Even in the penultimate episode of the season, American Horror Story is staying completely on brand, with plots that go absolutely nowhere, gross ideas just for the sake of it and a general wasting of time. With its best seasons, at the very least, American Horror Story has made these elements work for itself rather than against it, but as Hotel soon comes to a screeching halt, so much feels inconsequential and more frustrating than fun.
“Battle Royale” boils down to characters desperately trying to be close to those they love and failing miserably. We get some sort of background for Sally—too little, too late—who had two musician friends/lovers who relied on her for their drugs. After a lovemaking session at the Hotel Cortez, she decided to sew her and her friends together, as they died of ODs. She doesn’t want to lose anyone, obviously, but just to make sure we know, Sally states that fact for the audience members who can’t get that after she remains sewn to dead bodies. Sally saves The Countess’ life after Liz and Iris’ shooting spree and demands that she bring John back to her for good as payment.
We already know that Sally has abandonment issues, yet “Battle Royale” decides that we need another example of this, and oh yeah, a back story, since she really is a nothing character. From the first episode’s brutal rape, to her ripping herself away from her stitches in this episode, Sally has been little more than a former junkie that American Horror Story can utilize for whatever gross imagery it can create, hoping it will attract an audience.
Then there’s Ramona Royale, who still can’t let go of The Countess’ betrayal from decades ago either, but her plot in “Battle Royale” largely feels like a way to take up time. Liz and Iris go to get Ramona from the closed wing to find that she’s gotten loose, and drank the blood of a lot of children. But she still needs more. As she says, she needs to take a life to bring her back.
Lucky for her, the Hotel Cortez is getting ready to have a new and familiar occupant: Queenie from AHS: Coven. Ramona attacks, but doesn’t realize that Queenie is not only a witch, but a human voodoo doll. Every time she hurts herself, the wounds appear on the person of her choosing. Despite this, she is killed by James Patrick March, because apparently, she may be a witch, but he’s a ghost. Alright, I guess that makes some sense?
With Ramona full, and with witch blood coursing through her veins, she finally goes to kill the Countess. But the Countess is already pretty down, having to kill her vampire children to sustain her life, so she apologizes to Ramona. Instead of killing the Countess, Ramona has sex with her, while the Countess is planning on leaving immediately after. On her way out, the she is met by John, who shoots her dead. For real this time.
The problem with this segment—which takes up a large part of “Battle Royale”—is how little any of it matters and how it illuminated how little of this season matters in hindsight. Now that John has killed Ramona to fulfill his final “thou shalt not kill” Ten Commandments murder, it becomes abundantly clear how that Ramona wasn’t all that important. Also it makes the Countess’ vampire children and the vampire children whose blood Ramona drank seem completely irrelevant after all. The Countess didn’t really seem to have any reason to have those kids around, except to eventually drink them dry and the renegade group of vampire kids had no purpose in the end other than to feed Ramona.
But maybe worst of all is how Hotel is starting to even bring characters from other seasons. Coven is, for my money, the worst season of AHS by far, but even I think bringing Queenie in as nothing more than a snack is a pretty lame way to connect them. Hotel claimed it was going to bring back characters and locations from the past seasons, but if this and the one flashback we saw weeks ago are it, maybe it’s better if these seasons stay separated.
Where “Battle Royale” fails in overarching, large plots, it succeeds in minor characters. It’s always fun to catch Iris and Liz on adventures together, and Iris gets a wonderful scene where she drags her dying son Donovan outside and he finally calls her mom. Once again, we have another character who has a hard time saying goodbye, as she takes his ashes and rubs them all over her. Now that Donovan is truly gone, she finally can move forward without constantly trying to make him happy.
The same goes for Miss Evers, who admits to James Patrick March that she was the one that called the cops on him so they could commit suicide together, staying with each other forever. It’s a fantastic scene with Evers finally coming clean (no pun intended) about her feelings, and begging him to accept her. Of course he doesn’t, especially now that the Countess’ monthly visit is now daily and eternal, and he banishes her from his presence. Instead of getting upset, Evers once again feels free of her burden and leaves. Considering how big American Horror Story always is, it’s great to get a quiet, nuanced performance or scene for once.
Yet as we go into the final episode next week, the most exciting character remains March, who has had so many people he’s been using in an attempt to render the Countess dead and with him forever. Now that the Countess is dead and John’s murder spree is over, he doesn’t really have any more goals for himself.
Hotel has been a mess and “Battle Royale” expressly showcases that mess, with few things mattering and very few characters given true purpose this season. “Battle Royale” is wasted space, an opportunity to tie up loose ends before the finale, but instead it continues to meander, giving inconsequential plots and disgusting diversions. At this point, there’s no real way for Hotel to recover from the mess its made. Maybe it’s just better to let go.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.