hands. The scenes between Iris and her son, Donovan are ripe with dynamic history and Matt Bomer holds his own with the iconic actress. Donovan’s complete denouncement of his mother does seem a bit overdramatic, especially when he insists she kill herself and goes off on an angry bloodsucking binge. This leads to the anticipated entrance of Ramona. Angela Bassett portrays this glamorous retired and vengeful actress with such potent energy, her entire time on-screen is a joy to watch. Her story involving the Countess, Elizabeth is without a doubt the highlight of the episode. It shapes Elizabeth as a wayward mother figure to her children (Donovan and Ramona). She’s a fickle mother who abandons and discards her children with cruel indifference yet she continues to be an indelible influence on them. Sometimes a deadly one.
Of course, Ramona has her own dark priorities at play. And as the episode transpires, many other characters reveal their own schemes, from Elizabeth to often forgettable new owner of the hotel, Will Drake. Most of these schemes are revealed through games of deadly seduction—there is a lot of seducing going on in this episode. It’s true; everyone’s a little evil and a little gay in this show, which is forever charming. When Tristan isn’t busy enticing people, he finds himself a father figure in the hotel’s murderous patriarch, James March. He is even bequeathed a killer inheritance; the hotel itself, as long as he can save it from Will Drake’s unclear but uninvited renovation plans. And just like that all of these characters’ conflicts become much clearer. While all of these deadly plans begin to take shape, finally establishing a more obvious plot, it’s the characters that lie in the episode’s periphery that really inspire mystery. Hypodermic Sally remains captivating whenever she’s on screen—her wavering ambivalence and seductive qualities make her a deadly drug, personified. Even Liz Taylor continues to shine bright (and poignant) in her small moments.
The episode ends with a promise of turning tables and while this is one of the more tame installments, it remains highly stylistic and entertaining. This show does style very well, almost (and somehow) too well, but this episode manages to find a nice balance finally, without letting said style erode the story of its characters and themes. It seems that motherhood, whenever in the clutches of American Horror Story’s creators, becomes a status of horror instead of nurturing guidance. As the old stuffy Hotel Cortez begins to swell with dysfunctional parental figures, the likelihood that ‘Hotel’ will become a home of motherhood fetishists rather than a haven for murderous not-vampires and ghosts grows. At least the result will be captured with stylistic verve. Now that conflicts are established, let’s hope the show keeps a steady focus on the soul of what could be a very rich and dark story. “Mommy” gets 4 out of 5 stars!
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