AHS: Roanoke “Chapter 6” flipped the story. Was it worth the buildup?
And then there was one. AHS: Roanoke packs the old Mott house with actors, cameras, and spring-loaded drawers to capture a new reality series. No longer are the actors working safely under the summer sun. No longer are the real-life survivors speaking to a producer behind a camera.
After airing the finale, ratings for the series saw a spike that beat out Sunday night football and Empire. My Roanoke Nightmare has the network at its feet. What do they plan to do? Send everyone back to the house for the three days of the blood moon.
Off-screen Bates’ character Agnes went Butcher-style crazy, real-Shelby and actor-Matt had an affair, and Lee is still under investigation for murder charges. The crew begins to sense that something is amok on the land, but production never ceases.
Death by chainsaw, dead fetal pigs, and car crashes are not excuses for delaying production. But setting people on edge and inspiring drama are all part of the fertilizer that allows drama to thrive.
The latter is something the Roanoke production team happens to do very well. A haunting is going down and only one member of the party will make it out of that house alive.
Ursula K. le Guin, award-winning science-fiction author, has a great piece on writing that describes the many different types of stories. AHS explores most, if not all of her examples.
le Guin perfectly sums up the first five episodes of Roanoke in her description of stories that are paced so quickly, you never realize they are off-balance. “You don’t see much scenery, running, or learn much. You run for the sake of running, the pleasure and excitement,” writes le Guin.
Roanoke ran through the North Carolina shoreline at a pace that did not allow for an intimate understanding of plot, characters, or structure.
A few episodes ago, I compared watching Roanoke to walking through a haunted house. No one questions what is happening, nor do they really care.
It was not my type of story, but “Chapter 6” pulls the camera back and with that gesture, pulls my attention inward. Why? Because for the first week since Roanoke‘s premiere, the excitement of the unknown drives the show.
In fact, I’m willing to admit that I screamed out loud for the first time since the piggy man made his Murder House debut. With only 15 minutes left in the episode, the second twist of the night dropped.
Everyone who went into the house died — except one.
Just as Sidney pitches to the network executives, his next idea is “familiar, but different.” AHS has threads of Real World and And Then There Were None braided together with the unique premise only an installment of AHS could attempt to reproduce.
One final quote to close out this episode. “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” Credit to Abraham Lincoln for the quote, credit to AHS for forcing me to address what exactly I dislike about the series every season.
We never get to truly “know” anyone. Season 6 will not be any different. The people we spent five episodes, almost half the season, getting to know are gone. “Chapter 6” is a reset button.
Roanoke is the key to better understanding Ryan “the creator” Murphy. If you are still reading these recaps, you are probably aware of my inclination to stray from giving into the weekly praise of any AHS incarnation until it is complete. This is partially due to the fact that I focus heavily on what I dislike week after week.
From the first meeting with the network, through the preview for “Chapter 7,” there are similarities to what I know about Murphy’s own development process.
Most if not all of these are mirrored in this episode. Here are a few examples:
- How does everyone blindly buy into whatever the next installment is even if they are disappointed by the prior season? (Network executives list concerns.)
- People who work with Murphy once will work with him again and again and again.
- “All the seasons connect… I have a few ideas I’m working on.” (Sounds a lot like, “Familiar, but different.”)
- Jessica Lange wants to be in the Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Ryan Murphy just happens to own the rights and can get it up at the Roundabout. (Sidney owns the Roanoke house for easy production. Agnes also mentions the lead role in Long Day’s while being interviewed.)
My point is, if this twist is a means of delivering classic jump-scare horror while also becoming completely self-aware, I am into it. I’m never going to fall in love with AHS as deeply as I did with Murder House.
I might as well take what I am learning about Ryan Murphy, namely that he does have some sense of humility, and begin redefining how I feel about him and his body of work.
Odds and Ends
• Is this how Ryan Murphy envisions his casts behaving after his shows wrap? The roles he brings to his actors are career-changing, but I do not buy that Paulson pretends to be Marsha Clark on the weekends.
• Oh boy, confessionals…
• Where is Dennis O’Hare?
What do you think of ‘AHS: Roanoke’s’ twist?
Watch AHS: Roanoke chapter 7, Wednesday, October 26 at 10:00 p.m. ET on FX.