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American Horror Story: Hotel is the fifth season of the FX horror anthology series American Horror Story. The season's theme is addiction and revolves around the Hotel Cortez, an enigmatic hotel owned by a bloodsucking fashionista named The Countess. An anonymous tip regarding a serial killer who murders people in accordance to the Ten Commandments points John Lowe, a detective haunted by the abduction of his son, to Room 64 of the Cortez.
Veteran cast members include Wes Bentley, Chloë Sevigny, Kathy Bates, Denis O'Hare, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Matt Bomer, and Angela Bassett, with Lady Gaga and Cheyenne Jackson making their debut. Special guest stars include Naomi Campbell. Veteran cast members with recurring appearances include Mare Winningham, Lily Rabe, Matt Ross, Finn Wittrock, Christine Estabrook, John Carroll Lynch, and Anthony Ruivivar. This is the second season that is not strictly anthological, with Christine Estabrook, and Matt Ross reprising their previous roles Marcy (Murder House), Charles Montgomery (Murder House) respectively, and Gabourey Sidibe reprising her role as Queenie from Coven. Paulson herself also reprised a previous character from Murder House (Billie Dean Howard). This is the first season not to feature mainstay Jessica Lange. This is also the first season not to feature Frances Conroy in any capacity.
Iris (portrayed by Kathy Bates) is the manager of the Hotel Cortez who works at the reception desk and is often seen doing crossword puzzles. Despite hating staying at the hotel, she remains in order to keep proximity to her son Donovan, who despises her after divorcing his father and becoming involved in a breatharian cult, causing her to refrain from giving him proper medicine. She remains protective of him, pushing Sally McKenna out of a window of the hotel's seventh floor after she supplied him with China White heroin, which killed him in 1994. Since then, the two have maintained an ongoing rivalry. After Donovan rejects her in a heated confrontation, Iris enlists the help of Sally in order to commit suicide, but a damaged Donovan revives her by inflicting her with the blood virus. She initially rejects killing, but is driven to it when her craving for blood takes a physical toll. She teams up with Donovan and Ramona Royale to kill the Countess as revenge, despite her initial loyalty to the Countess, killing guests and detoxing them so she may serve them blood, where her relationship with Donovan begins to improve as he enjoys his mother's more murderous and rogue behavior. Their relationship deteriorates when Donovan reunited with Elizabeth and calls off the truce between the trio. Iris warns him of his impending downfall, to which Ramona testifies to. She plans on committing suicide with her friend Liz Taylor, but decides to enact revenge on Elizabeth and gain control of the hotel. They go into The Countess's penthouse, guns blazing, fatally wounding The Countess and Donovan. The Countess escapes when Iris refuses Liz Taylor's plea to find her, running to Donovan's aid. Donovan says it's too late for him and as a dying wish he asks her to take him off the hotel's premise. They succeed, as Donovan dies in the street, telling Iris, "I love you, mom". Following the death of the Countess, Iris and Liz become the new managers of the Hotel Cortez, and despite some of the ghosts murderous activities they make a deal with them and March to stop killing the guests, as this will allow the hotel in 2016 to be declared a historical landmark and to maintain it as a business. Iris also makes amends with Sally's spirit by purchasing an iPhone as a present, allowing her to become a social media star. Iris agrees to help Liz contact the missing spirit of Tristan with the help of psychic Billie Dean Howard. Billie Dean contacts a spirit who they first believe to be Tristan but Billie tells them it is Donovan's, her son. Despite Donovan's spirit not residing in the hotel he passes on a message for Iris through Billie Dean that he is finally living a happy life in the afterlife and that he loves her, which brings joyful tears to her eyes. For her performance, Bates was nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie.
Sally McKenna (portrayed by Sarah Paulson), also known as Hypodermic Sally, is a drug addict who died on the property of the Hotel Cortez in 1994 when Iris shoved her out of a hotel window and plummeted seven stories to her death after killing her son Donovan with a contaminated heroin needle. She has since resided in the hotel and considers it her home, unable to leave, maintaining a rivalry with Iris. She follows drug addicts around the hotel, such as Gabriel, where she uses The Addiction Demon to enact the consequences of their addiction. She sews all of her victims into the mattresses of the hotel, one of which was found in Vendela and Agnetha's bed. She is constantly seen taunting John, believing they're destined to be lovers. She and James March have an agreement to share John, allowing James to let him be a buffer for the remaining Commandment Killings, in exchange for protection from The Addiction Demon. As John realizes he is the killer, he and Sally begin to bond, but he quickly leaves her for Alex, where she vows to kill him for abandoning her. After John's death, Sally is initially depressed and feels life now has no purpose, but convinced by Iris to interact with others on a social network, after she gives her an iPhone in order to make amends for killing her, and she finally finds meaning in life by becoming a social media star. For her performance, Paulson was nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie.
