TV Show Review

TV Review: AMERICAN HORROR STORY: Season 5, Episode 2: Chutes and Ladders [FX]


FX‘s American Horror Story Chutes and Ladders TV Show Review. American Horror Story: Season 5, Episode 2: Chutes and Ladders revealed ghostly origins with a healthy dose of dark comedy. We also discovered who has been stuffing people into mattresses and that Iris (Kathy Bates) is the comedy queen of Hotel Cortez. Chutes and Ladders began with a man in a perpetual nightmare with a pounding heart, then, one unfortunate female guest’s heart stopped. Two episodes into this season of American Horror Story and there has been a body count before each opening credits sequence.  Thus, we got our first look at Liz Taylor’s (Denis O’Hare) and Iris’ daily chores including draining children’s blood into crystal decanters and dumping bodies like dirty laundry down a chute.  These two are a pair of nonchalant creeps and they still induced chuckles out of me all evening.

Naomi Campbell made a glamorous appearance as Claudia Bankson of Vogue Magazine, and a close friend of Mr. Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) who staged a fashion show in the Cortez lobby. Jackson still fails to make an impression as Drake in Chutes and Ladders. Drake seems like nothing more than dressing on the set.  Although he was featured in the start of the episode, Drake seemed as unimportant as a lounge chair. Perhaps he represents the masses, the only speck of normality that exists in the hotel. There is still so much we do not know about him.

There was a small exchange where Sally (Sarah Paulsen) locked eyes with Detective Lowe’s (Wes Bentley) daughter, Scarlett (Shree Crooks) at the hotel entrance and you just know that nothing good can come of Sally’s interest in that little girl. Watching Scarlett as she wandered the halls of the hotel was frightening, but she discovered her brother, Holden. After studying family videos to confirm her suspicions, the clever girl slipped her police escort and traveled back to Hotel Cortez to find her brother again. Brave. Reckless. Determined. Scarlett is her father’s daughter. Thing is, classic horror rules dictate that children always know evil when it is present and they recognize ghosts, so Daddy Lowe needs to pay attention to his daughter’s intuition. Sally certainly is now.

Despite her slutty, disheveled look, Sally easily comes on to Detective Lowe and gets him to open up about his worst case. Lowe was so willing to open up to Sally, I cannot help but wonder why, even though  Paulsen plays an addict marvelously. She plays a seductress creepily. We know she is attracted to addicts, and Lowe was revealed to be a recovering alcoholic. A connection like that seems a bit flimsy, so I wonder what her angle will be for future pursuits with Detective Lowe who is clearly disinterested in her. (Question: why is Sally always crying? Those tears that never seem to run dry should get an explanation soon – symbolic or otherwise.)

Chutes and Ladders gave us a new character in violent, speed snorter Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock) who demanded all eyes on him in the fashion show. The chemistry was palpable between Tristan and The Countess (Lady Gaga), not to mention, between Wittrock and Gaga. Gaga showed some chops in this episode as The Countess heartbreaker. Donovan (Matt Bomer) should have known that he was on the outs when The Countess left him to go “hunting” alone.  We saw in the premiere episode, Checking In, that The Countess loves dressing up and going out, so when Donovan refused to go hunting, instead, offering a domestic alternative of watching TV, it made him instantly boring.  She dropped him, replaced him with Tristan, and he did not even get a kiss goodbye. Meanwhile, I think baby vamp Tristan will be our perspective into the vampire mythology of Hotel Cortez. We learned The Countess was born in 1904, but these vampires can die. They are only immortal if they are “smart.” Sunlight saps their vitality, but does not kill them. They do not bite, they cut. Thank you American Horror Story, now that we know some rules, we can play. (By the way, no more flashbacks to the 70’s. Just, no.)

We were shown the origin of Hotel Cortez through Iris who gave us the history of the founder and designer, Mr. James Patrick March (Evan Peters). Peters proves why he is a pillar of the American Horror Story thespian community with his total transformation into an art deco obsessed psychopath. Peters was barely recognizable. The black and white, shadowy sequence that showed March’s bloody pursuits in the 1920’s was equally chilling, and darkly comedic. The copious amounts of black blood spray seemed only slightly less gory with the softened edges of silver treatment, likewise, unbelievable violence was accompanied with quips and super politeness. Still, Miss Evers (Mare Winningham), the laundress, emerged as quite possibly the creepiest character (note I did not say deadliest) to grace Hotel Cortez’s halls – yes even more so than the vampire children, the faceless sadist, and Sally too. Watching March and Evers murdering with smiles and sunny dispositions sent endless tremors down my spine.

Now we know that Hotel Cortez was March’s killing field and monument. So the inhabitants are not only dealing with vampires, but also malevolent ghosts fed by March’s evil essence in the bones of this place. For an exposition episode, it did a great job making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up all night and caused me to jump out of my skin several times. How about you?

Leave your thoughts on this review and this episode of American Horror Story: Hotel below in the comments section. For more American Horror Story: Hotel reviews, photos, videos, and information, visit our American Horror Story: Hotel Page, and consider subscribing to us by Email, “following” us on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ or “liking” us on Facebook for quick updates.


About the author


I am a lover of all things film and a published poet with a law degree from Howard University School of Law. As a self-professed couch potato, I can usually be caught watching anything produced by Joss and Jed Whedon. My favorite TV shows include the Buffy & Angel Series, Sons of Anarchy, Oz, and The Shield. My favorite current TV shows are ...TBD. So for now, I am open to everything on TV and even Netflix, which is doing big things. A D.C. native that frequents local and international film festivals, you can catch my film reviews at

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