Spoiler alert: Do not read on unless you’ve seen episode 12 of “American Horror Story: Hotel,” titled “Be Our Guest.”
“American Horror Story” brings many words to mind: “violence,” “sex,” etc. “Emotional” is not usually one of those, but the “Hotel” finale is just that, thanks in large part to Denis O’Hare’s standout performance as Liz Taylor that should garner some Emmy attention. For arguably the darkest season of “AHS” to cap off with a happy ending is hardly expected, but it’s welcomed, even as some of the most horrible characters are given warm sendoffs.
The episode starts with Liz getting her throat slashed, but her narration, which hangs above the entire episode, lets us know that we’re not necessarily seeing some terrible end. But to back up quite a bit, Liz and Iris (Kathy Bates) have renovated the Hotel Cortez. Everything looks great: The pair liquidated the Countess’ (Lady Gaga) art for money to spruce up the appearance, but they still need some good Yelp reviews to bring in customers.
Luckily, two reviewers come along, and they seem impressed with what they’ve done with the place. That doesn’t last long, however. The Hotel Cortez faces a unique problem: the ghosts keep killing the guests, which no amount of money can solve. Sally (Sarah Paulson) kills one reviewer, with Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), “new to the murder game,” taking the life of the other. Understandably concerned, Liz and Iris hold a meeting with the ghosts because, as Iris puts it, “If the ghosts keep killing the guests, we’re going to have zero stars.” Miss Evers (Mare Winningham) can only do so much.
The ghost meeting brings back some old characters that died in the hotel, including the real estate agent who was also in “Murder House,” Vendela and Agnetha and even Darren Criss’ character. Liz and Iris make a reasonable request: for the ghosts to stop killing. Really, the only offenders of the crime are Sally and Will, and they protest. Sally wants to keep collecting souls until she finds “the one,” and Will — well, what else does Will have to do?
But James March (Evan Peters) comes in to lay down the law, driving home the “no killing” rule. Sally points out the irony of this, but March has apparently turned over a new leaf after passing his serial killer torch to John Lowe (Wes Bentley). March hangs a chilling threat over Sally’s head: If she doesn’t comply, she faces torture at the hands of the Addiction Demon.
Later, Iris tries to relate to Sally — Donovan left Iris, just as John left Sally. But it’s Iris’ (actually rather thoughtful) gift to her that really perks Sally up. The fancy new Hotel Cortez has free wifi in every room, and Iris presents her with a tablet, loaded with Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… the works. If Sally can’t find love in the hotel, she can surely find it with access to the Internet.
And that she does. Who knew Sally was born to become an Instagram celebrity? She comes to life once again, with more love than she knows what to do with pouring in from every corner of the globe. With Iris having satisfied Sally, Liz turns to Will, a nut that proves harder to crack. Will still feels uninspired, but Liz hands him a sketchpad. Will protests that a fashion brand needs a face, but Liz is up to the task. “Cut me, and I bleed Dior,” she tells him.
Will takes the bait, and Liz becomes his businessperson, able to march into meetings whereas Will’s trapped in the hotel. Liz manages their budding company expertly: they hold small, private shows in the Hotel Cortez, featuring a cast of ghosts to model the garments, with cameras and phones banned. The mystery of where Will has gone off to only adds to their fashionable brand.
Liz comes into her own, but is still dissatisfied. She misses Tristan (Finn Wittrock). In an attempt to cheer her up, Iris brings in someone new — or, to veteran “AHS” viewers, a familiar face. Paulson reprises her role from “Murder House,” Billie Dean Howard, the psychic who has now become something of a celebrity. Billie tries to reach Tristan, and actually succeeds, but Tristan doesn’t want to talk to her. Heartbroken, Liz proclaims, “Love kills a lot more than hate.”
It’s not all bad, however. In fact, Billie is able to contact Donovan (Matt Bomer), who seems to have found a beautiful place in the afterlife. “I love you, Mom,” he tells Iris, finally giving her peace. And it’s not all bleak for Liz, either. She’s back in her son’s life, and has even bonded with his wife. When she becomes a grandmother, she says she “never thought life could be this good.”
We’re reminded, though, that Liz, unlike most of the other characters, is mortal. She comes down with terminal prostate cancer. Ramona offers to turn her, but Liz refuses. She’s too kind to kill to live. The alternative is to become a ghost in the hotel, which Liz decides to do, offering her family of ghosts, who have come to love her, the opportunity to kill her. Just as they’re about to do the deed, the Countess enters, and despite their issues, Liz actually missed her. “You were always my fondest creation,” the Countess admits. In an emotional scene, the Countess is the one to slit Liz’s throat, and Liz dies peacefully.
Once a ghost, Liz is finally able to find what she’s been looking for: Tristan. He returns to her, and tells her he always loved her. Liz just had “more living to do,” and he couldn’t get in the way of that. In death, Liz finally gets her happy ending.
But Billie has become something of a pest. After discovering that the Hotel Cortez is a hotbed for paranormal activity, she’s constantly there, shooting specials and hurting the brand that Liz and Iris worked so hard to create. Leave it to our old friend John, now dead, to take care of the issue.
John, better known to the public as the Ten Commandments Killer, is the ultimate prize for Billie, but she’s never able to contact him. He throws her a bone on Devil’s Night of 2022, finally speaking to her. We learn that he’s become a “Dexter”-like killer of sorts, killing only those who “deserve it.” But after struggling, he, Alex (Chloe Sevigny) and Holden returned to the Hotel Cortez — letting Scarlet go to have a chance at a normal life (thank goodness).
John was caught by police, however, who shot him right in from of the hotel. John tries to crawl to the hotel, but doesn’t make it, so he can only return on Devil’s Night. He offers to show Billie Devil’s Night, who doesn’t even skip a beat. He leads her to the annual feast, and she quickly learns that she’s in way over her head.
Here, we’re re-introduced to the infamous serial killers: John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos (played by “AHS” vet Lily Rabe), Richard Ramirez and, of course, March. They give her an ultimatum: never bring up the Hotel Cortez again, or be killed and trapped in it. She points out that they can’t follow her outside of the hotel, but Ramona (Angela Bassett) can — and that’s more than enough to drive Billie out.
Even the Lowe family gets a joyful conclusion, with Scarlet, who seems to be growing into a somewhat normal young woman, visiting once a year. The season closes with a shot of the bar at the Hotel Cortez, bustling with business.
The Countess finds a young man, who’s there for some adventure on Devil’s Night. And if Lady Gaga’s last line of the season is any indication, he’s found it: “You have a jawline for days.”