James Patrick March (portrayed by Evan Peters), sometimes referred to as Jimmy or Mr. March, is a wealthy oil business man and serial killer, who used his money to construct the Hotel Cortez in the late 1920s, built to serve his need to kill, by incorporating secret shafts and dead end hallways to hide the victims of his murders, along with the help of his loyal servant and hotel laundress, Hazel Evers. His father was a militant theist and was implied to be abusive toward him, resulting in James resenting religion and God. After murdering a theistic victim, James decided to commit a series of murders based on the Ten Commandments: murdering people who broke said commandments and harvesting a body part. He met Elizabeth at the opening of the Cortez, when he prevented her from committing suicide upon Rudolph Valentino's alleged death. The two married at the Cortez, but James had had unreciprocated feelings of affection toward the Countess. When Elizabeth resumed her polygamous relationship with Rudolph and his wife Natacha Rambova, he abducted them and enclosed them in a dead end hallway, where they remained for the next 90 years. Elizabeth initially encouraged him to use his murderous habits in a progressive manner, killing those who could offer revenue. However, it's believed that she eventually turned James in for control of the hotel and his wealth. He killed himself in his office at 2:25 AM when the police were alerted to his activities. His office was later converted into Room 64, where the clock's alarm goes off at 2:25 every morning. Since his death, he and Elizabeth have come to an arrangement where she and James must have dinner one night every month. He recruits Det. John Lowe as his successor to complete the remaining eight Commandment Killings upon seeing John's rage, claiming he is better than killers such as Dahmer and Gacy. Elizabeth continues to reject him, but, due to her "immense beauty", he always forgives her. He shows Elizabeth's new husband, Will Drake, Bartholomew, Elizabeth's only biological son and likely James' son as well. Will insults the child and Elizabeth kills him in a fit of rage. He later kills Queenie for Ramona, where he asks her to kill Elizabeth so her ghost can spend eternity with him in the hotel. She is unsuccessful but Elizabeth is shot dead by John and her ghost then resides in the hotel with him. He expresses his pride for John, meaning their work is now complete. He arranges a dinner party to have with Elizabeth, where he says he forgives her for turning him in, however she says she did not. Miss Evers admits to turning him in so they would both be shot and spend eternity together as she had loved him. He banishes her from his service. March later then makes an agreement with the ghosts of the Cortez to stop killing the guests so in a year the hotel can be made a historic landmark where they can stay forever. He hosts a "Devil's Night" soirée every year where dead serial killers he personally mentored come to celebrate each other on their murders, including one in the episode "Devil's Night" for John, and the one in "Be Our Guest" for when he and the serial killer ghosts hold Billie Dean Howard for ransom so that no one will ever host another documentary in the hotel. He is notable for his unique and bizarre Boston Brahmin accent. For his performance, Peters was nominated for the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best TV Supporting Actor.
Det. John Lowe (portrayed by Wes Bentley) is a Los Angeles homicide detective, husband of Alex Lowe, and father of Scarlett and Holden. The latter of which was kidnapped five years ago at a carnival in Santa Monica, leaving his marriage damaged. He is investigating a series of murders that take place in Los Angeles. He receives a call originating from Room 64 of the Hotel Cortez, where he goes to investigate, only finding an empty room. He receives a text from Alex with an address, asking for help. When he arrives at the house, twin boys are found murdered and disemboweled. He leaves the house when he realizes they had hacked Alex's phone and fear his presence at the house will endanger her and Scarlett, and checks into Room 64 of the Hotel. During his stay, he sees, what he believes are, hallucinations of his lost son Holden, unaged since his abduction. He learns about the origins of the hotel from Iris, and learns that the murders he is investigating may be connected to the late James March and the ten commandments. John, due to his addiction to alcohol, is targeted by Sally, believing that he is her destined lover. He rejects her advancements, as he is still faithful to his wife. But when he discovers that his wife has gone around his back and reunited with their son Holden, and then convinces him that he is psychotic in order to absolve the idea that Holden is still alive so she may spend eternity with him, he embraces Sally. He suffers from long periods of unconsciousness, which Sally explains is the result of him drinking and being recruited by James March to complete the series of murders he started, and that he has been the one committing the Ten Commandment Killings. When he confesses this to his partner, Andrew Hahn, he explains to John that the murders started months before he checked into the hotel. John then regains his memory of going to the Blue Parrot Lounge, the bar at the hotel, for drinks after a case where a father commits suicide upon finding his entire family dead. Donovan takes him to James, who deems him a worthy successor and successfully convinced him through a long two day conversation that the world no longer gives justice to those who he believes deserve it. He remembers being convinced to take the lead on the case and killing each of the victims he has been investigating. He turns Andy into one of his victims when he discovers he has been having coffee with Alex, citing the commandment: "Thou shalt not covet". John has embraced his dark side and began freely killing. He reunited with Alex and helps her halt a blood virus outbreak while killing off the Countess as his last victim in James's collection, allowing him to free his family he had previously taken to the hotel to hold him to ransom over breaking him promise. He decides to reunite his family and takes them home initially, providing blood for his wife and son, although they decide to return to the hotel realising it is their true home and send Scarlet away to boarding school. After killing a man down an alleyway and draining his blood for Alex and Holden, he is gunned down by the police before he could enter the hotel. As a result, John can only visit his family once a year on Devil's night at Halloween, where in 2022 in "Be Our Guest" after frightening away Billie Dean Howard along with March at his annual "Devil's Night" he visits his family in the hotel, including a now teen-aged Scarlet, who he embraces with for a few more hours of his yearly existence. For his performance, Bentley was nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Movie/Miniseries.
