Updates at bottom.
The fifth season of American Horror Story, titled Hotel, brought to an end a winning streak, as I consider it the weakest to date.
In fact, thinking back, I would rate the seasons in crescendo just as they were produced, so season 1 was great, season 2 was better (even though at the time I rated it lower than 1), season 3 was better still (my favorite so far), and season 4 was very good but I found it less enthralling and so my rating went down.
Hotel was the first one that didn't star Jessica Lange, arguably the most charismatic, glamorous, and talented of the varied cast. She was replaced by Lady Gaga, and I've already expressed my feelings about that here and here.
Has my opinion changed now that I've seen the entire season? Not much. My biggest complaint was about giving her the lead actress role, passing over bigger names and better actresses like Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Sarah Paulson. I still stand by that position.
After the first few episodes, I feared the worst as it looked like Gaga was given spare lines to delivered and was largely aided by careful camera work to make her appear at her best. There was a lot of gazing, staring, walking or moving about in a sultry manner, and not much else.
As the season progresses, the story becomes more interesting and involving, and she does show some acting abilities. Does that justify a Best Lead Actress nomination for a Golden Globe. Hardly. A win... most definitely not. Sure, she wasn't terrible, but all the bravura she might have mustered pales in comparison with Queen Latifah's performance in Bessie.
It will be interesting to see in the fall, when the Emmy nominations are announced, whether the Television Academy at large will feel the need to salute Gaga or not. I, for one, doubt it.
So all in all, Hotel was American Horror Story's worst showing so far, and I read that the audience plummeted after the premiere, which doesn't surprise me.
It was slower than previous seasons in establishing interesting characters or a compelling narrative (even with blood thirsty murderers!!). The John Lowe's twist came as no surprise, and the fact that he was able to then continue operating as usual defied belief, even in a show like this. Gaga was a Countess but how she became one is never explained (since she used to be an extra on film sets), which is odd for a show that delights in flashbacks to pad storylines or give characters more dimension.
But it wasn't just Gaga who didn't live up to the expectations of a leading lady. Kathy Bates was given a very dull part that gets more interesting in the second part of the season but is still underutilized. Angela Bassett, a really good actress, was simply given awesome outfits and told to look haughty and sexy, wasting another golden opportunity. And Evan Peters, another great discovery of AHS, was asked to play a more mature, older man and it didn't seem to work too well, not for lack of trying.
Honestly, the best character this season, and one of the best among all seasons, was Denis O'Hare's Liz Taylor. The backstory was revealed early on and as Liz he was given very meaty lines that allowed him to steal every scene.
Personally, I hope Gaga is too busy to come back. I had heard a rumor that Jessica Lange might have been interested in rejoining the production in the future, so hopefully that happens. If not, I can't imagine it would be too hard for Ryan Murphy to find more great talent to reinvent this show once again.
Update: I recently realized another reason why I thought the last season of American Horror Story was a letdown. Why were two of the actors cast for two different and separate roles each?
Let me explain. Sarah Paulson, one of my favorite actresses on the show (and in general), plays Hypodermic Sally for most of the show, and towards the end she's also Billie Dean Howard. Finn Wittrock plays Tristan Duffy and later on Rudolph Valentino.
My question is why? Is there such a dearth of acting talent out there that two new actors just couldn't be found? Doubtful. More likely, the two actors liked the second roles and lobbied for them, or the producers saw these two actors as the perfect fit for the second roles and simply cast them. The problem is that it's confusing to the audience.
When I first saw Wittrock as Valentino in a flashback decades in the past, I assumed his Duffy was some kind of reincarnation of his former self, or rather (given the vampire theme of the season) a character reinvention due to some yet unknown reason. As a result, I fully expected this duality to be explained in the script and to see some of the other characters react to it.
Since nothing of the sort happened, when Paulson started playing a second character I just kept wondering why, with the undesired effect of it fastidiously distracting me from the flow of the show.
Why not have Kathy Bates and Denis O'Hare just play ever role next time??!
Again, both actors are good (Paulson is actually terrific), and my complaint has nothing to do with their work, but the choice was very unfortunate, if you ask me.
Grade - Season 5: 4