“Be Our Guest” begins with what feels like an apology, as Liz Taylor states “We started with such high hopes.” Really that could be true of any season of American Horror Story, which typically start off strong, then throw too much into their insane pots, then spend the majority of the season digging out of them. For some reason, this seems to be even more of a problem when AHS is set in modern day times,
But Hotel started off with disappointment right from the beginning. Like an actual hotel, Hotel had so many different stories going on at one time, without any of them really intersecting properly. Honestly, what was Hotel even about? Addiction, or love lost or letting go? What was the main story? Was it The Countess’ search for…whatever? James Patrick March’s orchestration of everyone around him? Maybe it was supposed to be about the meek (Liz and Iris) inheriting the earth (the Hotel Cortez)?
As previously mentioned, it seems like whenever AHS goes to the modern day, the story becomes far more convoluted and confused than in seasons set in the past. Coven also never nailed down a main idea—combining themes of racism, feeling left out, rape, popularity and plenty of other ideas—instead of having a main focus. Comparatively, let’s look at Freak Show, my favorite season of AHS and the most streamlined season. Almost every aspect of Freak Show focused on the idea of family and trying to keep that family together, despite whatever problems occur. There’s some of that near the end of Hotel, but it comes off too little too late.
“Be Our Guest” is first and foremost about cleaning up the leftovers, filling in the gaps that have been left and trying to make some sense out of them. Regardless of how bad a season of AHS Hotel might be, it’s always had strong female characters, but they’re the ones that got the short end of the stick this time around. For example, Ramona Royale is used in “Be Our Guest” as little more than a threat and as a model. Hypodermic Sally sates her desire for murdering people by going onto the internet—another thinly veiled attack from Ryan Murphy towards the internet and critics. Even Iris, who has been one of the more interesting characters, doesn’t quite get a scene to herself (outside last week’s) that gives her any sense of a conclusion.
At the very least, Hotel did give us Liz Taylor, a character who works because there were multiple layers to her. Unlike almost every other character at the hotel, there’s depth to her, there’s pain and fear underneath her eyes, but a power that forces her to move forward. James Patrick March was an immediately fun character, but the show underplayed his orchestrator importance to this entire season, not quite giving him the horrific side to his persona that March needed. Despite that though, these have been Evan Peters and Denis O’Hare’s finest performances in the American Horror Story universe. If Hotel had given us even a few more characters as interesting as Liz and James Patrick March, or focused on background a bit more with our characters, Hotel would have been a much more complete package.
More than most seasons though, Hotel just wants to get rid of its loose ends as easily as possible, regardless of how little it makes sense for the greater story. I highly doubt Sally was created to end up becoming a social media dynamo in the long run. Did anyone really care about how Will Drake was going to take care of the hotel, now that he’s dead? I doubt it. There’s no cohesion to this season and these stories, and how poorly they end only showcases how American Horror Story is far too often all about strong beginnings, and not enough about the middle and the end of stories.
Even in its final episode, AHS tries to pull together some semblance of a goal for its “ghost meeting” of characters. Iris and Liz are afraid that, with pretty much every single guest of the Hotel Cortez dying, maybe they’re not going to stay in business. James Patrick March suggests that they stop killing until 2026, when the hotel will become 100 years old, therefore allowing for it to become a historical landmark. This is the first time we have heard about this, almost as if AHS decided there needs to be some purpose for the hotel, or some reason for everyone to work together. Had these ghost meetings been a more integral part to the entire series (or the idea that all the ghosts and the Hotel Cortez group was one makeshift family from the beginning), maybe there would’ve been a strong idea to center the show around. But unfortunately, “Be Our Guest” gives us structure at the very end, almost as if the show is now finally aware that none of what came before it really made all that much sense.
We started with such high hopes. Hotel had promise. This was the first time for American Horror Story to set itself apart without the help of Jessica Lange and the first season expressly set to tie together its seasons. But no one quite had the chops of Lange and rarely were the characters as interesting as past seasons. Plus the promise of tying in previous seasons’ characters were almost completely unnecessary. Hotel had potential, which was squandered early on, and it never recovered. When Hotel paid attention to character and background, the show excelled, but more often than not, it decided to shock rather than to compel. Maybe next time American Horror Story will live up to those high hopes it keeps giving us.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.