"American Horror Story: Hotel" closed its doors Wednesday, ending an episode earlier than any season since "Murder House" aired in 2011. (This is actually not the worst news in the world, given how bloated and off-track some elements of the "Coven" and "Freak Show" finales felt. Sometimes less IS more.)
What a wild ride this season has been — yes, it suffers from problems with cast bloat, and Lady Gaga is hardly the unifying, grounding presence that Jessica Lange was, but all in all, it's been a largely satisfying one. This is due in no small part to Denis O'Hare, whose performance as Liz Taylor has served as the heart of this season in virtually every way.
So much for a happy ending? We open with Liz Taylor explaining, via voice-over, that since all the previous hotel owners were dead, she and Iris had high hopes for a new era at the Cortez. Now that the two of them are running things (#BFFs!), there are grand plans for many improvements — in everything from the Cortez's decor to its clientele. But since the next thing we see is Liz getting her throat slit, well, it's a pretty good sign that things don't turn out exactly as planned.
Wait — how the heck did that happen? Time for a flashback to explain. A random couple arrives at the hotel during the Cortez's grand reopening. Iris and Liz suck up to these folks pretty hard, convinced they're online critics. They tout the fact they've renovated everything from the sheets to the bathrooms. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten to deal with the ghost problem, since Hypodermic Sally and Will Drake both pop up to murder their new guests before they can get comfortable or leave the Cortez any positive feedback on Yelp.
Can't live with the dead people, can' t live without them. Liz and Iris are furious, as the Cortez will never be profitable if the ghosts keep killing all their customers. They call a house meeting with all their undead residents, including Sally, Will, Miss Evers, Marcy from "Murder House," those two Swedish girls from the first episode, and a couple other randoms. Liz and Iris make a business-based plea for everybody to please stop killing the folks who are keeping the lights on, but Sally and Will resist.
Luckily for Team Cortez, Mr. March appears and takes their side. He says it's a practical matter, and if they want to keep their home intact they all have to get with the program. Especially since no one knows what will happen to all the ghosts if Iris and Liz get evicted and the building is torn down.
Sally gets a new lease on her (after)life. After the meeting, Iris goes to see Sally, who's still really upset about the new murder ban. Iris insists Sally hasn't been the same since John left and tells her she needs to get a life. So she gives Sally an iPhone and a WiFi password, and says that she never has to be alone again, because the Internet exists.
And that's how Sally becomes mildly Internet famous — via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook she makes herself a whole new family of online friends who hang on her every tweet and post. She learns to enjoy life once more and even throws her drug stash out the window. All thanks to the power of social media! (Don't let people tell you the Internet doesn't change lives, y'all.)
Back to the Will situation. Meanwhile, Liz is busy fixing Will's life. Turns out he's been acting out because he's been dead a year and hasn't had anything to do — plus, he's shocked to learn his business has been slowly dying as a result of his real-world disappearance.
Liz gives him a pep talk: The spirits who've made peace with their afterlife in the Cortez all know that if they want to feel like they matter, they have to have a purpose, and he needs to find his again. She encourages him to start designing again, and volunteers to help, insisting that she was a salesman in another life and is a style goddess now, so she's perfect for the gig. Liz says Will doesn't even have to be dead if he doesn't want to, as long as he's OK with being a weird recluse who never leaves the property. Will looks hopeful.
And that's how Liz Taylor ends up running a fashion company. She gets to wear 5-inch Gucci heels and boss a bunch of irritating old guys around, so it really IS perfect for her. They make Will's reclusiveness part of the mystery, hold fashion shows in the hotel lobby and turn the Cortez ghosts into models. Even Ramona gets into it.
Another "Muder House" connection! The only real downside is that Liz's sudden entry into the fashion world makes her depressed. She's really missing Tristan, since he was a model and fashion was his thing. Iris is there for her BFF though, and brings a medium to the hotel, in the hopes they can figure out why they've never seen him even though he died on the property. The medium, of course, turns out to be Billie Dean Howard from "Murder House," the psychic that Constance hired to try to convince her dead son to move on (Sarah Paulson, who played Billie in Season 1, pulls double character duty in this episode.)
