American Horror Story
So that was the finale, I guess? After a season of buildup, Roanoke’s last episode feels less like a satisfying conclusion and more like an hour spent flipping through the channels while you wait for the edibles to kick in.
First we see the cast of My Roanoke Nightmare take the stage at PaleyFest, then we get an episode of Crack’d about Lee’s life after the second season. After that, it’s time for the Lana Winters special. The Asylum character comes out of retirement to interview Lee, followed by the last episode of Spirit Hunters, in which a group of paranormal reality-TV hosts break into the house only to be caught by Lee. That is a lot, and I didn’t really care for any of it.
Instead of rushing to the finish, Roanoke just limped through this last episode, giving us a coda to Lee’s life rather than a satisfying or meaningful conclusion. There isn’t even a shocking twist or a revelation. You’d be forgiven for thinking it seems like a throwaway episode.
For me, the PaleyFest segment was the worst. It is perhaps the most self-congratulatory scene in all six seasons of this show. Every year, Murphy goes to PaleyFest to make a big announcement about American Horror Story. Is My Roanoke Nightmare supposed to be exactly like American Horror Story now? Is Sidney the producer supposed to be Ryan Murphy? The season has directed slight contempt toward Sidney and his products. Does Ryan Murphy feel that way about himself? Or does he think the world judges his work that way?
Also, all of the fans are freaking out and behaving irrationally. Is that what Murphy thinks of the fans of his show? That we’re all a bunch of rabid animals who ask silly questions and get selfies with our favorite actors? Maybe we are, but why so much contempt for the people who keep his shows on the air? Even worse is when that British fan says, “I think the second season was really quite exploitative, turning what was an artistic achievement into something quite crass.” Is that how we all sound to Murphy? Like a bunch of complainers who make bad fan art?
Also, I still can’t believe that My Roanoke Nightmare or its follow-up series were the highest-rated shows ever. We watched both of them; they weren’t that good! And according to Crack’d, Lee went on to be a best-selling author and highly paid public speaker. Yeah, that’s a bit hard to swallow too. I do buy that she was acquitted for the murders she committed on 3 Days in Hell, though. Who is going to convict a woman who had her ear cut off and watched a bunch of cannibals eat chunks out of her leg? Also, this season should have been called American Horror Story: Lee’s Wig.
I get that Roanoke was supposed to pull all of the previous seasons together, and it succeeded on that front in several key ways — introducing Dandy’s ancestors, meeting the original Supreme — but the inclusion of Lana Winters is a bit gratuitous. We didn’t learn anything about her or Lee during their interview and posing it as a live broadcast that’s interrupted by a madman waving a gun just seems entirely unbelievable. Now, I know this is a show about monsters so it can’t really be entirely true to life, but we already saw one Lana Winters special interrupted by a crazed gunman. Are we really supposed to accept that this happened twice? If she didn’t hire more security after the first time, then she deserved to get punched in the face by Lot Polk. (And what is going on with his face? Ugh. It looks like he’s carrying around a bunch of leeches on his cheek.)
At least the Spirit Chasers segment is action-packed: The crew is on the run from the Chens, the Pig Man, the Butcher, and all of the other creatures that we’ve come to love and fear. As a narrative, though, it was just more of the same. A bunch of stupid people show up at the house during the Blood Moon, the ghosts cut them to bits, and somehow Lee survives. After the success of the original reality show, is the house meant to represent fame? Everyone who returns to it — the actors, the social media kids, the Spirit Chasers — aren’t after the ghosts, but the notoriety that comes along with being associated with them. That’s why they wind up dead. Lee, on the other hand, is looking for justice and redemption. That’s why she is the one who always survives. Is this some kind of comment on the corrupting nature of celebrity and how it will eventually destroy you? Sure, let’s go with that.
Above all else, two things really bothered me about this finale. The first is that we never learned what happened with Lee and the Lady Gaga Spirit of the Woods. We see Lee eating the heart just like the Butcher did, which is how she saved her life when she was left for dead and injured in the wilderness. But the Butcher had to pledge her fealty to the Lady Gaga Spirit and offer it sacrifices every year. What did Lee have to do? Is that why she went back to the house and killed everyone? We know it wasn’t the pot she was smoking; it was definitely something else. I wish more had been made with that story line. We saw the power and reach of the spirit, but I would have liked to learn how she works with the people who are in her thrall.
Enough of that, though. The biggest annoyance is the episode’s final sequence. It’s fine that Lee wants to sacrifice herself and blow up the house so Flora can have a regular life. But what, exactly, are we supposed to be watching? This whole season is about experiencing the events through another medium, whether it was My Roanoke Nightmare or the raw footage that was found when the cast went back. Even in this final episode, we watch the story unfold through a number of other specials.
So what, pray tell, are we watching in these final scenes? It isn’t the news. It isn’t a documentary. The best twist of the season — really, the only reason to watch all ten episodes — is the difference between the reenacted horror of My Roanoke Nightmare and the “real” horror of the found footage. In the closing minutes of the finale, we are simply watching American Horror Story: Roanoke as it would have been if they filmed the season like every other one.
There is a great reveal at the end of The Comeback where Valerie Cherish leaves her reality crew, starts to live her life again, and reunites with her family. The decision utterly saves her as a person. That was a great way to switch from a “found footage” concept to something else. On Roanoke, the switch doesn’t seem intentional. It seems sloppy. It was like they couldn’t figure out how to get cameras inside the house again, so they just shot Lee and Flora inside the house and Priscilla blowing it up with Lee’s gun, then called it a day. After weeks of watching this show within a show within a show within a miniseries with an anthology, what do we get in the end? I don’t even know. Is it just one show?
And then, of course, Lee becomes a ghost even though none of the dozens of people who also died have become ghosts. Is it because she made the deal with the Lady Gaga Spirit? Possibly, but if that’s the case, then why are the Nurses, the Chens, and Daddy’s Great Great Great Grandpappy also ghosts? It just doesn’t make any sense.
That has always been the problem with American Horror Story. The show is at its worst when it doesn’t set up enough rules for itself or it doesn’t bother to follow the rules that it already established. Murphy and his team deserve great credit for trying something novel this season, but in the end, Roanoke didn’t have enough juice to finish strong. This will certainly go down as one of the show’s weaker installments. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Freak Show — oh, the horror of Freak Show — but it didn’t live up to the legacy of earlier seasons, and it certainly didn’t live up to the legend that it created for My Roanoke Nightmare.