Donovan (portrayed by Matt Bomer) is the arrogant resident of the hotel who was the partner of Elizabeth of over twenty-years, since Elizabeth revived him by infecting him with the blood virus when she discovers him dying from a heroin overdose. Since then, he has vowed to stay away from drugs. Elizabeth values "the hunt", where she tracks down the proper people to kill and consume their blood, while Donovan values domesticity, and rather stay home. This bores the thrill-seeking Countess, and seeks romance with the more exciting Tristan Duffy, and abandons Donovan. Hurt, he teams up with Ramona Royale and his mother, Iris, of whom he has a difficult relationship with, to murder the Countess as revenge for what she's done to the three of them. However, he still feels affection for Elizabeth, as he gets cold feet when Ramona and him arrive at the hotel to kill the children, and instead returns to the penthouse where he sniffs Elizabeth's clothing. In "The Ten Commandments Killer", it is revealed that Donovan had introduced John to James so John may be denominated James' successor in the killings. After Elizabeth kills Tristan, the two reunite, and he disbands the truce between him, Ramona, and Iris, and traps Ramona in an enclosed hallway. He begins doubting Elizabeth's affection toward him when she sees her kiss Rudolph Valentino, a past lover of hers. He responds by killing Rudolph and disfiguring his face. The Countess, although upset, views this as an act of love, and they reunite, only for Iris and Liz to burst in and begin firing at them. Both Elizabeth and Donovan fall to the floor with gunshot wounds although he is wounded fatally, and he makes one last request to Liz and Iris to drag his body out of the hotel so his ghost will not return on the property. He dies on the road outside the Cortez and his last dying words are to Iris is that he loves her. In postmortem, whilst he is not revived as a ghost, when Liz and Iris use psychic Bille Dean Howard to initially contact Tristan for Liz, she manages to contact his spirit, and he gives Billie Dean a message for Iris telling her he is finally happy in the afterlife and that he loves his mother.
Dr. Alex Lowe (portrayed by Chloë Sevigny) is John's wife from whom he becomes estranged after the abduction of their son Holden five years ago, making at least one suicide attempt since his disappearance, citing that she has grown closer to Holden than she has to Scarlett or John. She is a pediatrician who is employed by Mrs. Ellison, a west Hollywood mother against vaccination, to treat her son Max Ellison, who has been infected with the measles. She visits a drunken John at the hotel to drop off divorce papers, she encounters Holden in the halls, and brings him back home, where he insists that he bring her back to the hotel so he can see his "other mommy". She interrogates the Countess about Holden and why he hasn't aged since his abduction, where she learns about the ancient blood virus the Countess has infected the towheads with. Symptoms include eternal youth, although they are able to be killed via unconventional methods and a thirst for blood. She then infects Alex so she may remain with Holden forever. When Max is entered into the hospital where his conditions worsens, Alex infects him with the blood virus to save him, but this results in him killing his parents, teacher, principal, and several school nurses in order to consume their blood, as well as spreading the measles to his friends. Later, John discovers them and she enlists the help of Liz to destroy any evidence of her being there. She convinces John that he is spiraling into insanity, and that the hotel is only aiding his departure from reality. After hearing about a series of killings in which adults have their blood drained, Elizabeth sends Alex on a mission to contain the outbreak, threatening to kill her and Holden. Her and John trap the group of children in the enclosed hallway with a blood-thirsty Ramona after convincing them to come back to the hotel to be towheads. She and John reunite and take Holden home, where a heartbroken Sally vows to kill John. John decides to provide for her and Holden's bloodthirst by killing, although she returns with her family to the hotel, deciding it is their true home after being temporarily held captive there by James for John. Following her husband's death, his ghost visits her, Holden and Scarlet every year on "Devil's Night Halloween", in the Hotel Cortez.
