American Horror Story: Hotel S05E12 “Be Our Guest” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: John J Gray
Director: Bradley Buecker
Essential Plot Points:
- The episode opens on Liz, talking about how things went right for a while once Iris and she took over the hotel. We watch as the Countess opens Liz’s throat and…
- Cut back to Liz and Iris greeting new guests. Who Sally and Will promptly murder. Again. The hotel has been renovated but the habits of its dead guests have not. Liz and Iris call a meeting telling the ghosts they need to stop killing.
- Will cuts up rough until Liz and Iris point out he’s running out of money now he’s dead. March arrives and agrees with Liz and Iris. Better still, he points out that if the hotel survives until August 23 2026 it becomes a historic monument and can never be demolished. So they have to behave. Will reluctantly falls in line but Sally defies him. When March threatens her with the Addiction Demon she storms off.
- Later, Iris goes to Sally’s room and points out how alike they are; both defined by loneliness and the loss of someone they loved who didn’t love them back. She apologises for killing Sally and gives her a present: an iPhone. Iris notes Sally still thinks it’s 1994 and that the world she feels she’s cut off from is now at her finger tips. Sally becomes an internet sensation, Tweeting, Instagramming and blogging the days and nights of her eternal life. For the first time ever, she doesn’t feel alone.
- Downstairs, a brooding Will is confronted by Liz. Will thanks her for sending Lachlan to school elsewhere and Liz explains more about the current state of Will’s company; that the clothing line is failing but the other products are holding it up. She encourages him to reinvent himself, with death being no barrier now. Will responds that the company needs a face and liz smiles and presents herself. Will, initially reluctant, agrees.
- Liz becomes the new legal face and voice of Will at company meetings. Fashion shows are held exclusively at the Cortez, where Will is presumed to be a reclusive resident. No cameras are allowed and the models are renowned as an “eclectic” bunch. In reality, they’re the ghosts of the Cortez with Ramona at their heart.
- The shows are a massive success but Liz feels unsettled. She remembers the show where she first saw Tristan. Iris, eager to help her friend, introduces her to Billie Dean Howard, renowned psychic and SEASON 1 CHARACTER! WOOOOO! Ahem.
- Billie Dean contacts Tristan for Liz but he doesn’t want to talk to her. Grief-stricken but holding it together, Liz thanks the other woman and leaves. As she does, Billie Dean asks who Donovan is. A tearful Iris is horrified to think her son is trapped at the hotel but Billie Dean assures her he isn’t. Through her, Donovan describes where he is as, “always being Saturday morning,” and smelling of the pancakes Iris used to make for him. The hotel manager tearfully accepts the knowledge her son is alright. And we burst into tears for the first time this episode.
- Liz, through narration, explains that her life actually got better despite the pain of losing Tristan. Her son, Doug, welcomed her into his life and she was there for the delivery of her first grandchild. She realises that Isobel has been born into a more accepting world and takes some deserved pride and joy in being part of that and of her family once again. That joy was tempered though, by the discovery she had inoperable prostate cancer.
- Liz breaks the news to Ramona first who offers to turn her. Liz turns her old friend down and points out that if she does this right, she’ll still get to see her family; they’ll just have to come to her.
- Liz throws a “suicide party”. She announces the truth to the ghosts. Will immediately hugs her and we burst into tears for the second time this episode.
- As the music swells, Liz asks the ghosts to kill her and they all prepare to do so. Then, the door opens and the Countess appears. Liz realises how much she missed the woman who helped her transform. She asks how the Countess knew and she responds, “You were always my fondest creation.”
- At this point we’re basically blowing snot bubbles and howling.
- All is forgiven. The Countess kills Liz. Liz looks down at her old, mortal body and lights a cigarette. Tristan says hello.
- No, THIS is the point where we’re howling.
- The model explains that he wasn’t abandoning her, he just didn’t want to get in the way of the life she still had to live. They embrace and are reunited at last.
- Flash forward! To Devil’s Night, 2022. Where Billie Dean is doing yet another special from the hotel. She’s turned it into a cottage industry and the hotel is full of people staying there because of Billie Dean. That’s not the clientele Iris wants and she complains to Ramona about what to do.
- Then John appears. Iris and Ramona greet the killer like the old friend he is and he offers to help. Billie Dean has tried for years to make contact with him with no success. This time though, John gives her an exclusive.
- We see flashbacks as he and the family go on the run. Unable to provide the blood one half of the family needs, John is struggling. Scarlett, still, somehow, the most mature person in the room, points out they have to go back. John agrees, they return to LA and he’s promptly shot to death by the LAPD mere feet from the hotel. He’s trapped and can only visit once a year.
- But what a night. John walks Billie Dean through the hotel and she talks about the dead packed into its walls. He shows her through to one room and she’s introduced to the Devils Night Dining Club, all dead, all eternal and all desperate to kill one last time. She’s terrified as John straps her into a chair and they prepare to kill her. He makes her an offer; never return to the Cortez and stop milking it for cash or they’ll find her and kill her. Billie Dean retorts that they can’t leave the hotel so she’s safe.
Ramona appears and points out she can leave the hotel just fine.
- Terrified, Billie Dean leaves never to return.
