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'American Horror Story: Roanoke' finale recap: An odd, but solid, end

'American Horror Story: Roanoke' finale recap: An odd, but solid, end
Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters and Angela Bassett as Lee on "American Horror Story: Roanoke." (Screenshot via FX)

Welcome to the end. Honestly, it feels a bit weird to already be talking about the season finale of "American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare." After all, it's not even Thanksgiving yet! But here we are.

To be fair, the decision to go with a shortened season has largely worked out great for the show. "AHS" has a pretty bad tendency to drag in the middle when they're trying to center a single storyline — often with supersized episodes — through 13 installments. But it still feels strange to know that I won't be writing about this next week.

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This week's episode is an odd one. After all, the vast majority of the series' major characters — whether "real life" people, or the stars who played them on the docudrama "Roanoke Nightmare" — have all already died. The one who's still alive was hardly the most interesting, or even the most fun to watch, if you ask me.

On some level, we have to wonder whether this episode was even necessary. But in the end, the finale is pretty fun and draws a neat bow around the season. That it falls victim to some of the same overly saccharine tendencies that pretty much every "AHS" finale indulges in to some degree should probably just be expected at this point.

This isn't to say that this is a bad thing, though. On the whole, "Roanoke Nightmare" has been one of the strongest "AHS" seasons in years.

The Season 6 finale is basically subdivided into three parts: What happened after last week's episode, an extended shoutout to "AHS: Asylum," and the insertion of yet another reality show device into the "Roanoke Nightmare" legend.

We learn, courtesy of a "Crack'd" documentary that looks a lot like "Making a Murderer," that Lee's been on trial for murder — twice. The first time, she was charged with murdering three people on camera during her "Return to Roanoke" season. However, thanks to the Polk family's particularly hallucinogenic strain of homegrown marijuana, as well as a jury forced to watch graphic video of Lee being tortured and eaten, she was acquitted. No one thought she could have possibly been responsible for her actions.

Unwilling to let her off the hook, the prosecution decided to charge Lee with the murder of her ex-husband, Mason. They even managed to get Lee's daughter Flora to testify that she'd witnessed her mother bash her father's head in with a rock. As it turns out, Flora's pretty angry at her mother over what went down during their time in that house, in case you were wondering what she's been up to for the back half of this season. Lee's defense attorney manages to get Flora to start talking about Priscilla, and how she felt safe with her imaginary ghost friend. Painted as a girl with a hyperactive imagination, her testimony suddenly becomes much less damaging. The jury deliberates for 16 days, but Lee is ultimately found not guilty. Again.

After her trial, Lee goes on to write a best-seller and tour the country doing speaking gigs. But her most important accomplishment is clearly snagging an interview with Lana Winters. Yes, that Lana Winters, of "AHS: Asylum" fame. As far as inter-season connections go, this is certainly the biggest that "American Horror Story" has pulled off so far, and even though Lana herself doesn't have much in the way of connection to "Roanoke Nightmare," her mere presence more firmly grounds all the seasons in the same shared universe. It's also just really nice to see the character again. (She was always a favorite of mine.)

In case you've forgotten, Lana is a big deal in the media world now, having made her name in journalism after escaping from Briarcliff Asylum and telling the world what happened there. She's apparently so intrigued by the prospect of interviewing Lee that she's come out of retirement to do so.

Lana wants to know why Lee wanted to talk to her, when she'd turned down the chance to speak to everyone else, including Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. Lee explains that she thinks Lana would understand her best, because of what she's been through. She says that Lana had to kill Bloody Face, her own son, so she knows that there can be extenuating circumstances in every kind of situation.

Lee then makes a heartfelt on-screen plea to her currently estranged daughter, in the hopes that she's watching and might forgive her. That's when Lana drops an unexpected bombshell: An hour before their live interview began, Flora's grandparents reported her missing. Lana pushes Lee hard: She wants to know where Flora is, insisting that now is the time for Lee to come clean. But before Lee can say anything, the last surviving Polk son bursts in with an assault rifle, eager for revenge against the woman who murdered his family. Lana tries to talk him down, and gets knocked out for her trouble, but Lot is gunned down swiftly by the arrival of the police. The interview feed cuts out.

