Last night on TV, there was something utterly terrifying, scary, with implausible monsters strutting around…
And when the debate ended, people watched American Horror Story: Roanoke.
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
If you have not seen episode 6 yet of season 6 American Horror Story: Roanoke, then be warned now that I’m talking about it. (And it’s, IMO, THE best episode of the ENTIRE SERIES. BAR NONE. PERIOD.)
Okay? We good? Let’s do this.
Hang on, it’s REALLY bumpy.
For starters, the fabulous Angela Bassett directed this episode. It’s the first episode she’s directed in the series. (IMDB lists this as her third directorial gig.)
From the angle of the shots, to the tone, to the background framing–everything about this episode was PERFECTION. Don’t even get me started on her acting, which was also amazing. I’ve loved her in every season she’s been in of AHS, and this, to date, IMO, is the best one yet. She’s playing a “real” person with real issues, who’s about to be unwillingly dragged down the darkest rabbit hole yet, against her will.
Episodes 1-5 were a reality show, “My Roanoke Nightmare,” the story of Shelby and Matt leaving LA and moving back to NC and buying an old house at an auction without knowing its history. (Of course it’s fucking haunted, what do you think?) There were interviews with the real-life Matt, Shelby, and Matt’s sister, Lee, interspersed with clearly labelled “dramatizations” and “reenactments.” But the thing was, it was sometimes hard to remember those were reenactments. We see people get slaughtered, and learn the history of the house and the older history of the land.
TL;DR of that backstory- The land is haunted by the spirits of the mysteriously vanished Roanoke colony (CROATOAN). Turns out Tomasyn, wife of the colony’s leader, led them inland after they tried to oust her. She met a crazy witch (Lady Gaga) in the woods who gave her powers and promised her bounty in exchange for her faithfulness (including human sacrifices, natch). The settlers once again protested, then Tomasyn poisoned them, gave the witch a cleaver, and the witch killed her, too, soaking the land in their blood and fulfilling Tomasyn’s promise that they’d never leave that land. The house was built there and ever since, people have died/vanished during the “blood moon” in October. Episodes 1-5 gave us all that backstory. There was supposedly a Dr. Cunningham (the reenactor played by Denis O’Hare) who researched the house and was a past owner of it and traced the bloody history from its being built until today and knows that during the October “blood moon” that’s when the spirits can come out and kill. He’s supposedly killed by the hillbilly Polk family, and the crew recreated the video footage he supposedly left behind with the reenactor.) A psychic shows up uninvited (Cricket, played by Leslie Jordan) and fills in the gaps about Tomasyn/the Butcher, and the witch (the bitch with the power) Scathach, who was a stowaway to the New World on a boat from the old country and supposedly worshipped old Celt gods.
Okay, THAT said, episode 6 of this season was the promised “twist.” There have been a lot of fan theories floating around, some of which were confirmed. Some said maybe it’s “purgatory” and the “interviews” were afterlife stuff. Some said “found footage.” Some said “another show.” Some said, “Billie Dean Howard’s” new show (Sarah Paulson’s recurring psychic character from Murder House season and Hotel season.) Episodes 1-5, with the interviews of the real-life Shelby, Matt, and Lee were interspersed with labelled “reenactments” of the events they claimed happened at the Suppony Road house in North Carolina. Even KNOWING they were reenactments, they were still horrifying, gory, and downright creepy. Kathy Bates was, once again, amazing. She played an actress who got too deep into the head of the character she played and went off the deep end, thinking she WAS Tomasyn (aka the Butcher).
Cheyenne Jackson was note-perfect as the overzealous, creepy, and morally challenged producer, Sidney Aaron James. He wants this season to be even bigger and better, and he wants to expose Lee as the murderer of her ex-husband (and who was also the father of her child). Sidney plans to set the reinactors and the real people up in the house together for three days during the blood moon (a la Big Brother meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre, complete with “confessional room”) and see what happens. We see filmed sessions with network wonks as this is planned out, all of that.
So from the start of this episode, there is a LOT of information to take in. We get title cards catching us up, telling us episodes 1-5 were a surprise WILDLY successful and popular “My Roanoke Nightmare” show, and producers wanted to make a follow-up show, because the original even beat out The Walking Dead in ratings, fan sites have popped up, con appearances, etc, etc.
But that the follow-up show never aired as planned.
