SPOILERS: If you haven’t seen last night’s conclusion to American Horror Story: Hotel, GTFO. If you have, get ready for a short but bumpy ride.
I love American Horror Story: Hotel and have watched every single episode of AHS. As one of the few horror shows on TV — and one of the few that consistently features empowered women and LGBT people in lead roles — I start each season wanting it to be the best goddamned horror series that ever was… and yet, the last three seasons have all consistently let me down.
In short, why does Ryan Murphy insist on making most of AHS‘ finales heartwarming family episodes? Basically everyone gets murdered, but it’s okay because they all get to live in ghost heaven. It happened with the Harmons at the end of Murder House (season one), it happened with the sideshow performers of Freak Show (season four) and it happened again last night with Hotel.
Murphy’s vision has always involved freakish families of societal outcasts finally finding a home, but with the third iteration of essentially the same AHS finale, it’s revealed itself as formulaic and lazy writing, pure and simple.
Yes, I realize, Asylum and Coven were different – Asylum was brilliant and Coven was meh, but they didn’t kill off their entire cast — so we’re not really talking about those.
I also realize that last night’s episode had plenty to admire: Hypodermic Sally cleans up and finds a second-life as a spectral social media sensation (unexpected), the Ten Commandments Killer finds a way to maintain a one-night-a-year relationship with his daughter (bittersweet!) and the imminently watchable Liz Taylor becomes a fashion magnate, eventually reuniting with the Countess for his final blood transformation (heart-touching). We even got to see Lily Rabe reprise her excellent role as bisexual serial killer Aileen Wuornos — can Aileen please show up in every AHS from now until the end of time?
The season started off so great and actual held it together throughout most of its tenure: it kept the serial killer around (and made him somewhat sympathetic like Twisty the Clown and Bloody Face), the gang of vampire measles kids were a great bit of satire and a weird take on “viral culture” and Hypodermic Sally, Liz Taylor the otherworldly Countess both served serious face week-to-week: I couldn’t resist coming back. But despite these innovations we ended up with the same old bleh ending.
There’s two big issues with the climax: first, if you can simply die and come back as a corporeal ghost, capable of conducting business and raising kids in the show’s main setting, death loses its sting. There are no real stakes because if you die, hey! You can still fuck, hug, make phone calls, sign business contracts and kill — no biggie!
Second, the heart-warming finales reveal the show’s bigger flaw: IT ISN’T REALLY ALL THAT SCARY TO BEGIN WITH. The show is a little creepy, but the closest this season got to genuine scares were the drill-dicked Addiction Demon and the ghastly Ten Commandment murder scenes. Apart from that, I don’t think anyone has left AHS genuinely scared for the last three seasons. The show’s opening sequences are often scarier than the show itself, and the overall lack of genuine scares — even more than its shitty finales — is the biggest let down of all.