American Horror Story: Hotel is the fifth season of the FX horror anthology television series American Horror Story. It premiered on October 7, 2015, and concluded January 13, 2016. The series was renewed in October 2014, with the subtitle Hotel being announced in February 2015. Hotel marks the first season to not feature series mainstays Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy. Returning cast from previous seasons of the series include: Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Denis O'Hare, Lily Rabe, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Chloë Sevigny, Finn Wittrock, Wes Bentley, Gabourey Sidibe, Mare Winningham, Matt Bomer, Christine Estabrook, Matt Ross, John Carroll Lynch, and Anthony Ruivivar, along with new cast members Lady Gaga and Cheyenne Jackson. Breaking from the anthological format, like Freak Show, the season is interconnected to the first and third seasons, and features an appearance by the Murder House, its original owner Dr. Charles Montgomery (Ross), its realtor Marcy (Estabrook), and the psychic Billie Dean Howard (Paulson), as well as the appearance of the witch Queenie (Sidibe).
The plot centers around the enigmatic Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles, California, that catches the eye of an intrepid homicide detective (Bentley). The Cortez is host to the strange and bizarre, spearheaded by its owner, The Countess (Gaga), who is a bloodsucking fashionista. The hotel is loosely based on an actual hotel built in 1893 by H. H. Holmes in Chicago, Il. for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. It became known as the 'Murder Castle' as it was built for Holmes to torture, murder, and dispose of evidence just as is the Cortez. This season features two murderous threats in the form of the Ten Commandments Killer, a serial offender who selects his victims in accordance with biblical teachings, and "the Addiction Demon", who roams the hotel armed with a drill bit dildo.
According to creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, thematically, Hotel is much darker than previous seasons. Inspiration came from old hotel horror films and actual hotels situated in downtown Los Angeles with a reputation for sinister events, including the Cecil. The cycle also marks a return to filming in Los Angeles, where the first two seasons were shot. Hotel features one of the most expansive sets in American Horror Story history, with production designer Mark Worthington building two stories on a soundstage, along with a working elevator and stairway. In July 2015, FX launched a marketing campaign for the series, with most trailers and teasers touting Gaga's involvement.
Although Hotel was originally reported to consist of thirteen episodes (à la Asylum, Coven, and Freak Show), that number was later revised to twelve (à la Murder House). The season garnered a total of eight Emmy Award nominations, including two acting nominations for Paulson and Bates. It was the first time, however, that a season of American Horror Story was not nominated for Outstanding Limited Series. In addition, Gaga won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Mini-Series or Television Film while Hotel received a nomination for Best Mini-Series or Television Film.
The fifth season of American Horror Story focuses on the Downtown Los Angeles Hotel Cortez which has been recently purchased by a New York fashion designer, Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson). The 90 year old hotel is haunted by demons and mysterious ghosts including the founder, James Patrick March (Evan Peters); heroin junkie Sally (Sarah Paulson); and the strap-on-wielding Addiction Demon. Staff and residents of the hotel include the 111-year-old "vampire", Elizabeth/The Countess (Lady Gaga), and her fleeting paramour, the former drug-addict Donovan (Matt Bomer), as well as Donovan's mother, the manager and front desk clerk Iris (Kathy Bates); the eccentric transgender bartender Liz Taylor (Denis O'Hare); and the Countess' vengeance-obsessed lover, Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett).
As the season unfolds, the information and backstory of each character is revealed. Elizabeth was married to James March and had an illegal abortion at the Murder House (of AHS Season One) back in 1926. Ramona was a Hollywood actress who had a romantic past with Elizabeth, before the latter killed Ramona's new boyfriend in a jealous rage. Liz was formerly known as Nick Pryor and lived in Topeka, Kansas up until 1984 when she was given a makeover and christened as Liz Taylor by Elizabeth. Sally, after supplying Donovan heroin, was shoved out a window by an angered Iris. Finally, James tortured and murdered many visitors to his hotel, which he built with a series of secret chutes and hallways used primarily for covertly disposing the bodies of his victims.
The present and past stories of the Hotel are interwoven with the present tale of Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), who is first drawn to the hotel by a series of murders committed by a serial killer the victims of whom each exemplify a sin in violation of one of the Ten Commandments, and his wife, Dr. Alex Lowe (Chloe Sevigny). As the season unfolds, it is revealed that certain past events — including the earlier disappearance of Lowe's young son Holden — are also entangled in the stories of the Countess and the Hotel Cortez.