Liz Taylor (portrayed by Denis O'Hare) is the eccentric, transgender bartender of the Blue Parrot Lounge and long-time worker of the hotel. Formerly known as Nick Pryor, Liz worked as a medical representative up until 1984, and was in an unhappy marriage to a woman named Tracy with two kids, toward whom she displayed no affection. While on a business trip in Los Angeles, she meets the Countess in her hotel room while dressed up in her wife's clothes. Elizabeth does her make-up, similar to her namesake, Elizabeth Taylor, and dubs her Liz Taylor. The Countess suggests that they go out so Liz can feel like her true self, but fearful of the reaction, the two settle on Liz taking a walk down the hallway. While doing so, Liz encounters her two coworkers, who threaten to expose her while hurling homophobic slurs. Fearful that they may hurt Liz, Elizabeth slits their throats in front of her and persuades Liz to pursue her true self at the Cortez. She then quits her jobs and breaks off her marriage, sending money to her kids every month. It is revealed in "Room Service" that, although she was very close to Elizabeth, she was never infected. Liz becomes enamored with Elizabeth's new flare, Tristan Duffy. When the two confront Elizabeth about their love for each other, Elizabeth says that Liz may have Tristan, moments before slitting his throat in front of her. In "Room 33", it is revealed that she is very close with Elizabeth's ex-girlfriend Ramona Royale. Since then, Liz has scrapped all loyalty to the Countess, even making a vain attempt to stop her wedding. She plans on killing herself, but has second thoughts when her son, Douglas Pryor, finds her and asks her to rejoin his life, even welcoming her as a grandparent to his newborn child. She then decides to team up with Iris and take over the hotel and kill the Countess. After the Countess is finally killed, Liz and Iris manage to fix up the hotel and some of the ghosts with Liz helping Will keep his business alive. But when Liz learns she has cancer, she allows the Countess to kill her to remain in the hotel as a ghost. After her revival as a ghost, Liz is finally reunited with Tristan after unsuccessfully trying to contact him before; when Tristan appears in his room she asks why he did not seek contact her, Tristan tells her he did not wish to interfere with her life as a living, and the two embrace allowing them to spend eternity in the hotel together as ghosts.
Will Drake (portrayed by Cheyenne Jackson) is the recent purchaser and owner of the Cortez. Similar to Liz, he loves art and fashion, formerly living in New York City as a fashion mogul, but moves to Los Angeles with his son Lachlan after he felt that "the pulse" of the city was gone. Will, despite being gay, displays obvious attraction toward women, leading him to identify as bisexual. He plans to knock down and renovate the hotel, which upsets the residents, namely Donovan who doesn't take kindly to Will's arrival. He begins a relationship with Elizabeth, and later marries her in the hotel lobby. He has construction workers knock down a concrete wall which held the past lovers of Elizabeth, Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, unleashing them. He celebrates his marriage at the Blue Parrot Lounge, where he meets James March, who brings him to Room 33. Will is disgusted by hideous appearance of Elizabeth's only son, Bartholomew. Although Elizabeth planned to murder him early on in their relationship, she bumps up her murder plan and locks him away in the enclosed hallway with a weakened and bloodthirsty Ramona Royale, who tricks Will into unlocking her cage, allowing her to slit his throat and consume his blood as Elizabeth watches from a monitor in her room. He is revived as a ghost and he resents Elizabeth for killing him, and interrupts her interview with a police where she was filing a police report for his disappearance. He accuses of her of killing him for his money, but she tells him she is Lachlan's legal guardian and will inherit his wealth once he reaches 18. Following his death, his business empire liquidates and his vast savings become worthless. Feeling without meaning following his economic collapse, he sets out with Sally in murdering the hotel guests. However Liz convinces him to revive his fashion career, and he establishes a new fashion company with the help of Liz and holds fashion parades in the hotel lobby with the ghosts and vampires of the hotel as catwalk models, allowing him to continue his fame and success in death.
