'American Horror Story' Season 6 premiere recap: 'My Roanoke Nightmare' a return to form
By Lacy Baugher
For The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 15, 2016 | 10:08 AM
Season 6 of "American Horror Story" is upon us and, honestly, things are kind of weird this year.
It's the first time we know almost nothing about the new season going in. The show is premiering almost a month earlier than usual — in previous years, "AHS" has tended to bow closer to Halloween and is apparently only airing a shortened, 10-episode season.
Not only do we have basically zero information about the Season 6 theme, we actually don't even know who's starring in it. At varying points certain "AHS" regulars — Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett, Denis O'Hare, Sarah Paulson, and Lady Gaga — have all been confirmed to be involved, but to what degree or in what roles remains a mystery.
It's impressive, to a certain extent, that this level of secrecy was maintained in this age of gossip sites, internet oversharing and social media. (We didn't even get press screeners for the premiere this year — so basically everybody's going in blind.) Was all this mystery hoopla worth it?
In some ways, it's nice not to know what's happening. Our ignorance provides a certain amount of tension. Will this season, which is, officially, subtitled "My Roanoke Nightmare," feature one unifying story throughout? Will it go with several smaller, semi-standalone narratives connected by the framing device of the setting? No one knows. It feels oddly refreshing, to … well, not know.
"Roanoke Nightmare" is a documentary-style story, featuring two main characters — a young couple named Matt and Shelby — recounting the tale of, presumably, their own personal Roanoke nightmare when they accidentally purchase a seriously creepy property. It's narrated via confessionals from the "real life" couple (played by Lily Rabe and Andre Holland) and reenacted/dramatized by the "fictional" version, Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. As a framing device, it takes some getting used to. (The fact that Paulson and Gooding, Jr. just wrapped up a run playing opposite each other as Marcia Clark and O.J. Simpson in "American Crime Story" makes it even weirder.)
Anyway, Matt and Shelby move to North Carolina after he gets injured in a gang attack. (Yes, really.) They use all their savings to buy a beautiful old house, which definitely has that dirty, cobweb-filled, haunted vibe that people of sense should run away from. Their purchase angers some local "Deliverance"types, who apparently aren't thrilled about an interracial couple moving into the neighborhood.
Shelby, quite rightly, immediately decides that their new home is weird and dangerous. Her feelings are validated when strange noises begin during the night, ghostly women wander through the hallway, and it starts raining human teeth. Gross.
Matt thinks Shelby's just adjusting to East Coast life or something, and doesn't really believe the scary stuff. At least, he doesn't believe it until Shelby gets attacked by some invisible thing in the hot tub while Matt's on a business trip. While she claims it was someone dressed in old costumes with torches and pitchforks, Matt's convinced this is all just some trick by the hillbilly neighbors out to drive them off the property. Which would probably be a great assumption in the normal world, but this is "AHS," so we all know it's probably actually monsters or ghosts or creepy cultists or whatever.
Right out of the gate, "Roanoke Nightmare" has a serious "Murder House" vibe. The house is an incredible set piece — beautiful, imposing, and full of scary, dark corners. It's like a character on its own, in a way — and it feels like it's hiding a bunch of secrets inside.
Thematically, it's also a return to the smaller, simpler horror of earlier "AHS" seasons. There's no magic, or vampires, or aliens. (At least not yet, anyway.) And, honestly, it's a nice change.
After Shelby's hot tub attack, Matt decides he can't leave her alone in the house while he's on business trips anymore. So he gets his sister Lee (played by Angela Bassett in the reenactment scenes, and Season 1 "AHS" alum Adina Porter in the commentary sections) to come and stay with his wife.
The two women don't seem to like each other much, and Lee has her own tragic past to deal with. After being shot in the line of duty, Lee developed an addiction to painkillers, which ultimately cost her her job, her husband and custody of her daughter. But she's much less fragile-seeming than Shelby, and seems like she'd be good to have around in a fight.
The two women end up arguing with each other about whether Shelby is being supportive enough of Lee's ongoing attempt to stay sober, and of course that's when the creepy hooded figures return to break into the house.
Lee and Shelby hide in the basement, where for some reason the intruders have set it up so they can watch a grainy, scary VHS video. On this video is a film of a monstrous creature, some kind of pig/man/bear hybrid thing that looks like a horrible experiment gone wrong. The video also features a man screaming, which is how I expect anyone would react upon being confronted with this thing in real life.
When Lee and Shelby finally emerge from the basement, they discover the foyer of the house has been filled with a huge wooden web, where what looks like voodoo dolls are strung from the ceiling. (For a horrifying minute, I thought they were bones. The things this show can make you feel relieved about, huh?)
Matt arrives home to find all this, and Shelby's really upset. They watch the pig/man/bear video again, and Matt's even more convinced that the local "Deliverance" guys are behind everything.
Meanwhile, Shelby has had enough. So she just takes the family car and runs for it, leaving Matt and his sister holding the proverbial bag that's been stuffed with horrible ghost trinkets. On some level, you have to respect this move — how many people in horror stories run upstairs instead of out the front door, after all? Shelby is ready to be done with this mess. Go, girl. Unfortunately, she runs straight into someone in the road. Literally. As in, hits them with her car. Oops.
That someone turns out to be Kathy Bates. She's dressed like she's come straight from the set of "Pioneer House" and is carrying an ax in the middle of this dark, lonely, fog-filled road. Shelby, for her part, is freaking out — screaming and insisting that they need to go to the hospital. Pioneer Woman Kathy Bates just trundles off into the forest.
And Shelby, apparently having used all up all her sense of self-preservation when she decided to steal her husband's car, follows her. Into the dark, scary woods. Where of course she immediately gets lost.
Even though she insists that she never went more than 50 feet from the road, Shelby can't find her way out. She can't find Kathy Bates either. She just wanders through the forest and fog for a while, and eventually ends up in a grove, full of another web of sketchy wooden dolls hanging from the trees. The ground is also … breathing, maybe? Because, of course it is.
Shelby runs some more, and ends up in a circle of people, who all have torches. There's a man who looks like he's been scalped. Shelby starts screaming, and the episode ends.
Yeah, really. That's it. What the heck is going on here? Are these ghosts? Cultists? Witches? Devil worshipers? Apparently it's too early to say, and we'll all have to tune in next week.
Odds and Ends:
The title "Roanoke Nightmare" and the pseudo-period dress of some of these people seems to indicate that early rumors about the season’s potential connection to the famous missing Roanoke Colony are at least partially true. But how?
What’s up with the documentary format? Are we meant to believe that Matt and Shelby are reliable narrators? Given that they (and Lee) are telling their own story, we know that they must survive whatever’s happening on the land around their house. It leeches a bit of the tension out of the situation for sure — and really seems like a lot of people to survive a season of "AHS" already.
Only a handful of cast members even appeared this week, and the story felt pretty full. Where is everyone else going to fit?
I'm still a bit fixated on the idea that this season is somehow going to tell multiple “documentary” horror stories about the same area of the world. Like “My Cat From Hell," but way creepier. The story of Matt and Shelby doesn’t necessarily seem like it can sustain itself alone for nine more episodes. It would also be an easy way to rotate the cast in and out on a semi-regular basis. Thoughts? Anyone else get this vibe?
I miss Denis O’Hare.
Thoughts, comments, or elaborate theories to share? Hit me up on Twitter: @LacyMB.