Real-life Shelby (played by Lily Rabe) and real-life Matt (played by André Holland) have split since the original show aired. Shelby had a fling with the actor who played Matt in the reenactment, but she wants to reconcile with Matt. Sidney promises the reenactor (Dominic/fake Matt, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) won’t be there, then minutes later confirms Dominic has been signed to appear. (Fucker.) We find out reenactor Monet (fake Lee played by Angela Bassett) has developed a drinking problem as a result of playing real-life Lee, who has a drinking problem. We discover that reenactor Audrey (fake Shelby, played by Sarah Paulson) has married reenactor Rory (who played Edward Phillippe Mott, the builder of the house and who appears as a ghost in the reenactment, played by Evan Peters).
(Interesting side note: if the last name “Mott” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been linked to Dandy Mott from season 4, Freak Show.)
So Agnes (fake Tomasyn/the Butcher, played by Kathy Bates) has gone totally fucking bugnuts since the show aired. She literally has been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and keeps thinking she’s REALLY the Butcher (who was the lead ghost/head of the Roanoke colony that disappeared). Sidney interviews her, she thinks she’s on board to do season two, and then he says nope, you’re nuts, and serves her with a restraining order. (Which, predictably, makes her go nuts.) As Sidney and his production assistant are leaving, the PA asks if he thinks the RO will keep Agnes away, to which he replies, “I hope not.” It was a deliberately provocative set-up by Sidney to hopefully insure she DOES show up.
It’s revealed that Sidney BOUGHT the house from Matt for “fifty cents on the dollar” and he’s had cameras installed in it. The people know that. What they do NOT know is he had an SFX team install fake scares (rigged windows to explode, the real video of the real Dr. Elias Cunningham to play, the kitchen sink acting weird, drawers blowing out of cabinets, the stove blowing fire, etc) because his goal, as he sold it to the network, isn’t to film a “reality show.” He’s convinced Lee murdered her husband and wants to use this to prove it. (A line in there about using horror to get reality.) So he’s contracted the actors who played Shelby, Lee, Matt, and Mott to stay in the house over three days of the “blood moon” with the real-life Shelby, Matt, and Lee.
But…now we’re faced with a HUGELY unreliable narrative from this point on.
For starters, a crew member gorily accidentally decapitates himself with a chainsaw (caught on film on another camera as it was being placed) just hours before everyone’s scheduled to arrive. Sidney says nope, we’re not stopping, let’s go. He has production trailers set up a half mile from the house where he’s watching events unfold, and everyone’s been given a cell phone that can only film, not make calls. (Why not just give them Go-Pros, I don’t know, that did read like a heavy-handed Chekov’s gun to me, so… *shrugs*.) They also have found a creepy circle of dead fetal pigs someone left nearby, but it wasn’t their crew who did it, and bugnuts Agnes denies she did it.
Anyway. After the crew member decapitation, the production assistant says fuck this noise, I’m out. As she’s driving away, of course she’s filming and talking, she stops and turns her camera so you see in the distance a woman dressed in period garb, but you don’t see WHO it is, or a face. She says, “Fuck this,” she wasn’t going to see who it was, and keeps driving JUST to have a pigman appear in her backseat (HUGELY effective scare, BTW) and she crashes her car, all caught on film.
A title card then comes up saying that was footage retrieved from her phone by police three months later, but her body was never recovered.
Meanwhile the cast is arriving, as are the real-life people. Rory and Audrey are the first there, and they see “Agnes” dressed as the Butcher, armed with a cleaver, break a window. Sidney and others arrive and say there’s no sign of her outside, they’ll call the cops if she returns. (But, remember, we don’t know if this is REALLY Agnes or not, even though it’s supposed to be.)
The actors, who filmed at the house in the summer, are laughing off the real Matt’s worries about it being the October “blood moon” (when the Butcher and the ghosts can kill, and when their ordeal really kicked into overdrive). Just because they never saw anything weird in the eight weeks or so they were there filming.
[A plot flaw was pointed out by someone else that Dr. Cunningham, who died, told Matt and Shelby the ghosts appear other times but during the three days of the “blood moon” they can actually hurt you and kill. So why didn’t the crew “see” anything during the earlier filming?]
Meanwhile, there’s another title that appears on the screen that gives us ANOTHER mystery. The wording was VERY particular and exacting and maybe I’m reading more into it than I should…
No, wait, I totes should, this is AHS, FFS.
Over the next three days during the blood moon, every participant in this series died under mysterious circumstances.
Except for one.
The show planned by producers never aired. This is the assembled found footage.
(Whoever called “found footage” as a twist possibility, check it off your bingo card now, please, thanks! LOL)
My thinking is this: the card DOES NOT say that only one participant SURVIVED. It says every participant DIED under MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES except for one.
