Only a few episodes into the fifth season of American Horror Story, the concept of the dual self has emerged time and again. This is not revolutionary as historically, society loves a great binary.[i] Consider Freud’s concepts of Eros and Thanatos, or on a more basic level think about Donald Duck in Donald’s Better Self (1938) where he battles between his inner angel and devil. This notion that we have dual drives or dual selves seems ingrained. Theoretically, it is humans’ ability for a higher level of thought that distinguishes us as a species, but it is exactly this penchant for thought that also drives us mad. It is telling that Hotel uses the peephole as a symbol, since the peephole can be seen as a portal to the other side of the door. It reveals the outside of your inside, only visible through one side, posing a distorted view through the other. There is no clear reality through the peephole.
In American Horror Story: Hotel the characters straddle several dichotomous worlds. Like a sadistic see-saw, each person tries to navigate life/death, visible/invisible, light/dark, control/unregulated, and reality/mind until they discover who they really are. Supporting this binary world is the language of the hotel’s inhabitants: within the first five episodes several characters, including Iris (Kathy Bates), Sally (Sarah Paulson), Detective Lowe (Wes Bentley), Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare), and the Countess (Lady Gaga), articulate the fractured self: “We have two selves and there are some places inside that have sat too cold and dark for too long.” “Control is an illusion, and I gave into the illusion.” “Feeling invisible? You see everything and the world doesn’t see you.” “We have two selves; one the world needs us to be, compliant, and the Shadow. Ignore it and life is forever suffering.”