American Horror Story: Hotel is yet another perfect example of showrunner Ryan Murphy using depraved and unnecessary violent sexual attacks to emphasize the importance he places on shock value instead of substance.
It's hard to delve into this review without acknowledging the extremely unsettling elephant in the room that took place 20 minutes into the 90-minute premiere.
Once checked into the macabre Hotel Cortez, every creepy nook and corner explored through the disorienting fisheye lens Murphy chose to shoot a large portion of the premiere with, we're introduced to comedic actor Max Greenfield's character, Gabriel.
Gabriel — who struts around with the air of a hungover rockstar, cloaked in the finest of faux furs — desperately needs a semi-hygienic room for the night where he can be free to shoot up. After rolling his eyes exaggeratedly at the concierge woman, Iris (Kathy Bates) and heckling her over the steep price for a one-night stay, he's assigned a room.
Here's where Murphy's disregard for sexual crimes becomes apparent once again.
As soon as Gabriel is settled in and he's pumped his body full of drugs, he's visited by the various nefarious miscreants that have taken up residence in the hotel over the years, including a man in a white suit of some sort, who viciously shreds off his clothes and violently rapes him.
It's incredibly difficult to write a rape scene (as the Game of Thrones writers discovered), and it's even more difficult to try and convince audiences that depicting the horrific crime is absolutely necessary to move the story forward.
Too much of the time, writers use rape as a lazy device to add drama or conflict to a show, and until it was recently called out by various critics, it was an act salacious enough to garner attention the next day.
That's the worst part about this particular scene. There was no apparent reason why Greenfield's character had to be raped, nor was there enough time between introducing him on the show and showcasing the crude act to even hint that there was an underlying context for it.
Instead, the scene (which is broken down into two subsequent parts), is dragged out and shot from a variety of angles, almost as if Ryan was trying to take as much as he could out of the act to complete the scene.
The decaying cherry on this crappy sundae, however, is Sarah Paulson's character, Sally (a dead addict permanently stuck in '90s grunge clothing) whispering "the more you scream, the more he likes it" to Gabriel, while asking him to cry for her. For lack of a better word, it's sickening. The way the scene is framed and the dialogue that Murphy specifically wrote to go along with it, doesn't come off as a piece of quintessential horror genre writing, but instead sounds like courtroom testimony.
Unfortunately, the careless attitude about rape Murphy seems to use in Hotel isn't the first time he's exhibited it.
This is the third rape scene in five seasons of American Horror Story, and, just like the latest one, the other two were both equally unnecessary and so unimaginably sadistic it was downright baffling.
It's hard to focus on the entirety of the episode after the scene takes place, and even as I was watching it I could feel my mind drifting back to what just transpired, trying to wrap my head around it.
Still, the scene only makes up a few minutes of the episode, technically, and it's a shame it was so shockingly appalling — the rest of the premiere was rather promising.
Like a typical pilot, the episode spends the majority of its time introducing the audience to the various main players and dabbling into their backstories.
Two of the new characters in particular — The Countess Elizabeth (Lady Gaga) and Donovan (Matt Bomer) — are captivating, dripping with an aura of pure lust, sultrily walking around the barren building with the most confident of charismatic airs.
Their introduction, staged like a poorly lit Madonna music video from the '80s, establishes them as a vampiric team, using their obvious sex appeal to charm another couple at a graveyard movie screening to join them in an orgy back at the hotel.
It's a stark contrast to Greenfield's rape scene, and only further proves that Murphy didn't need to use the non-consensual act to spice up the overdramatic feeling the show has thrived on for years.
Instead, the orgy was consensual and still managed to come off as risky for a primetime audience. Even the final moment of the intense sexual encounter, which ends with Bomer and Gaga slitting the throats of the couple they've bedded and feasting on their blood, can be seen as reasonable. The deaths may be exasperatingly gory, but they were necessary for their survival.
As the season moves forward, it's extremely apparent that Murphy intends to make this one the most "edgy" yet, using sex, drugs and rock & roll to set the hotel's mood.
But as he proved with the pilot, there's a respectful way and arrogantly disrespectful way to write these types of scenes.
If there isn't a reason for the characters to suffer, the horror of the situation fades into the background and it becomes grotesque torture porn, written for no other reason than to exploit the characters and shock the audience.
Although, there is promise in one other storyline.
While all these supernatural misfits are running amok, there are other crimes occurring around Los Angeles that, of course, are somehow connected to the Hotel Cortez.
It's through these secondary crimes that we're introduced to Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), his wife Alex (Chloe Sevigny) and their daughter.
John and Alex's marriage has been on the edge of completely falling apart for some time, after their son, Holden, was abducted one day while riding a carousel at the local fair.
When John is put in charge of investigating the murder of a woman caught in the midst of a passionate affair with another man, it leads him to the hotel and directly back to his son, who's taken up residence there with a medley of other kids who were presumably also abducted.
Their arc may not have been the most interesting during the premiere, but it does offer the most hope for a continuous solid build up over the course of the season.
Murphy has a tendency to start off strong with his shows, especially American Horror Story, but, year after year, he loses his focus and the season falls apart midway through. Just look at last season's Freak Show.
Overall, however, while I suspect the newest season premiere drew in high ratings and may even draw some critical applause, it's impossible for me to get past that rape scene. Everything that occurred within the 70-minutes following it seemed to fade into the background.
Murphy has proven he's capable of writing better, stronger arcs for his characters over the course of his career with shows like Nip/Tuck and Glee. It's about time he started bringing that specific style of writing, which garnered him a fanbase in the first place, to American Horror Story: Hotel.