That one might NOT have lived, they might have died under not-so-mysterious circumstances. (Maybe the chainsaw crew guy early on, because there’s no doubt what happened there, right?) So THERE is your mystery to wonder about. Did someone REALLY survive, or did they ALL die except we know how one died?
Is it Agnes? Is it Sidney (who maybe is secretly a serial killer)? We don’t know. Seriously. We do not know.
We also at one point in a downstairs hallway catch a glimpse of a figure passing across a camera frame, presumably the dead, burned ghost of Lee’s husband, Mason, after Lee’s just walked past. (But I don’t know if it was the reenactor or if it was supposed to be the real husband, because I haven’t pulled up screenshots yet. But keep that in mind.)
There’s a scene of Rory and Audrey out in the hot tub, and she goes inside. Perfectly framed “hidden camera” shot. Then, at one point, in the darkness behind Rory we see the torches from Tomasyn’s people. This is a shot we saw in the reenactments. But…are they REAL? Or are they a Sidney set-up?
Audrey’s upstairs, gets out of the shower, and encounters a pigman in the bathroom…but is it a REAL one, or a Sidney scare? She runs downstairs in a towel, screaming.
Keep in mind, the ACTORS think it’s all bullshit and immediately assume it’s fake scares set up by Sidney and are starting to get a little pissed off about it.
When Rory goes upstairs, alone, to investigate, he’s attacked and presumably killed by the two ghosts of the murdering nurse sisters who were writing the MURDE- on the wall (needing an R-named victim to finish it because the first name of their victims started with a letter spelling out MURDER).
Holy crap, we’ve been here before, haven’t we. BUT…are they REAL (ghosts) or are they fakes set up by Sidney to terrify the house occupants?
BUT…was Rory REALLY killed? Or is it another of Sidney’s set-ups? As of the end of the episode, the others haven’t yet discovered Rory’s dead, BUT meanwhile, downstairs, Matt found that the word MURDER on the wall is now complete with the final R and puts it together that it’s Rory who was the final R.
Meanwhile, Sidney is pissing himself in glee in the production trailer watching everything play out. I mean, if you saw this shit happening and Rory was really murdered (caught on film) wouldn’t you call a halt and call police? Even Sidney can’t be THAT cold (or can he?) meaning it’s all planned.
Or…is Rory dead? We KNOW people died. (Or do we? Is THAT even reliable? At this point, everything is suspect. Maybe it’s a mindfuck inside of a mindfuck.)
That makes me wonder if the Rory “murder” is not one at all. (At that point. Maybe he’s murdered for real later on.) Because Audrey ran downstairs screaming from the shower in a towel. Then she’s in the kitchen in a robe, AFTER Rory’s gone upstairs and been murdered. If he was really murdered, wouldn’t someone have NOTICED that when they went up to get her robe for her? [Edited to add: this could have simply been an unintentional production continuity error, or could really have been meant to be a clue.] Or did Rory’s body disappear? Or was he NOT really murdered? Was the now-complete MURDER lettering on the wall faked by Sidney? Or is Audrey in on it that it’s faked, because, hello, I’d be looking for my husband if I was really that scared and he went upstairs and didn’t return after a few minutes, or at least holler down that he’s fine. The others are creepily undisturbed by the fact that Rory is not back yet.
(This was GENIUS writing, too, FYI.)
Here we have this “family” (the reenactors) who are obviously close and friendly. Then the “real-life family” is distant and cold and fraught with issues because of what they went through. They’re not there willingly, that’s for damn sure. Other than Monet’s drinking problem, the “acting family” is happy funtimes, and Rory and Audrey got married and we even see their wedding video.
Shelby, Matt, and Lee had sworn never to set foot there again.
But…there they are.
We know Shelby is there to try to reconcile with Matt and she thinks they’ll be safe because of all the people. She also wants her story told BY her, not by Sidney. (She is NOT happy with Sidney at this point when Dominic shows up LITERALLY as she’s trying to talk to Matt about reconciling, and Matt puts a smackdown on him.) We don’t know yet why Matt is there. He admits to Shelby he thinks they’re going to die. Is he there to support Lee, his sister, to help her clear her name? (Which is why she’s there, that and the money because her ex’s mother is trying to sue for custody of her daughter now.)
LOTS of twisted up shit going on here. WAY too many possibilities. Fucking TIGHT pacing, excellent writing, DAMNED good directing (literally, IMO, THE best episode of the ENTIRE SERIES, not just this season), great scares that got me, unpredictable.