- John goes to Room 64 where he finds his family, including a grown-up Scarlett. He thanks his daughter for coming and lies down to sleep, trying to savour the last few seconds of the one night he can spend with them for another year.
- Downstairs a beautiful young man strides into the bar. The Countess sits next to him, smiles and complements his jawline. The more things change…
Just this once, everyone dies. And it’s okay. This is the absolute last thing you’d expect from a horror show because it’s a happy ending for very nearly everyone. We’ll get to the shot of tobacco in the chocolate cake, and why that’s the best bit, in a moment.
First off, this is the Liz and Iris show and that’s why it’s wonderful. These two downtrodden, long-suffering women have been the emotional core of the show for a while and this week they’re finally in control. Not only does that mean we get a long overdue refit, it also means no one gets left behind. Especially not the ghosts.
There’s a subtle piece of reframing this episode as the ghosts realise that eternity really is a long time. March’s realisation that they have to “behave” to get the historic monument status that will make the hotel itself immortal is especially interesting. Even the dead have to evolve, and as the ghosts move with the times; the monsters they were are replaced with the broken, tragic people are.
Which is why it’s so powerful to see Liz and Iris fix them. The compassion is shot through with pragmatism but that makes it all the sweeter. They want, and need, to help and so they do. Iris, who could only see Donovan now understands the internet and what it can do for Sally. Liz, who hid for so long, becomes the public face of a brand that’s the definition of style. They become the people they always wanted to be, by helping their friends do the same thing. It’s wonderful to watch but the happy endings that are earnt always are.
Iris realising Donovan is okay will break your heart in the best way. Liz’s regal transition to the next stage of her life will break it again. This is an amazingly moving, sweet piece of TV that also happens to have a lot of violent death in it.
That brings us to the single, welcome dark note. John Lowe gets his comeuppance in the way he always needed to. The world’s worst father is murdered just outside the hotel and so doomed to see his family for only one day a year. The final shot we have of him, unable to sleep as the last moments of Devil’s Night tick down is a perfect sign off for an imperfect man. Forever alone in his own head, forever unable to fully re-join the family he broke by trying to hold together. Good.
Plus, Scarlett actually lived and turned out okay! Hurrah!
This episode is American Horror Story at its best. Humane and inhuman, funny and horrific, tender and bruised. An amazing sign-off to an extraordinary season of TV. Maybe next season we’ll get a return to the Cortez. I hope so. I’m going to miss these characters.
- “And that hipster couple just trips around moping around the kale.” Best not on-screen cameo ever!
- “WE ARE A SHIP AT SEA! AND WHEN IT COMES TO YOU SPIRITS, I AM CAPTAIN!” March doesn’t get much this week but as ever, he’s brilliant.
- “The only thing that takes the edge off is when I can pull people under with me.” Sally, perfectly defining what she’s truly addicted to.
- “And you do matter in the world, you know. As long as it lives and your son thrives, you MATTER.” Liz has fought for every inch of peace and happiness she has. The fact she refuses to let Will not do the same is one of the bravest things the show does. You also have to love that they turn Will being dead and unable to leave the building into his personal brand.
- “Promise me you’ll keep an open mind.” “Remember to whom you speak?” Iris and Liz are such a great double act, and they’ve got some great moments here.
- “Be strong. I know you know how.” The only compassionate thing Billie Dean says and it’s a doozie.
- “He says it smells like pancakes. Your pancakes.” Sob…
- “In Isobel’s face I saw the future; she was being born into a world just a little more accepting than the one I had been born into. Maybe just maybe I had a little something to do with that. A little kindness, acceptance that transformed me in a way that nothing else ever could. I never thought life could be this good. Or that it might end.” Once more, with feeling – this is a horror show full of some of the nastiest images on TV and it’s also one of the best, most rounded depictions of a transsexual woman in TV history. That alone is an amazing achievement. The fact it’s part of one of the strongest seasons this show has ever had makes it extraordinary.
- “It’s probably for the best. I would hate to lose my hair.” Liz, once again, is amazing.
- “How did you know to come?” “You were always my fondest creation.” “I wanted to be here to help you transition.” This is the only show in history that could make the gang murder of a lead character sweet and moving. Gaga and O’Hare are brilliant and the entire scene is sweet in a way that someone’s throat being cut should never be. Yet it’s the highlight of the episode.
- “Darlin’ you had more living to do. I couldn’t get in the way of that.” OH MY GOD! THEY PLAYING WITH YOUR EMOTIONS AGAIN.
- “Wait, he’s trying to tell me something… Mr Woo doesn’t pay for what?” Still an awful non-character but this is a hell of a joke. Paulson nails the delivery too.
- “What did you get Holden for dinner?” “It’s dog again.” John Lowe. Brilliant killer. Utterly useless at everything else.
- “Look at you Scarlett. Where’d my little girl go?” “You’re just saying that cos I’m the only member of the family who ages.” Scarlett Lowe. None of your family deserve you.
- We never did get an origin or explanation for the Addiction Demon, but you won’t care.
And The Random:
- Your final Music To Be Brutally Killed To Playlist is as follows:
“Knights in White Satin” (Remastered) by Girogio Moroder
“Got It” by Joel Alter
“Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star
- Shot of the episode is John Lowe, looking eternity in the face.
Review by Alasdair Stuart