'American Horror Story: Roanoke' recap: Way too many answers this early in season

For The Baltimore Sun
"AHS" recap: We're finding out way too much backstory for this early in the season.

The fourth chapter of "American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare" actually offers viewers a bit in the way of answers, particularly for this early in the season.

We are given detailed backstories on multiple characters, learn more of the mysterious house’s history, and are even told the evil ghosts’ grand plan for murder upfront. It almost seems too easy. It also feels like we can’t trust it. What’s really going on here?

Chapter 4 begins with the fallout from last week’s episode: Shelby’s furious because she saw Matt cheating in the woods, Matt’s upset because he doesn’t remember anything that happened to him. But almost as quickly as their fight started, it’s over. Shelby, who mere seconds ago was shouting about how she couldn’t trust her husband, suddenly decides that he’s being truthful, and the she can’t blame him for what she saw. Alrighty, then. (Is there any wonder that Shelby comes across as the least trustworthy character on the show? Her erratic behavior and wild shifts in perspective make it almost impossible to take anything she says seriously, or trust her point of view.)

After the two of them cry it out, Shelby’s attacked in the bathroom by the man-pig monster from a couple episodes back. She’s ultimately rescued by the sudden appearance of Denis O’Hare, a.k.a author Elias Cunningham. He literally pops out of nowhere to ax Mr. Piggy in the back, and banish him with the Croatoan spell. Before we have time to wonder too much about how Elias got in the house, where he’s been all this time, or even how he’s alive, he launches into some plot exposition. He claims he’s been the guardian of Murder House 2.0 here for years, unable to live in it because of all the evil, but working to make sure that no one else did either. (All the previous owners had died or vanished.) Unfortunately, he’d had some problems at tax time, and the house had gone up for auction. Too bad for the Millers, huh?

Elias tries to make Matt and Shelby feel better about purchasing his old deathtrap by offering them his research on the paranormal activity that’s been happening in the area. He tells them about a family named the Chens, who immigrated from Taiwan in the 1970s, chasing the American dream. They all ended up dead in the house, of course, victims of The Butcher and her murderous band of ghost colonists. He also claims Thomasin is responsible for the disappearance of those murderous nurses who turned the house into a deadly old folks home.

Cunningham actually has a lot of receipts about the people who’ve mysteriously died in Murder House 2.0. He claims that every death takes place during the same lunar cycle in October, the six days of something called the Dying Grass Moon. Apparently the spirits can haunt you whenever — that’s just the price for living on the land — but they can actually kill you during this window. It’s probably time for the Millers to get the heck out while they still have a chance.

Interestingly, the “real life” Matt and Shelby pop in at this point to reiterate how very skeptical they are about what Elias is telling them. They don’t understand what his angle is. Shelby even postulates that Elias probably just wants the deathtrap house back. Honest question: How dumb do these people have to be? Seriously — how much more do they need to see before they just decide that a local Motel 6 has to be a safer bet than this place?

At this point, the Millers’ behavior feels almost feels purposefully stupid. This is also a tremendous amount of exposition for “AHS” to drop this early in the season. We are only in Episode 4.  Shouldn’t we be suspicious of the show revealing so many of the house’s secret already, or telling us all the evil spirits motivations when we still have over half a season to go? Are we just going to watch the Millers flee from Mr. Piggy for five weeks?

Anyway, Matt and Shelby insist they can’t leave because their niece is still missing. Elias claims he knows where Priscilla likes to play, and thinks they can find her. The three of them head off into the woods, but are almost immediately separated when Shelby catches sight of Lady Gaga, Enchanted Forest Edition, loitering beside a tree. She immediately decides to chase off after her, because Shelby is an idiot. (I wish they’d asked the “real life” version what she had actually planned to do if she caught Forest Gaga.)

While she’s lost, Shelby sees more dead spirits — this time some hunters who’d gone missing years ago. Their faces are all blown off.  Shelby tries to banish them with the Croatoan spell but it doesn’t work — again. And Elias once more appears out of nowhere to drag Shelby out of harm’s way.