Liz is super excited about the possibility of talking to Tristan, and Billie is super excited about being in the Cortez, which is apparently notorious in the paranormal community. They attempt to contact Tristan, but his spirit — through Billie — says he doesn't want to talk to Liz. Devastated, Liz immediately assumes it's because he blames her for his death. (And honestly, if O'Hare doesn't win an Emmy for this, I am writing someone a very stern letter.)
Iris pipes up that maybe Billie got it wrong, and wasn't talking to Tristan after all. Billie suddenly asks who Donovan is. Iris is stunned — and afraid, because Donovan shouldn't be in the Cortez. Billie says he isn't, that he's somewhere beautiful where it's always Saturday morning and there are pancakes. Through Billie, Donovan tells his mother he loves her and Iris starts crying. Liz is happy for her friend, even though she's hurting about the Tristan thing.
Welcome to the rest of Liz's life. Liz isn't sad for long, though, because her son Douglas contacts her again. She meets his wife, Janice, and they get along great, and when her granddaughter Isabella is born, Liz is right there. She adores being a grandmother, and having a family again, and begins to think the world has hope for her after all.
So of course she gets diagnosed with untreatable cancer pretty much immediately. Ramona, who is also apparently an amazing friend, offers to turn her, but Liz doesn't want that — she doesn't like blood anyway, and she really can' t imagine killing to live. But she does have a plan — and that's to kill herself in the Cortez so she can stay there.
Yes, the opening scene was actually Liz dying on purpose. She gathers all the Cortez ghosts together and asks them to please murder her, so that she can stay in the hotel with them — her family — forever. Everyone gets teary, because everyone loves Liz, and agrees to help. But, of course, it's the Countess who shows up out of nowhere to do the honor of slitting Liz's throat, and the two finally mend the rift between them — all while "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" plays in the background. It's kind of amazing.
Bonus: As Liz looks down at her dead body, Tristan appears. He tells Liz he always loved her and only refused to talk to her because she had more living to do. Liz cries and they grin at each other and it's super adorable.
Basically: This is the happiest episode of a horror show ever.
But there's still twenty minutes to go, so... Even though Liz's death and the Countess' return seem to largely tie up most storylines, there are still 20 minutes of the episode to go. (Pacing, Ryan Murphy. Please work on pacing next year.)
So suddenly it's Devil's Night — the night before Halloween — in 2022. And John Lowe returns, because he's just magically summoned when things are in danger of getting too interesting. Somehow he hasn't aged a day, and obviously this is because he's dead. Turns out that after he and Alex stole Holden, the whole family had to go on the run. They eventually end up back at the Cortez, because of course they do, and John keeps on murdering through the years, though he becomes a "Dexter"-like figure who only goes after those who "deserve it." He ends up being shot by police and dies just outside the Cortez property, so Devil's Night is the only time he can be reunited with his family. (Yes, even Scarlett, who has through her own powers of amazing self-preservation survived boarding school and stayed human and relatively sane through all this.)
Meanwhile, Billie has been doing a series of prime-time specials about all the paranormal activity at the Cortez, and it's been great for business. But she's never managed to interview the Ten Commandments Killer, who is pretty much her white whale. This year, John finally decides to grant her an interview, and even invites her to come along to the murderers' dinner party upstairs. Once there, she meets the world's most infamous killers, and they give her a group ultimatum: She can either leave and never mention the Cortez ever again or be killed and trapped in it. Billie, wisely, decides to peace out immediately. Problem solved!
And just like that, all's well at the "Hotel." The season closes with the Countess, lurking at the Cortez bar and honing in on another new boytoy with "a jawline for days.'
Everything old really is new again, I guess.
Concluding odds and ends
- Other than the boring John Lowe bits, I kind of loved this ending. Yeah it’s SUPER saccharine, but I think after four years of “AHS” seasons with bizarrely happy endings, I think we have to accept it’s just Murphy’s thing.
- My guess for next season’s setting? That boarding school people kept mentioning. The one where Will’s Boring Kid Whose Name I Can’t Remember and Scarlett got sent to.
- Second Season 6 prediction: Lange will make a return. Even if it’s just for an episode.
Thanks for reading this season. Want to engage in some wild, baseless speculation about next year? Hit me up on Twitter: @LacyMB