Ramona Royale (portrayed by Angela Bassett) is a well-known actress and Elizabeth's ex-lover. She was an actress who did many TV commercials and movies during the 1970s during when she had a homosexual relationship with The Countess who killed her boyfriend in the 1990s which Ramona witnessed. Following her boyfriend's death, her acting career ultimately failed and she moved into her parents' house. Her mother was suffering from cancer, and her father was suffering Alzheimer's and she had to take good care of them. After her mother died, a group of robbers broke into the house and killed her father who she resurrected by her blood virus and he then started going on a killing spree and ultimately led to Ramona drowning her father in the bathtub to put him out of his misery. She is introduced in "Mommy" and plans to get revenge on her ex for her boyfriend's murder. Her plan comes into action when she plans to stab Elizabeth in her sleep in "She Wants Revenge" but Donovan ends up betraying her by tazing her and both Elizabeth and Donovan put her in the neon cages in the sealed hallways alongside Will Drake. Will eventually releases himself and while attempting to free Ramona, she slits his throat and drinks his blood while Elizabeth watches via cameras. Ramona also killed off the infected children after John and Alex lured them to her, though she was ill by the time Liz and Iris find her. After Liz and Iris provide her with Queenie, managing to drink the blood of the human voodoo doll Queenie, with the helps of James who kills her, he asks her to kill Elizabeth for him. She goes into Elizabeth's room to kill her, but is unsuccessful after Elizabeth seduces her and sleeps with her. Ramona later participates in Will Drake's fashion parade and Liz tells her of his intention to die. In the finale, Ramona joins Devil's Night and assists in torturing Billie Dean Howard who flees the Cortez, after threatening to hunt her down and kill her should she ever make another live show in the hotel on devil's night. For her performance, Bassett was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.
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The Countess (portrayed by Lady Gaga), born Elizabeth Johnson, is the enigmatic, bloodsucking, malevolent owner who resides in the penthouse of the Hotel Cortez. Born Elizabeth Johnson in 1904, she was an actress who was featured in Rudolph Valentino's movie and was later invited to dinner at his house. That night, she met his wife Natacha Rambova who indicates that their divorce was just a "show" to get publicity. Later on, she had a secret love triangle with Rudolph and Natacha for many years up until when she was at a cocktail party celebrating the opening of the Hotel Cortez and after hearing about Valentino's death in New York, she plans to jump out a window but she is saved by James March who she later marries but however, doesn't profess her love for him. Even though she was married, she often visited Valentino's coffin once a year but encountered a very much alive Valentino and his wife who state that they are infected with a blood virus that saved them from death and turn Elizabeth so she can spend eternity with her one true loves while her disappointed husband watches from afar. After hearing about her secret love with the Valentinos, James gets his revenge by trapping the couple in the sealed hallways of the hotel damaging her relationship with Natacha who believes that Elizabeth trapped her and causing Elizabeth to hate March. In 1994, she turned Donovan, who was dying of a heroin overdose by Sally who was shoved out the window before and since then, she has been his fiancée and paramour but after meeting Tristan Duffy, she dumps him after twenty years of marriage. She also has a relationship with newcomer Will Drake who she marries but then plans to kill him and steal his fortunes. In the 70s, she had a relationship with Ramona Royale which lasted up until the 90s when Elizabeth shot Ramona's boyfriend, Prophet Moses in revenge. She is obsessed with fashion and hates betrayal especially infidelity which she kills Tristan after he professes his love for Liz Taylor. In spite of her hatred of betrayal, she herself will indulge in as many lovers as she wishes. She then gets back with Donovan but he is crushed after she professes her love for Valentino. She reunites with Donovan after he kills Rudolph however Liz and Iris enter shooting guns at the couple before Donovan jumps in front of Elizabeth and is shot before dying outside the Cortez while Elizabeth is injured. She is helped by Sally who vows to never leaving her. Ramona confronts her but while she attempts to enter the elevator, John appears and shoots her five times before she succumbs to her wounds and dies. Her head is placed on "Thou Shall Not Commit Murder" but she resurrects as a ghost and spends eternity with her husband James who thanks her for turning him in to the police and forgives her however Ms. Evers stops and confesses that she turned Mr. March in. After realizing what has happened, she begins to cry while realizing that she's living a personal nightmare; spending the rest of her life with the person she doesn't love. She appears when Liz announces her battle with prostate cancer and slits Liz's throat using her chainmail glove. In the last moments, Elizabeth is at the bar during 2:25 and meets a guest who says he's awaiting some friends. She then says the final lines "You have a jawline for days" before the episode ends, having found herself a new lover in Donovan's image. For her performance, Gaga won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Miniseries or Television Film and was nominated for the People's Choice Award for Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Actress, the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best TV Actress, and the Satellite Award for Best Actress - Television Series Drama.