Eventually, our gang finds Flora at the edge of the woods, playing Blind Man’s Bluff with a gaggle of dead people, including Priscilla, the Chens and both of the murderous nurses. Elias tries to tell the ghost child that Flora needs to go home with her living family, but before he can finish, he’s shot dead by a bunch of arrows, by what looks like a bunch of The Butcher’s minions. Priscilla drags Flora off into the woods, as Matt and Shelby run back to the house. (Sorry about your impending death Elias!) When they get there Cricket Marlowe is waiting, wondering if they’re ready to do things his way now.

Cricket works out a new deal with the spirits to save Flora — but not with The Butcher. With Forest Gaga, also known as the Witch of the Woods, who’s actually the mastermind behind all the evil dead folks wandering around. Cricket basically offers her up Matthew as a trade for the girl, a plan that neither of the Millers is particularly thrilled about. During all this, we also learn that it was Forest Gaga who convinced Thomasin to kill her son and the rest of the Roanoke colonists during a blood moon, thereby enslaving their souls to her and tying them all to the land forever. There is apparently a lot of blood sacrifice in this story. 

Cricket also says that Forest Gaga showed him a spell that can put the Butcher and her gang down for good. Why Cricket thinks this spell is trustworthy or something he should attempt is wildly unclear. Honestly, half the reason that I’m so convinced that half of Matt and Shelby’s story is some kind of fake is that I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to actually be this stupid.

Ryan Murphy has been all over the press talking about how there’s a huge, game-changing twist coming in Episode 6 of “Roanoke Nightmare,” and all signs point to that involving something about how the “real-world” story of the “Roanoke Nightmare” documentary series and the “reenactment version” the audience is seeing really intersect. If this turns out to be some kind of story-within-a-story mystery, will we find out that the entire first half of the season has been a lie? A movie version of Elias Cunningham’s book? It feels as though there has to be something larger happening here, something that can explain some of the character inconsistencies at work this season. To Murphy’s credit, it does feel as though something else is going on besides lazy writing.

Cricket heads back to his hotel, ostensibly to get supplies for this big spell he’s working on. He vanishes for hours, and Matt and Shelby get worried. After dark, the creepy noises begin again outside. Matt heads out to investigate, because Matt is probably too stupid to live.

He ends up back at the bunker in the backyard, where they originally found Elias’ video. Forest Gaga is waiting for him there. Real-life Matt claims he tries to resist her charms, but it was just impossible. (Maybe it was the literal dead animal on her head?) The two have sex in the bunker as documentary Matt helpfully voiceovers some nonsense about how completely the witch shared herself with him and how intimate and amazing their connection was. Yikes. Talk about an overshare. 

During all this, The Butcher and her gang show up again, dragging Flora in tow. She says the land must be re-consecrated with fresh blood. Priscilla saves the day by shoving Flora away, and all the Millers rush back into the house. (Yes, even Matt, awakened from his sexual stupor by the arrival of all the murderous ghosts.) The Butcher’s not too troubled by the loss of Flora though, because she has Cricket. She disembowels him in the middle of the Millers’ front yard, and it’s super, super grisly, which on this show is kind of saying a lot. Cricket screams. Matt and Shelby watch in horror. And The Butcher raises her cleaver dramatically, promising that they’re next.

Odds and Ends:

  • Interesting: Elias claims Murder House 2.0 was built by Edward Philippe Mott back in the 18th century. Dandy Mott, of course, was a murderous villain in "AHS: Freak Show." Clearly the two are related, but how? And what does it mean? And how did the Mott family go from North Carolina to Jupiter, Fla., if the house’s various owners all disappeared?
  • Do we have any proof that Elias Cunningham wasn’t already dead when he came to talk to the Millers? He looked surprisingly well put together and functional, given his broken-down appearance in the VHS tape Matt and Shelby watched back in Chapter 2.
  • It’s weird, but the documentary format of this season makes me miss the traditionally overly stylized "AHS" opening credits. I even miss the creepy theme music.
  • An astute reader last week reminded me that I definitely meant Leslie Jordan as the actor who plays Cricket. Leslie Jones is an actress on "Saturday Night Live."

Thoughts, comments, or elaborate theories to share?  Hit me up on Twitter: @LacyMB

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