Well, American Horror Story fans: we’ve hit the episode that Ryan Murphy has claimed would be a game-changing twist on what we think AHS 6 would be, and it’s not quite as twisty as I would have expected -- but the series still has plenty of storytelling to do! Before I begin, I want to clarify that the episode was certainly an enjoyable “Chapter” to American Horror Story: Roanoke; however, the hype around this particular installment made me anticipate something that would tie other seasons together with a crossover narrative to expand on from here on out.
When we start the episode, we see a title card that touts My Roanoke Nightmare as the biggest television hit of 2015, and network executives were begging for a sequel series. Cheyenne Jackson’s character (Sidney, the producer of My Roanoke Nightmare) is seen talking to a camera in a reality TV turn of events, telling him to film everything -- before heading into network executives offices’ offering an idea to get the real Matt, Shelby and Lee, in addition to the actors who portrayed them, into the real home for three days of the blood moon. The series gets a greenlight, so the producer begins to track down the group of people/actors to begin negotiations.
We find out that things have changed for the real people, beginning with Shelby, who has separated from Matt after an affair (caught by TMZ-style cameras) with the actor playing him. (Fake Matt was sleeping with real Shelby -- this is definitely approaching American Horror Story: Meta.) So why might Shelby agree to return to the home she nearly died in? She hopes to see Matt and rekindle their love for one another, despite people strongly disliking her from what they know about her. Shortly after, we meet another producer, who is seemingly the only one with hesitations about the Roanoke follow-up, and discover a ring of fetal pigs that has nothing to do with the fake scares they had been implementing for phony jumpscares.
Of the actors, we first meet the actress behind the Butcher, Agnes Mary Winstead. At first glance of her interview and casting tapes, she appears to be the sweetest woman alive who felt the greatest roles were the Butcher and Mary Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey into Night. (Easter egg for American Horror Story fans: Jessica Lange played her this year.) We, then, find out that she took her role a little too seriously and thought she was the Butcher, beginning to hunt down people on Hollywood Boulevard. Sidney isn’t there to giver her details on the series as much as he was there to serve her with a restraining order through filming, causing our favorite fake Butcher to begin to regress into character.
By the time Sidney returns to the property to check in on their progress, one of the crew members made the casual choice to chainsaw his own head off -- but there’s no business like show business, and they make the executive decision to keep the cameras rolling and onward with preparations. The other (more level-headed) producer knows this is an entirely bad idea and leaves on her own accord, driving past the real ghost Priscilla but is killed by the pig man, who appears in her backseat. (A message was shown that said her body was never found.) Lee is shown via interview with E! News, claiming she agreed to come back to Roanoke to prove she’s innocent for the claims or murder and has since made a seven-figure book deal. (Go Lee!) The next group of cast members we see is Audrey, a British actress who played Shelby alongside Rory, a redheaded Evan Peters who played the role of Edward Mott. The two fell in love during their time filming the series and had a seemingly passionate relationship/marriage -- with some very slight trust issues surfacing soon after.
Everyone begins to arrive and the dynamics prove to be tense with real-life Matt, Shelby and Lee, as the cast judges from a distance (occasionally recording the bickering with their own production phones. Genius.). In one of my favorite AHS lines, Audrey states: “Fiery and pathetic. That’s exactly how I played her.” Another standout Audrey moment is the cut to a 911 call where she said Agnes was there to steal her Saturn, to which the officer responded to inquire about her vehicle. Of course, she was referring to the Saturn Award she had won over Agnes, yelling “She’s all spun that I won! Hurry! She’s quite mad!” While the actors all doubt the story of the Roanoke murders, we see another cutscene to a message saying, over the course of filming, every participant was killed with the exception of one...
Brief moments of intrigue include Lee and the actress who portrayed her sharing their perceptions on similarities or being inside the other’s head, which will be an interesting relationship; a few ghost sightings that were creepier than what we had seen thus far; and, lastly, the arrival of the actor playing Matt who scuffled with the real Matt at the time of his arrival. When Audrey exits the shower, she catches her first real encounter, seeing the spirit of the Pig Man, so Rory rushes up to be her knight in shining armor, but he’s, unfortunately, murdered by the corpse-like nurses (who are far more intimidating than the actresses), which was a nicely timed/executed American Horror Story scare. Moments later (nobody is aware of Rory’s murder at the time), Matt finds that the ‘R’ in the word ‘Murder’ on the wall was written -- so he tells them that ‘R’ is for Rory, completing their murderous mission years later.
Overall Grade: 8/10
I still feel like this has been a great episode of American Horror Story. I think I had just hoped something would have strayed from Roanoke in general as a facade of a theme (still no credits?). The real spirits in Roanoke will probably have a creepier feel because of the reality style POV, which is great for the horror genre when done effectively, so I look forward to it. I just hope Ryan Murphy has more crossover potential in store for us with the remaining episodes and branching into future seasons. After all, there is an assortment of potential for off-the-wall horror and shared universe acknowledgment.
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:
- Audrey’s British sass is a major highlight.
- I suspect Matt will be the survivor they mentioned.
- I would love for Lady Gaga to still be the original Supreme, but the actress twist could mean we’re seeing Taissa Farmiga play the original witch in power ... Please, Gaga!, can't you be our witchy queen?
- The twist of including actors after the story was told was expected, but it was the method in which they dealt with it that had ambiguity surrounding it.