When the episode returns, we're watching another TV show. (What is this, our third one this season?) This time, it's called "Spirit Chasers," which is basically "Ghost Hunters," but with a non-copyrighted name. They're a team of paranormal investigators and they're on location at Big Shaker Mansion because, of course they are. They've broken into the Roanoke House during the blood moon, and they've brought actor Ashley Gilbert with them, who played Cricket on "Roanoke Nightmare," to provide them with background on the place. He's psyched and it's adorable, which means he's definitely going to die very soon.

The insertion of the "Spirit Chasers" framework is an interesting choice. Given that we just met these people, we all already know that they're just so much grist for the body count. But "AHS'" razzing of the paranormal investigators format is at least kind of funny, and we probably all knew we weren't getting out of this season without going back to that house one more time. Still, the insertion of a third reality show device is probably overkill.

Everyone is understandably a bit surprised when Lee appears in the middle of their ghost hunting. Apparently she's at the house looking for Flora, because she knows that Priscilla has taken her daughter before. The Chasers offer to help Lee find her daughter, a proposal that Lee scoffs at. She tells them that if they had any sense, they would run. They don't, and Lee's words are terribly prescient. All the ghosts from this season — the Chens, Piggy Man, those murderous nurses, the Butcher herself — manifest and start taking people out, starting with Ashley. (Siiiiigh.) Everyone of the "Spirit Chasers" team is killed and so are the cops who showed up to save them.

Once again, everyone is dead but Lee. When she finally encounters Flora, as we all knew she must, she begs her daughter to leave with her. Flora, who is an idiot, declares that she would much rather stay with her ghost BFF forever, even if it means she has to die there.

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Lee, desperate for her daughter to forgive her, and also kind of an idiot, offers to take Flora's place. She says she'll die instead, be a mother to Priscilla, and protect her from the Butcher — anything, as long as Flora goes back to her grandparents and lives her life. She can even come back and visit the both of them, here in Roanoke. Flora eventually agrees with this plan, because Flora is the literal worst.

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Next thing we know, the mansion is in flames and Flora is walking out of it. We see Lee comforting a ghostly Priscilla as she gets ready to shoot her. (I guess this finally confirms that to be bound to the land, you have to die at the hand of one of the colonists or their sacrifices?)  The cops put Flora in a squad car, and we see her look back at the ghostly figures of her mother and Priscilla. They wave.

Moments later, the camera pans back, as the Butcher and her torch-wielding friends descend on the yard. Someone screams, and the season is over.

Was everything perfect in "AHS: Roanoke"? Was everything in this season even good? No. But the show deserves to be applauded for its willingness to take risks six seasons on, and to break its own formula repeatedly, in the name of a good story.

While the season featured some great scares and perhaps some unnecessarily gory violence for violence's sake, "Roanoke Nightmare" ultimately aimed to be something larger than itself.  For the first time in a long time, "American Horror Story" had something to say. This season managed to explore voyeurism, celebrity, the performative nature of social media, and how we, as viewers, choose to consume media. And since this is also a show where people regularly get disemboweled, that's no small feat.

Odds and Ends:

  • The episode’s opening flashback to a "Roanoke Nightmare" Paleyfest panel absolutely nailed the often awkward nature of fan Q&A segments at events like that.
  • Loved the quick mention that the "Spirit Chasers" also visited "Asylum’s" Briarcliff!
  • So glad we got to see Denis O’Hare one last time this season — and that for once his character actually survived!
  • Why no reappearance of the Wood Witch at any point, I wonder?
  • We’ve seen Sarah Paulson reprise her roles as both Billie Dean Howard from "Murder House" and Lana Winters from "Asylum." Is there any doubt we’ll be seeing Cordelia Foxx again sometime soon?
  • I imagine that — just by virtue of still being alive — Elias Cunningham is a definite candidate for a character we’ll be seeing again in a future season? (I flat-out reject the idea of having to see Flora again, for the record.)
  • I have no idea what next season’s theme is going to be. I’m intrigued to read some theories on it though.

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

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