American Horror Story
Throughout his career, Ryan Murphy has disappointed me. The second season of Glee, the second season of Nip/Tuck, the current second season of Scream Queens, all great shows that Ryan Murphy created and drove right into the ground. Knowing that this big twist was coming part way through the season, I’ve girded my loins for weeks to be let down yet again. Well, I have to hand it to him, Mr. Murphy really delivered this time. Even my disappointment is disappointed.
It turns out that the second half of the season (or at least the second third, since Murphy has alluded that the season will be in three chapters) is a return to the house Matt and Shelby fled. My Roanoke Nightmare producer Sid (Cheyenne Jackson, making his first appearance this season) bought it from them to film the reenactments seen in the first five episodes. It turns out that he is going to bring everyone back to the house — not just Matt, Shelby, and Lee, but also the actors who played them in the hit series, and film them all for three days during the blood moon.
With all the exposition that weighed down the first half of “Chapter Six,” I was ready to rant on and on about my disappointment once again, but once everyone moves into the house things got really interesting — and really freaking scary. What makes the concept so amazing is that it breaks down what we think we already know about the house, everything we learned, subverting what we know with the “reality” of it.
Actors played the Butcher, Pig Man, and the Killer Nurses in half campy reenactments. Now we’re going to see what the real deal looks like, so when a crispy friend woman walks past one of the cameras set up in the house for the reality experiment, we have no idea who she might be. Is it one of the ghosts we’ve already met before or is it someone new entirely? Is that the Butcher after she fished herself out of the fire?
By the time Rory, the sexy ginger who played Edward Mott, gets stabbed by the two nurses, I was not only crawling off of my couch with fright but also giddy with anticipation for the next several episodes. The actors who filmed the reenactments just think of the hauntings as a silly joke, but when they see the real corpses of the two nurses and the actual, bloody murder, it’s something else entirely. The camp has been removed and replaced with real horror. And, as a bonus, the nurses finally got the R to finish their “MURDER” that was written on the dining-room wall. Good work, Mr. Murphy.
The other added wrinkle is the dynamic between all the people in the house. Matt and Shelby have since split up because Shelby had an affair with Dominic Banks, the actor who played Matt on the show. Lee also hates Shelby even more than before because everyone thinks that she killed her ex because Shelby ratted her out to the police. Lee also doesn’t get along with Monique, the alcoholic actress who portrayed her in My Roanoke Nightmare, because she thinks that the reason people see her as a killer is because of the way Monique played her.
I wish there were some cast squabbles, but it seems like Monique, Rory, and Rory’s new bride Audrey, who played Shelby, all get along. I love Sarah Paulson more than Trump supporters love to shout about building walls, but she really takes the cake from Kathy Bates in this year’s Bad Accent Olympics. On the other hand, she makes out with ginger Evan Peters and slips in a dig about how she’s a woman of a certain age in a relationship with a young stud, which seems to be a clever reference to her IRL relationship with Holland Taylor, who is several decades her senior. Holland Taylor and Evan Peters? Sarah Paulson is the world’s luckiest lesbian.
Agnes Mary Winstead, the actress who played the Butcher, was a bit of a surprise. She had some sort of psychotic break after filming and thinks that she really is her namesake. Though Sid took a restraining order out on her, he’s still hoping she’ll show up and terrorize production. Audrey already thinks that she has been crashing through the windows. Maybe it was her, or maybe it was the real Butcher. We don’t know.
Oh man, I can’t wait to see the real Butcher. What if it really is Kathy Bates again and Agnes is the second coming of the Butcher? Or what if we’re only going to see her in the final episode and it’s Jessica Lange in a surprise cameo? Oh my God, my gay heart would explode and then set itself on fire and scream “Balenciaga!” in its final moments on Earth.
Speaking of which, Murphy said in a recent press call that Lady Gaga’s character is actually the original Supreme from back in the Coven season. He said that Taissa Farmiga, who played a witch in that same season, will be back again in Roanoke. What if she plays the real-life Lady Gaga character? I think that’s a very good possibility, considering Murphy alluded that this installment will connect all of the previous ones.
The last great thing about this episode before we get to the bad things (and there are some bad things) is a title card that informed viewers that what we’re seeing is the found footage that was filmed for the Return to Roanoke show but never aired because before production could wrap every member of the crew was killed — except one. This is a stroke of genius. Now we have a central mystery to get us through to the end of the season as we speculate who will make it and we wait for someone else to die each episode. (If we’re taking bets, my money is on Shelby to be the only one who walks away.)
As for bad things, top of the list has to be the character of Sid. Well, maybe he’s second after Sarah Paulson’s accent. No, wait. He has to be third behind Sarah Paulson’s accent and that Rory is dead so we won’t get to see Evan Peters in his bathing suit again for the rest of the season. The third worst thing is Sid. The character of the slimy reality-show producer has become so overused that it verges on trite.
I also hated all the production details in the first 30 minutes. Couldn’t they have just stuck with the found footage idea from the jump and blended in the exposition when the participants in the reality show talk to the producers? The Comeback pulled it off, why can’t Roanoke? Since Angela Bassett directed this episode, I guess I’ll give it a pass.
The one thing that I can’t get over though are the boasts about how successful My Roanoke Nightmare was when it aired in this fictional world. According to the title card, it had an audience of 23 million, which is bigger than Empire and bigger than The Walking Dead. That is just impossible. No show does that well anymore, especially one that supposedly had no promotion. I’m willing to go along with all sorts of plot hole malarkey on this show because it has to do with ghosts and witches and weird cannibals that suckle at the teats of sows. However, when it comes to real reality, I want some verisimilitude.
There is just no way that a paranormal show on cable would get that big a rating. The dial is littered with them and none of them do better than a few million viewers and they certainly don’t become cultural phenomena. And it’s not like My Roanoke Nightmare was that good. We should know, we watched the damn thing! I mean, it was okay, but even if we thought it was real, it wouldn’t be that shocking.
Even the premiere of AHS this year, when it revealed the theme it had kept secret for months, only got about five million viewers and the ratings dwindled from there. Since this season has been the same as My Roanoke Nightmare and benefited from relentless marketing for months, how can they claim that 23 million people would be interested? Sure, the writers can monkey with the idea of life and death, but don’t try to mess with the physics of television ratings. That I cannot abide.
Actually, I think it would have been better if the show was a mild success, in the two-to-five-million range. Then it would have shown the lengths people will go to to sell their lives for drastically lower stakes. That would have been a much more cutting critique of reality television culture, that people would be willing to go back into that house for only a little bit of money. If Roanoke had 23 million viewers, they can afford to bribe them to do something stupid.
And going back to that house, at least for Matt, Shelby, and Lee, is really, really, really stupid. They saw the actual ghosts and had these awful things happen to them and they’re going to go back. The most stupid, of course, is Matt. When the producers tell him he’ll be bunking with Shelby, he volunteers to sleep in the basement. Say what? He’s been chased by demons and ghosts down in that basement and he’s going to volunteer to sleep down there? Oh no, sorry. There is no way that I’m going to ever believe that a person would do that. I’m glad to see Roanoke get back on track with this episode’s big twist, but I guess a small amount of disappointment was inevitable.