‘American Horror Story’ 5.12 Recap: “We Started with Such High Hopes”

The ‘Hotel’ season of ‘American Horror Story’ finally closed its doors last week. Like many seasons of the show, this one started out with great promise but petered out over time. Also like many seasons of the show, the finale went off in a weird direction that doesn’t entirely work.

Considering that she was the star of the show this season, Lady Gaga has only a bare minimum of screen time in the finale. While yes, it’s true that her character died in the previous episode, she also came back as a ghost, and death hasn’t exactly stopped any other character from hanging around. Nevertheless, she only appears briefly in the finale.

The episode opens with Liz’s throat being slashed, then we flash back a bit to see how that happened. With the Countess dead (and her ghost apparently acting like a recluse), Liz and Iris have taken over the hotel. They stage a “Grand Reopening” and try to impress a pair of internet travel bloggers by putting them up in a recently refurbished room. Unfortunately, Sally and Will Drake aren’t on board with this plan, and promptly murder the critics.

Iris and Liz call a meeting of all the ghosts in the hotel (at least, those who’d show up) and ask them to stop murdering the guests. Sally and Will have no remorse and refuse to play along. James March steps in and unexpectedly sides with Liz and Iris. He says that he feels fulfilled now that the Ten Commandments murders are completed. He informs the group that the building will turn 100-years-old in 2026, at which point it can be declared a historical landmark for preservation purposes. In the meantime, they need to keep it running to stave off foreclosure and demolition. Will’s fashion empire has crumbled ever since he went missing and his money is running out.

Iris later meets up with Sally separately to make a personal appeal. Knowing that Sally’s greatest pain is her unending loneliness, Iris gives her a smartphone and teaches her how to use the internet so that she can connect with the world again. The plan works. Sally becomes a social media star and even gives up drugs.

Liz convinces Will to start designing again. Because he can’t leave the hotel, she’ll act as his proxy and run the company for him. He’ll just tell the world that he’s holed up in his happy place and doesn’t want to leave. Will holds exclusive, private runway shows at the hotel, with the ghosts there (including Ramona and Sally) modeling his clothes. Since no cameras are allowed (because ghosts can’t be photographed), these events become a word-of-mouth sensation in the fashion community.

Where Things Start to Fall Apart

I found it annoying earlier in the season when Finn Wittrock started playing a second character (Valentino) one episode after his first (Tristan) was killed off. Did the show-runners think we wouldn’t recognize or remember him?

Unfortunately, the producers double-down on that frustrating conceit here by having Sarah Paulson reprise her character from Season 1, the psychic medium Billy Dean Howard. She does this literally one scene after we’d just seen her as Hypodermic Sally. Now, sure, the characters dress differently and Bill Dean is a lot cleaner than Sally, but they’re both still clearly Sarah Paulson. Was there really a need to do this?

Iris invites Billy Dean to the hotel for Liz’s benefit in the hopes that the psychic will be able to contact Tristan, who’s been strangely silent since the Countess murdered him in the hotel. He should have shown up as a ghost by now. Instead of reaching Tristan, Billy Dean talks to Donovan, who asks her to relay the message that he loves his mom. Iris feels a weight lift off her heart.

Liz may not hear from Tristan, but she finds other happiness in her life. The son she reconnected with has a daughter of his own, and Liz is able to see the birth of her first grandchild.

Sadly, Liz reveals to the others in the hotel that she has terminal cancer and will die soon. She rejects Ramona’s offer to vampirize her because she doesn’t want to be forced to murder people to eat. Instead, she asks all her friends to kill her there in the hotel so she can be reborn as a ghost. To do this, she offers them a big selection of weapons and tells them to do their worst. However, before anyone starts, the Countess finally shows up. She slits Liz’s throat herself with that deadly glove of hers – thus bringing us back to the beginning of the episode. Liz dies contentedly on a hotel bed. As she comes back as a ghost, Tristan reappears. He says that he only stayed away because he didn’t want to hold Liz back from living her life. Now that they’re both dead, they can be together forever. Liz gets her happy ending.

Flash Forward

The remainder of the episode jumps forward to October 30th, 2022. It’s Devil’s Night, the one time of year when even ghosts outside the hotel can walk the Earth again.

Billy Dean Howard is now the star of a Reality TV show. She returns to the hotel with a camera crew for a ratings stunt where she will attempt to contact John Lowe, the notorious Ten Commandments Killer.

John indeed returns and agrees to do the interview. (He’s invisible to everyone except Billy Dean.) In a flashback within the flash-forward, we learn that he was killed in a shootout with police and died just inches from the threshold to the hotel. Now he can only return to see his family once a year.

John invites Billy Dean to John March’s annual gathering of famous serial killers. While struggling to put on a brave face, Billy Dean meets Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wournos, the Night Stalker, and the Zodiac Killer. Despite her best attempts to stay strong, she gets really freaked out. March gives her absinthe, and then threatens her into staying silent about the very special properties of this hotel.

Later, John reunites with his family. His only living daughter, Scarlett, is now all grown up.

As far as I know, the episode ends on a totally random note with the Countess picking up a guy at the hotel bar. I’m not sure if there was more after this, because my DVR recording cut off in the middle of a commercial break before the end credits rolled. The last scene didn’t feel like much of an ending.

Episode Verdict:

As I said at the start of this recap, the ‘Hotel’ season lost its steam somewhere before the half-way mark and never recovered it. Although the finale does bring closure to some (many?) characters and storylines, it’s not very exciting or satisfying. I absolutely hate the conceit of having Sarah Paulson play two unrelated characters in the same episode.

‘American Horror Story’ has officially been renewed for a sixth season. While few details have been announced, FX president John Landgraf has indicated that the storyline will take place in two time periods, mainly in the present day. What the horror theme will be or who will star are not yet known.

As much as this show so often frustrates me, I’ll surely be back for another round, hoping for the best.


  1. Jon

    For how much this season was advertised as being ‘really dark’ and twisted it sure seemed to wrap up with a lot of happy endings.

    Oh well.

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