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Series / American Horror Story: Hotel

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Once you check in, you never check out.note 

American Horror Story: Hotel is the fifth season in the American Horror Story anthology.

The cast is led by Lady Gaga with returning cast members Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Denis O'Hare, Evan Peters, Finn Wittrock, and Mare Winningham with guest appearances by AHS alumni Lily Rabe, Gabourey Sidibe and Christine Estabrook. New cast members include Cheyenne Jackson, Max Greenfield, Richard T. Jones, Helena Mattsson, Naomi Campbell, Mädchen Amick, and Darren Criss.

American Horror Story: Hotel provides the following tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: During a flashback to The '70s in episode two, the Countess rides a horse into a disco. Lady Gaga herself has ridden two mechanical horses: once during the Born This Way Ball, and later as her entrance to the 2013 American Music Awards. The song "I Want Your Love" by Chic, which Gaga covered for Tom Ford's spring/summer 2016 line, also plays during this flashback.
  • An Aesop: The finale can be interpreted as the writer saying: If you'd all just make an effort to stop being nasty to each other for 5 minutes, everyone would be a lot more happy - even the utterly antisocial psychopaths.
  • And Starring: Angela Bassett and Lady Gaga.
  • Anyone Can Die: As always. That said, it's less drastic here, since any of the dead characters can still return as ghosts (indeed, two main characters are dead to begin with).
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Tristan has this little quip when The Countess tells him she was born in 1904, "Wow, so that means you've lived through wars, The Depression, The Clinton Administration, and everything!"
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The incredibly rude, demanding, and entitled hipster couple in "Room Service".
    • Donovan at the end of "She Gets Revenge."
    • The Countess in "Battle Royale".
  • Back for the Dead: Marcy from Murder House and Queenie from Coven check in to the hotel only to, ahem, check out very permanently within the space of an episode. Set up but then Averted with Billie Dean from Murder House, who is just lucky or Genre Savvy enough to make it out alive (but not so much as to refuse to go to the hotel in the first place).
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The season ends with everything just how March wanted it.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Billie Dean wanted to contact John Lowe for a number of years on "Devil's Night." She gets her wish, but not before he, March and his "Mt. Rushmore of Murder", and Romana Royale scare Billie Dean into making her forget about the hotel, or else they would murder her and she would be bound to the hotel forever like the other ghosts. Needless to say, the trick works.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: "Flicker" reveals that Rudolph Valentino, Natacha Rambova, and F. W. Murnau were vampires.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For most characters, anyway. Liz decides to die in the hotel after learning she has cancer, with the Countess performing a Mercy Kill on her and implied to make amends after the events of the series. She even reunites with Tristan, who had been a ghost at the hotel the whole time. It's also revealed in 2022, John returns to the hotel as a ghost having died years prior after being on the run for his crimes as the Ten Commandments Killer. And even before that, he and Alex and Holden returned there to be safe, all while allowing Scarlet to live a normal life with other relatives. Unfortunately since John didn't die on the hotel property, he can only return to the hotel every Devil's Night, meaning he can't see Alex, Holden, or Scarlet (now an adult) for an entire year.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The Countess and James Patrick March are responsible for the murders at the hotel and the kidnapping of John's son.
  • Blood Countess: The Countess/Elizabeth is an actual vampire, who's the current owner of Hotel Cortez, which is pretty scary, as it's filled with demons and ghosts. She can only sustain herself on blood, and uses her elegant and fashionable claws to cut throats. She's also a self-widow, which is mostly how she gained so much money. She has also kidnapped some children and raised them as her own little vampires, playing into the mother role.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Both vampires and ghosts have it to a certain extent, primarily in that becoming one or the other seems to make a person start viewing killing others as being a rather casual thing to do—for the vampires to feed, and for the ghosts to have a purpose in (un) life
  • Breaking Old Trends:
    • This is the very first season without both Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy, the latter of which could not return due to a prior commitment.
    • This is the first season where Sarah Paulson's character is killed. She previously survived all four seasons. Though, this is also downplayed. Paulson plays two characters this season. One was killed before the series started, and one survives. So, she's still never been killed during the series.
    • Despite the casting of Lady Gaga, there's no musical number in this season.
  • Cassandra Truth: Scarlett's parents don't believe that her brother Holden was being kept in a coffin in the empty pool.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Mare Winningham played Ms. Evers who is a maid desperately in love with the hotel's owner James March played by Evan Peters. In Coven, she played a woman who is Kyle Spencer's mother and regularly sexually abuses him, also played by Evan Peters.