We haven’t see the “real-life” Cricket’s ghost, the “real-life” Dr. Cunningham, the “real-life-dead ghost” Mason (or have we?), or the “real-life-dead ghost” Mott. Or the real-life Polks (the hillbillies who were sacrificing people to Tomasyn to keep their own selves safe). Or the “real-life ghosts” of Tomasyn’s people. (Or Tomasyn.) Although Sidney claims they scoured the area looking for the Polks and couldn’t find them. (So what happened to the two boys who were taken by the police that were practically feral children? What about the cop that supposedly drove Lee back to the house and then abandoned her there? These are some loose plot strings not tied up…yet, at least.)
We also haven’t seen the “reenactor” who played the witch Scathach (played by Lady Gaga) who supposedly turned Tomasyn to the Dark Side, OR the real-life version of her. So who will play her, or Tomasyn’s other people in real-life (real-death?)? (And FYI, it’s been theorized that Scathach is the ORIGINAL Supreme that Coven (season 3) evolved from. [Edited to add: the showrunners have confirmed this.]
LOTS of unanswered questions. The fire under this kettle got cranked up by us now KNOWING (so we think) people have REALLY died. The problem is, we DON’T know. We don’t know what’s “real” and what’s not. This could be a mindfuck inside of a mindfuck.
We THINK the chainsaw decapitation accident was just that (but of course influenced by the house). That supposedly did happen.
We THINK the production assistant was killed by the pigman in her backseat, making her wreck, and that she saw the ghostly figure of a woman.
Beyond that, honestly? We don’t know WHAT is “real” and what is “Sidney” setting shit up. We seriously don’t. Anything happening in the house is suspect right now, even “murder.” Because, again, there’s Sidney in the production trailer giggling as they’re watching and filming, trying to gig Lee into a confession. We don’t know if this “found footage” is yet another show, reenactors reenacting more stuff, or what it claims to be, the recovered video that didn’t air as it was supposed to. We don’t know how much of the “reenactment” was “real” in terms of what really transpired, what was fluff added by Sidney for dramatic flair, or what was outright lied about by the original Shelby, Matt, and Lee. MORE levels of unreliability. For all we know, Matt, Shelby, and Lee could be running a cannibalistic cult. The three of them could have conspired to kill Mason together and then Shelby tried to frame Lee because Lee hated her anyway. The reenactors could secretly be in on the plan with Sidney to try to get Lee to confess. We have NO clue at this point. (Yes, too many layers to even get a handle on it.)
The producers promised a twist. They really did deliver, even better than promised.
We’ve had callbacks to previous seasons, Hotel (Matt and Shelby are from LA), callbacks to Freak Show (Mott, the builder of the house), callbacks to Coven (Scathach, and Cricket), callbacks to Murder House (the house itself and the bloody history and the ghosts being trapped there, the pigman, the Roanoke story and Croatoan banishment curse), and callbacks to Asylum (the two murdering nurses, also a callback to Murder House because two nursing students were murdered in the house). I’m sure I’m missing some. Remember, Hotel called back to Coven by having Queenie show up and get murdered there, plus Billie Dean Howard’s character was a callback to Murder House from Hotel, as was the real estate lady (and I’m too tired to look her name up right now). Also, Freak Show had a callback to Asylum with Pepper. I’m sure there are more callbacks/references I’m missing, those are off the top of my head.
And there are STILL actors/characters who haven’t popped up yet, but we KNOW are coming (including a promised most disturbing character yet, so that should be interesting given the bar this show has set). There are multiple prongs of tension being twisted tighter than Cricket’s intestines (aww, sorry).
My FAVORITE scene from this episode, THE creepiest, is Rory sitting in the hottub and behind him I see the torches in the darkness. FUCK. Again, we don’t know if it’s real or Sidney, but FUCK. That’s like shoving a car down a really steep road without brakes. The tension was INSANE.
I’m STILL not sure what this season’s “theme” is, either. I don’t know if it’s “greed” or “family is what you make it” or if it’s a reality-bending thing, or what. (Like Murder House was infidelity, Coven was women empowerment issues, Hotel was addiction, etc.) [Edited to add: I saw a theory it’s a commentary about how the murders of POC caught on camera are treated like shock video instead of the death of human beings. That’s another good possibility.]
[Also edited to add that the show “ruined” the lives of the real people involved in it, so maybe a theme about fame being destructive?]
Thoughts? Theories? Let’s unpack this and discuss. Chime in in the comments. 🙂