January 14, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “American Horror Story: Hotel”


Despite all the blood-drinkers, vengeful ghosts and homicidal maniacs on hand, the most frightening aspect of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL may have been the sight of Lady Gaga picking up a Golden Globe for her blank imitation of a performance as the hotel’s Catherine-Deneuve-in-The Hunger-like mannequin murderess.  (Gaga, it turns out, is sadly Madonna-like in her acting prowess.)  With the exception of whatever that thing was that burst through mattresses to kill guests, there wasn’t very much about Hotel that was throat-clutching.  Instead, it was the most claustrophobic version yet of what’s become series co-creator Ryan Murphy’s chosen Horror Story format of genre mash-ups that roam through the decades, laced with maudlin, lonely killers who only want to be loved.

Tonight’s final hour, though, written by Executive Story Editor John J. Gray and directed by Bradley Buecker, was the franchise at its wittiest and most mellow.  It offered showcases to two of Horror Story‘s favorite performers, Denis O’Hare and Sarah Paulson.  The episode was essentially an epilogue to the main story that had ended with the murder of The Countess (Gaga) last week, and its first half was dominated by trans bartender Liz Taylor (O’Hare), one of the story’s few humans, who labored with blood-drinker and literal BFF Iris (Kathy Bates) to keep the Hotel Cortez functioning, since its crowd of ghosts would be less homeless if the hotel were ever shut down.  To that end, Liz became a veritable ghost muse, guiding bitter, wasted junkie prostitute Sally (Paulson) to a fulfilling existence on social media, and taking charge of fashion designer Will’s (Cheyenne Jackson) empire.  When Liz was finally stricken with prostate cancer (“the first woman ever”), The Countess emerged from her post-death seclusion to slit Liz’s throat, allowing for another eternal guest.

The second half allowed Paulson to double, playing the medium Billie Dean Howard, whom she’d played in Horror Story‘s very first season.  (Along the course of the this season, several figures from earlier Horror Story years made appearances, notably Gabourey Sidibe’s witch from Coven.)  In an epilogue to the epilogue, set in 2022, Billie Dean, now a reality TV star, was dissuaded from exploiting the Cortez any further by a stint as the guest of honor at one of James Patrick Marsh’s (Evan Peters) Devil’s Night dinners with its guest list that included a table full of serial killers including Jeffrey Dahner and John Wayne Gacy, led by Marsh’s own protege, the 10 Commandments Killer (and former homicide detective) John Lowe (Wes Bentley).  The episode was so good-natured, though, that it let Billie Dean live, after which John went peacefully to sleep with his vampire wife (Chloe Sevigny), ageless son, and very accepting human daughter.

As American Horror Story seasons go, Hotel had more internal logic than Freak Show, but less emotional cohesion than Coven, and it lacked the what-the-hell sheer craziness of Asylum.  It had the series’ most spectacular set (heavily influenced by The Shining, among other sources) and was also the first season not to feature Jessica Lange, and while Lady Gaga probably played a version of what would have been Lange’s role, there was no comparison in acting chops.  There were, however, meaty roles for Angela Bassett and Mare Winningham as well as Paulson, O’Hare, Bates and Bentley, and after several seasons of watching Evan Peters play variations of a dumb hunk, it was great fun to see him ham it up as a Jazz Age lunatic who seemed to be part radio-show announcer.

American Horror Story remains one of FX’s biggest hits, and it’s already been renewed for a 6th season.  Hoping for it to make more sense or have a more consistent tone seems beside the point; it’s established itself as a highly visual spectacle of extreme violence–TV’s version of a midnight cult movie–and as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously, or feature too many stars who are performance artists more than actors, it should go on slaughtering its casts for some time to come.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."