    • In "Devil's Night," which features famous serial killers coming to the Hotel Cortez to have dinner together, John Carroll Lynch plays John Wayne Gacy, perhaps the most notorious real life Monster Clown. He previously played Twisty the Clown in Freak Show. Additionally, during the meal, Gacy sits opposite the Zodiac Killer. Lynch played one of the main suspects in Zodiac.
    • In Freak Show, Finn Wittrock played Dandy Mott, a wannabe actor stated to be rather untalented at what he does. Here, one of the characters he plays is famous Hollywood actor Rudolph Valentino. Additionally, Wittrock's characters this season are killed by a slit throat and a shot to the head, which were methods in which his character last season made two of his most important kills.
  • Cellphones Are Useless: Downplayed: while several characters mention having trouble getting a working signal while inside the hotel when they urgently needed to call someone, there's no stated supernatural reason for it, just the fact that the building is old, in a somewhat secluded location and probably not in range of (m)any towers, and this is reversed completely by the end of the series when the hotel is set up with free Wi-Fi.
  • Central Theme: Addiction; passion, true love, and misplaced and unrequited love; abandonment.
  • Character Filibuster: Alex makes a speech denouncing anti-vaxxers.
  • Charm Person: The Countess seems to have this ability, using it on Tristan, Will Drake no small feat given she was seducing a gay man at the time, and to intimidate a producer (although it's possible he just knew who she was).
  • Continuity Cameo:
    • Marcy the Realtor from the first season sells the hotel to Will Drake. She even kept the Harmons' pet dog, though it had to be put down.
    • Queenie shows up just in time to be killed by March and eaten by Ramona.
    • In the last episode, Billie Dean Howard appears.
  • Continuity Nod: Like the previous season, the series has stated to nod to its other continuities to build up a 'verse.
    • To Murder House:
      • Marcy the Realtor pops up in "Checking In," presenting the hotel to Will Drake and his son. She also explains that she recently had to put down her dog, who she inherited from the events of the first season.
      • Also the Murder House itself appeared in the episode "Room 33", complete with Charles Montgomery sniffing fumes.
      • And finally, Billie Dean Howard appears in the episode "Be Our Guest."
    • To Coven
      • Queenie checks into the hotel to be on The Price Is Right. However, while she is able to fend off her attacker with her Voodoo Doll power, Queenie is killed off after James Patrick March, a ghost, kills her as ghosts are unaffected by her power.
  • Creepy Child: The Countess's brood of kidnapped, bloodsucking children. Later, the vicious pack of vampire tweens Alex inadvertently creates when she gives her blood to a patient dying of measles.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: The pair of episodes titled "She Wants Revenge" and "She Gets Revenge".
  • Darker and Edgier: Ryan Murphy has stated that Hotel will be much darker than Coven or Freak Show, with the season being straight horror.
  • Deal with the Devil: Anyone who lets the Countess change them into a vampire. Elizabeth doesn't take it very well when her creations become too independent.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Murdering Will where the killed have a possibility to return as ghost wasn't an entirely bright idea, which the Countess lampshades as it forces her to change her plans a bit.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "She Wants Revenge" refers to several female characters: Ramona who seeks revenge on Elizabeth for the murder of her lover, Elizabeth who seeks revenge on Ramona for trying to kill her children and Liz who resents Elizabeth for the death of Tristan. This has another meaning as well. When we meet The Countess in the first episode, the soundtrack uses the song "Tear You Apart" by the band She Wants Revenge.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Sally and the two Swedish tourists seduce a drunk John on two occasions but he's barely upset and those incidents never brought again.
    • The incident with Sally might be considered Softer In Hindsight, since it turns out later that she and John (as the Ten Commandment Killer) had been a couple for years at this point, and the reason why he didn't remember the sex in the morning might well have been because he switched to his Ten Commandment Killer alter ego during the evening, not because he was so black-out drunk that he wasn't able to give consent.
    • The incident with the Swedish tourists actually counts triple: They "seduced" him while he was clearly very drunk, so his ability to consent to sex is highly doubtful. During the sex they suddenly start some gruesome bloodplay and try to strangle him, which he definitely never consented to. And the whole thing was instigated by Alex specifically with the intent to torture John into a Mind Break, so he would stop bothering her and looking for their son - and yet, he never gets angry at her for this and they're happily back together in the end.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: At the beginning of "She Gets Revenge", Valentino and Natacha are killed by Donovan and Elizabeth respectively and at the end, Donovan and Elizabeth are gunned down by Liz and Iris.
