I get it, Murphy. Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates really know how to lay on the theatrics. Only this season, Lange didn't return, opting for something more theatrical...actual theater. In her place, at least in terms of AHS's punch-factor goes, is Lady Gaga. Does Murphy knows his audience or what?
But Hotel, like every season of AHS since the unnamed and unceremoniously concluded "Murder House," is a train-wreck, one that might be a bit better if it were actually about a train wreck. From its creepy pair of twins to its whacky floor patterns, Murphy borrows heavily from Stanley Kubric's telling of Stephen King's The Shining. That wasn't unexpected given this season's premise.
On the surface, Murphy's lavish sets, gruesome special effects, and heavily developed characters might seem better suited for film than television. After all, each season is a semi-unique story that screens more like a long movie than a cable television show, and the visuals are on par with anything Baz Luhrmann has brought to the big screen. But digging deeper, each season borrows so heavily from 70s and 80s era horror classics the only unique thing Murphy provides is his overindulgence.
Since "Murder House," each season has been a loosely tethered series of horrific vignettes, like a Nine Inch Nails video that just won't end. And even that idea is borrowed from the more unique, and often more subtle David Lynch. But Lynch's awkwardly juxtaposed productions tow the line between film and photography, and are sometimes deliberately confusing. Like a night terror, David Lynch stimulates a feeling of dread with his unusual pairings of music, imagery, even laugh tracks, and in the end his less cynical audience is left wondering why they're stuck with a horrific feeling they can't shake.
Murphy on the other hand exploits the visuals of the more traditional nightmare, and through CGI and pop culture icons, gives a less attuned audience exactly what they want, something they'll quickly forget at the end of each season as they wait in anticipation for his next installment. His audience has become immune to the spectacle like a spoiled kid on Christmas, asking for more because they want more divas, more blood, and more camp; unable to internalize, even unwilling to understand what's in front of them.
I know I sound like a cinema snob, but good writing and direction isn't the same thing as a television show that sells. Just look at how long Two and a Half Men was on the air, and just look at how quickly Twin Peaks was cancelled. But Murphy's technique, his kitschy bait, his lo-fi filter is what makes television his perfect medium. It's hard to imagine AHS even succeeding as a Hulu or Netflix original. Even the crappiest online originals like Hemlock Grove possess an ounce of subtlety and the right kind of humor that makes them binge-watch-worthy. It was hard enough to get through sixty minutes of Hotel, imagine investing a whole afternoon in something so senselessly intense.
But Murphy does have his talents. Scream Queens is exactly what it promised to be, and perhaps what Murphy should be investing his time in. But he can also write good television. I keep excusing "Murder House" for a reason. When FX green-lit American Horror Story, the series was designed to center around one house, its living residents, dead inhabitants, and a few in between. It was the classic, if over-told haunted house story, and Murphy's campy spin on the traditional haunted house was exactly what this one needed.
Throughout the first season, his characters were meticulously defined, story arcs were spun off in all directions, and any architecture geek would have a hard time not becoming obsessed with that creepily beautiful Los Angeles mansion. But Murphy quickly grew bored - as he has a reputation for doing - and potential story arcs began to be abandoned or carelessly wrapped up. With just a few weeks before the season finale, fans began wondering what the hell was going on, hoping Murphy had something spectacular in store for us.
Then FX announced that "Murder House" would be ending and a new AHS would be relaunched the following season. With just a few episodes left, it seemed impossible for Murphy to wrap up all his loose ends. He never did. And instead of even trying - SPOILER ALERT - he killed off every last resident of "Murder House" and turned the season finale into a camp filled 70s era horror movie that could have been entitled House V.
That's not to say the finale was bad in isolation, at least in terms of the House franchise. It was fun, like Home Alone meets a boardwalk funhouse. But it was completely out of character for the "Murder House" Murphy had seemingly crafted. Did he truly craft anything? Did he have a plan for these loose ends? Or is he just good at setting up the fireworks, incapable of lighting the fuse? Given the seasons that followed, we'll never know.
The season finale of "Murder House" was a one-off episode loosely tied to prior episodes, a haphazard suture at best. Essentially, he burned his first fans to grab a few more, and to stroke his own ego.
For fans of the artistically macabre, we've been waiting for a long time. Many of us remember that fateful evening in 1990 when David Lynch and Mark Frost brought ABC something that had never been seen on television. In its own way, Twin Peaks was Lynch's take on murder mysteries, soap operas, and small town drama. But unlike AHS, Peaks wasn't rehashing telltale horror that had been exhausted by Tales from the Crypt.
It was truly inventive, incomparable to anything anyone had ever seen before, even Lynch fans. It made a lot of people uncomfortable, but also drew in fiercely loyal fans who spent the next 25 years begging David Lynch to tell us what happened in the Black Lodge. In 1992, David Lynch took us more than two decades into the future, with Laura Palmer promising we'd see her again.
For 25 years, David Lynch and Mark Frost steadfastly denied any desire to return to the small northwestern town of Twin Peaks. And then, 25 years after Laura's promise, dual Tweets from Lynch and Frost announced that the gum we like "is about to come back in style."
While the quote obviously makes no sense to anyone who has never seen Twin Peaks, and still probably doesn't make sense to quite a few fans, Lynch once again displayed a unique way to artistically bridge mediums, this time between television and the Twittersphere. When Season 3 airs on Showtime in 2017, Twin Peaks will have had the longest ever true hiatus. Unlike reboots, or movies like Carrie that picked up long after their original run, Twin Peaks will return with much of its cast in tact, and in real time, more than two decades later.
When Laura Palmer promised we'd see her again, we didn't have online petitions to save television shows or Netflix to cheaply pick up where directors left off. We were resigned to our imaginations. But some hoped, perhaps in retrospect, that David Lynch was up to something inventive. And perhaps he was. In the last two years, Lynch has created an entirely new art form, one that enlisted the fans and the stars and brought us together through Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to draw us all back into the town we came to love so much.
That, my friends, is art.