  • Drugs Are Bad:
    • The villainous Countess is introduced snorting cocaine, Hypodermic Sally's drug habit makes her even more selfish and mean, Tristan's makes him dangerously unstable, and Donovan almost dies from an overdose, making him vulnerable to the Countess. In-universe, this is also Iris's opinion; she hates drugs and drug users, especially Sally, for what happened to her son.
    • Mrs. Ellison extends this to pharmaceutical drugs as well, believing vaccines cause autism, which the show makes anviliciously clear is not true.
  • Easily Forgiven: By the end of the season, every major character with the exception of Scarlett and possibly Holden has either killed, been killed, killed the loved one of another major character, or screwed over another character in a major way, but by the end they have mostly been able to come together as a weird sort of family— The Countess and Liz Taylor have reconciled, the Swedish girls' murder victim is now in a three-way relationship with them both, Will Drake apparently has forgiven Ramona for killing him enough to allow her to star in his fashion shows, and March and the Countess seem to be at least civil to one another. This may be helped by the fact that most of the characters by the end of the show are either ghosts or vampires, and so they'll have to live together for the foreseeable future.
    • Not Holden. He kills the family dog and, along with another vampire child, kills Agnetha.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus / Stealth Pun: the coffee canister Liz puts Donovan's ashes into is labelled 'Deep Roasted'.
  • Greedy Televangelist: One of the Ten Commandments Killer's victims is a televangelist accused of "taking the Lord's name in vain" - more specifically, for using God as a means of both profiteering and spreading hate. The Killer punishes this sin by disemboweling the "false prophet" and stuffing his mouth full of coins.
  • Grief-Induced Split: After their son is kidnapped, Alex hands John divorce papers. They still love each other, but Alex feels that moving on separately is in their daughter's best interests.
  • Harmful to Minors: John's daughter stumbles across two of the Ten Commandments Killer's victims while he's investigating the latest crime scene.
  • Hell Hotel: The setting of the season is a hotel crawling with murderous vampires.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • March's club of serial killers is composed of Gordon Northcott, Richard Ramirez, Aileen Wuournos, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Zodiac Killer
    • "Flicker" reveals that Rudolph Valentino, Natacha Rambova, and F. W. Murnau were vampires.
  • Hotter and Sexier: In contract with the show becoming Darker and Edgier, the show picks up more sex than the previous seasons combined. Likely due to the "ancient blood virus" carriers being vampiric sex gods. It's also set in a formerly glamorous but now rundown Hollywood hotel. Seedy behavior including sex, drug use, and suicides are commonplace.
  • If I Can't Have You…:
    • Elizabeth kills Tristan after Liz Taylor announces to her that they are having an affair.
    • March tries to persuade Ramona to kill the Countess, knowing she's about to abandon the hotel forever and determined to keep her with him for all eternity, unable to leave.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: In the third episode, Donovan tells his mother to kill herself. When she actually does at the end, he realizes that she's all he has and tries to revive her with his blood.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Several characters describe the Countess as the most beautiful woman they've ever seen.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Several new ghosts, faced with boredom in the hotel for all eternity, quickly take up murder as a hobby.
  • Karma Houdini: EVERYONE - even most of the characters who are killed in revenge for their crimes, or who spent years torturing and murdering lots of people end up having a pretty swell life as hotel ghosts in the end, thanks to Liz and Iris doing a lot to improve everyone's (after)life and to give them something benign to fill their time with (which actually seems to make the ghosts happier than killing guests). It's outright stated that, as limited as their existence is in the Hotel, it's much better than the afterlife they deserved to move on to. Even John, who didn't manage to make it into the hotel before dying, gets a vacation from Hell once a year to be with his family for a night. And even the Countess, for all that it's first implied that having to spend eternity with her husband is her personal version of Hell, is shown to pick up guys in the finale again, so she's clearly found a way to "live" apart from her husband again.
    • Donovan stands out in particular: Yes, he ends up really dead without becoming a ghost. But that is just what he wanted, and in the finale, it's implied that he gets to spend his afterlife in his personal version of Heaven.
  • Love at First Sight: March is smitten with the Countess from the moment he laid eyes on her during the opening ceremony of his hotel (back when she was Elizabeth Johnson). The feeling is not mutual.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: In contrast with Murder House, ghosts don't seem to linger on the thought of spending eternity with their killers.
  • Monster Mash: The hotel seems to house a rather eclectic group of unusual long-term tenants, including ghosts, vampires, and serial killers. While the vampires are the new monster, the season seems more focused on following multiple threads a la American Horror Story: Asylum. Serial killers and ghosts were present in Coven and Freak Show as secondary monsters, but get more attention in Hotel.
  • Morality Pet: Elizabeth's treatment of her vampiric children makes her seem a tiny bit less depraved. ...Until she threatens to kill Holden if Alex doesn't do her bidding.
  • Naked Nutter: Played for dark laughs; John Lowe is found drunk and visibly cracking up in the face of all the gaslighting that's been heaped on him so far, but demands to be left alone when Liz Taylor tries to help him, insisting that "this is my breakdown, and I'm gonna have it!" Minutes later, he's seduced into a threesome with the ghosts of Agnetha and Vendela, resulting him in being splashed with blood mid-coitus. He flees the scene in a panic without bothering to put his clothes back on, arriving back at the front desk completely naked and covered in blood. Without missing a beat, Liz remarks "Looks like that breakdown's going well..."
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Previews for episode five made it appear that the police would be raiding the Hotel Cortez, and the Countess would respond with lethal force. Nothing of the sort happens in the episode.
  • No Name Given: Iris and Donovan are never given a surname.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Tristan asks about the side effects of vampirism, and the Countess confirms that the iconic vampiric ones (such as stake and a silver bullet) are legitimate, but only because they would also kill a human being. However, she refers to her condition as a virus.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Countess has multiple ones in "She Gets Revenge", most notably when she sees Will Drake (who had been killed the previous episode and was now a ghost bound to the hotel), appearing and becoming a Spanner in the Works in the Countess's plans of getting rich again.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Being killed in the Cortez and having any regrets or unfinished business causes you to manifest as a ghost, possibly for the rest of eternity (although it is speculated that if the Cortez were ever torn down they would stop being able to do so). Ghosts can appear or disappear at will and have physical bodies, but cannot leave the Cortez. Being turned into a ghost causes one to crave a purpose to one's undeath, with the default apparently being "murder people" (both the Swedish girls and Will Drake quite casually kill others to have something to do, until they find something else to do with their unlives). Ghosts cannot be captured on film, but can be seen by humans quite easily. Although they're trapped there, most of the ghosts seem quite comfortable hanging out at the Cortez for the forseeable future— Liz Taylor even asks the ghosts to kill her when she's diagnosed with cancer so she can remain with her "family' for the rest of eternity.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Creator Ryan Murphy refuses to use the word "vampire" to describe the Countess, Donovan, and others featured in the season who crave human blood; instead, he refers to their condition as an "ancient blood virus."
    • They are able to walk in sunlight, but as the Countess herself says, it saps their vitality to do so, although this is not really demonstrated in any significant degree. She also prefers a bed and blackout curtains to a coffin, though her vampire children do sleep in metal and glass coffins. In addition, while these vampires are technically immortal, they can be killed by human means; they only have an enhanced immune system that prevents aging and disease (unless they consume tainted blood). They also show up on film as blurs. Their Healing Factor also seems to be very limited: while any recently converted vampire will instantly heal most injuries and diseases, they need a constant supply of blood to keep it working, causing any existing disease they might've had prior to being turned to come back with a vengeance if they neglect to do so and it also seems unable to cure any neurological diseases, only halting their progress, as Ramona ends up finding the hard way with her father.
    • They may be able to eat and drink human food, as the children are seen eating candy (plus Iris instructs one to get juice and cookies) and Donovan drinks.
      • The Countess is seen drinking booze and snorting cocaine.
    • A human must drink a vampire's blood to become a vampire, à la Dracula and Buffy/Angel.
    • Also à la Buffy/Angel, vampires who are starved of blood don't die, but they do decompose until they look like the walking dead.
    • Drinking from another vampire or a witch is not only possible but supercharges their healing abilities.
    • Other than their limited Healing Factor and immortality, the vampires also show little in the way of other supernatural abilities: other than Countess' occasional Offscreen Teleportation, they don't seem to possess any form of Super-Speed or Super-Strength and they also don't grow fangs prior to feeding, preferring to rely on knives (or in case of the Countess, an ornate gauntlet with a spring-loaded finger blade) to make their victims bleed.
  • The Place: Similar to Murder House, Asylum and technically Freak Show, it's not a hard guess where most of the story takes place in.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer and Chloë Sevigny are added to the opening titles.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Seems to be the modus operandi of the Addiction Demon, as evidenced by his attack on poor Gabriel.
    • The Ten Commandment Killer sodomized his first victim with an Oscar statue. (Though when we are much later shown the attack, that part is neglected, so it probably happened posthumously. Or the writers just forgot about it.) It turns out this was a case of Pay Evil unto Evil, as the victim was chosen because he was a pedophile who hit John's Berserk Button about harming children. (Though it's not outright stated that he actually went through with any sexual assault on the young boy he brought into the hotel. All we're shown is half-dressed pictures of the kid sitting on the bed, which might have been taken for sale, not personal use, given that they guy was also selling off a prized possession.) Weird that apparently the police didn't find anything incriminating in the victim's house.
  • Red-Flag Recreation Material: Early in the series, the Countess and Donovan reportedly enjoy binge-watching House of Cards (US) when they're not out hunting for blood, an appropriate choice given how manipulative and treacherous they are - even towards each other.
  • Resurrected Murderer: In life, James Patrick Marsh was a Serial Killer who built a Hell Hotel to torture and murder as many as he could. Upon his death, Marsh became an Evil Mentor to other future serial killers (his apprentices include John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, Richard Ramirez, and the Zodiac Killer). Even as ghost, Marsh remains a murderous monster who takes pride in hurting people.
  • Room 101: Room 64, formerly Mr. March's office and currently Mr. March's haunt. No one leaves alive.
    • Room 33, where the Countess hides her deformed, vampiric baby.
  • Serial Killer: More than every previous season put together. So far, there's the Ten Commandments Killer, James Patrick March, Gordon Northcott, Richard Ramirez, Aileen Wuournos, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Zodiac Killer. Also, most of the fictional characters qualify, especially almost all of the vampires, Sally, and several of the newly-made hotel ghosts are encouraged to do this to gain focus in their existence, even though we usually only see them commit their first murder(s).
  • Something Else Also Rises: When the Countess and Donovan invites a couple for an orgy at a screening of Nosferatu, the sequence when Orlok rises from his coffin is played.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Get your children vaccinated or else they'll be turned into vampires and start a rampage at their school!
  • Three-Way Sex:
    • In the first episode, Donovan and Elizabeth have a foursome with another couple before killing them.
    • There's two threesomes in "Room 33". John has sex with the ghosts of the Swedish tourists and later Elizabeth invites Tristan in order to turn Will Drake on.
    • In "Flicker", Elizabeth ends up having one with Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova.
  • Tongue Trauma: The Killer nails the tongues of the editors of a gossip site to their desks.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Iris outlines her suicide plan to Sally in explicit detail, foreshadowing it will probably not go off as planned.
  • Vampires Are Rich: The Countess until she gave her money to Bernie Madoff.
    • Ramona lives with a mansion and a butler despite having minimal education and a few exploitation films streaming for free on Hulu.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: It takes less than a minute of screen time for the Countess and Donovan to seduce another couple into a foursome. The oldest known vampires infected F.W. Murnau with the blood virus during an orgy.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "The Ten Commandments Killer". John Lowe finally understands who TCK is, and comes to terms it was him all along.
    • "She Gets Revenge". Liz meets her son for the first time in over thirty years, and together with Iris, they seemingly gun down the Countess and Donovan just after the both of them were about to kill each other.
    • "Battle Royale". Queenie is brought back only to be killed off for real by James Patrick Marsh, someone who is unaffected by her Voodoo Doll power as he is a ghost. Donovan (though he is spared from being a ghost) and the Countess are killed by Liz Taylor and John Lowe respectably, and the Countess is now bound to live in the Hotel forever.
  • Wham Line: When John asks Hypodermic Sally who let the Killer into his room, she says "no one let him in. He had a key."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Despite becoming one of the hotel's ghosts, Claudia never appears after episode 3, and does not attend the ghost meeting in the finale.
    • As far as we know, F.W. Murnau is still alive, and would be 134 years old by the time of the epilogue.
    • What happens to Bartholomew is never shown.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?:
    • Iris moans over the fact she'll spend eternity as an old lady nobody notices.
    • Donovan tells the two tourists that they need to find a purpose to breakup the monotony of eternity.
    • The Countess misses the '70s, as this was the only time she felt she could be herself.
    • Ramona compares immortality to being preserved in amber, never changing.
  • You Monster!: John calls March a monster when he shows him his trophy room with the heads of his victims.
  • You're Insane!: Alex says this to the Countess when the latter proposes her to become a vampire so she can stay with Holden. Later, John calls Wuornos insane when she has him tied on a chair.


Video Example(s):


False Witness

The latest of the Ten Commandments Killer's atrocities features the staff of a gossip site having their tongues nailed to their desks - a punishment for bearing false witness.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / TongueTrauma

Media sources: