I don’t subscribe to the adage that “there are two kinds of people in the world,” even if it makes for some pretty great Twitter jokes. There are, for instance, at least three different kinds of people who are obsessed with Ryan Murphy’s body of work ALONE. There are the sincere die-hards (consider the Gleeks or anyone part of the BooBooDaddy fan club); the ironically-distanced hipster “hate-watcher” (“Did they starve Jessica Lange before filming because if she chewed that scene any harder blah blah you get the point HERE’S A FUNNY MEME“) and then there’s me. I call myself a wary appreciator of Ryan Murphy and all his crossover, campy, frequently lazy but sometimes INCREDIBLE coterie of television programming. I myself fall more into the first subset of people than the latter, and I’ll admit that I still care enough about American Horror Story–yes, Freak Show and all–to be deflated when a premiere doesn’t live up to my expectations. And for all the hoopla and buzz and highly-marketed misdirects (which in itself was weird advertising, to have your creators come out and gloat about how it would be impossible for them to live up to their own hype), “My Roanoke Nightmare” felt markedly…flat. On purpose, for sure. But still…sigh.
So what’s going on this season? Well, after ALL THAT, it turns out the original leaks about the story involving the lost colony of Roanoke and some sort of Slenderman “creature in the woods” happened to be correct. Yawn, called it. The narrative framing device, that the show is now a show-within-a-show, with “real” people telling their stories as talking heads while the actual plot unfolds as a reenactments, could be fun down the line, but struck me as more a cute concept than a sustainable model. Because the reenactments aren’t filmed like reenactments; they’re filmed like full-fledged, tooth-hail storms starring Marcia Clark and O.J. Simpson as a biracial couple that are really waffling on whether they should chalk every creepy thing up to “nerves” or “murdering hillbilly racists.” Don’t worry, Cuba Gooding Jr. definitely thinks it’s both these things, and as soon as he and Sarah Paulson settle down in their new home (which he immediately leaves, because he’s a traveling salesman, which def is a thing that still exists, esp when you can just up and relocate from LA to NORTH CAROLINA), he’s out installing security cameras to capture the strange phenomena going on outside the house. Couldn’t put in the extra $$ for installing an actual lock on the doors, or one of those things that notifies a system alert company to check in at the house though. Maybe he’s a traveling video camera salesman?
Oh yes, and Sarah Paulson is “reenacting” the experience of Lily Rabe playing a woman name Shelby, and Cuba is playing her husband, Matt (who is also being played by Andre Holland for the talking heads sequences). Something feels very, very recycled here: in the past, Murphy has had actors double-up and play more than one character (last season’s Hotel had Paulson and Finn Wittrock in two roles each), and now we have the opposite of that, which doesn’t seem to be any more logical or interesting to watch. Yes, we get it, true crime/paranormal activity shows are super hot right now, and one could say that Murphy’s phenomenal The People V. OJ Simpson was itself a dramatic reenactment that served as a nice counterbalance to all the Serials and Making a Murderers in the world right now. But Murphy and AHS are SO uninterested in that gritty “realism” that the show can’t even be bothered to play into its own trope: hence, the talking heads come off as nothing more than a gimmick. Ostensibly, we could assume from the formatting that this meant Shelby and Matt, along with Matt’s sister Lee (Adina Porter as a talking head, Angela Bassett in the reenactment) survive their Roanoke Nightmare, thus undercutting the only tension in the story so far, but this is Ryan Murphy we’re talking about. These dopplegangers could be the ACTUAL decoys of Matt and Shelby and Lee, who are still holed up in a basement somewhere, watching what I believe is Denis O’Hare shoot a home movie from the set of Until Dawn.
Oh yeah, so let’s get to that “homage” stuff. AHS can’t be blamed for how hard it rips off other horror concepts, because that’s sort of the point of the show. But it was a little too on the nose to have trailers for Blair Witch running during the commercials of a show that stole stick figure dolls directly from their prop department. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m onto something with this Until Dawn theory, because wendigos are a distinct possibility for Roanoke Nightmare. Think about it: the elongated limbs, the pig’s head-human hybrid? We’re talking Skinwalkers all the way, baby.
We end up with Shelby doing the only logical thing one can do when your house is being assaulted, Deliverance-style, and driving the fuck out of dodge, only to hit Kathy Bates in old-timey clothes, whom she follows into the woods, which immediately starts undulating in a pretty freaky way. (Very Clive Barker, “In the Hills, in the Cities.“) She also gets lost instantly, AS ONE DOES, and stumbles on a bunch more of discarded Blair Witch stuff, and then…mutant hillbillies with pitchforks? Some dude with half a brain caved in? The Hills Have Eyes Meets a Pig Monster? We don’t know what we’re dealing with here yet, and without our precious opening credit sequence to tell us what to expect this season, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that Evan Peters makes it into the next episode.
–Yeah, of course Lee’s backstory is the MOST intense. “I was a cop who saved a baby from a crack den, got hurt on the job, got addicted to Vicodin, then a suspect of mine shot himself but I was blamed for it and also that same day my husband left me.” Damn, save some of that backstory for the rest of the season, lady! Also, I loved Ms. Porter–who I will always know firstly as Tara’s mom on True Blood–popping up to play dopple-popple Basset.
–I hope by the end of this, EVERYONE gets a talking head character. Like the pig monster should just be on camera at some point, except it’s Matt Bomer and he’s wearing a bird mask and going “Yeah, for awhile there, I just felt completely misunderstood by my new neighbors.”
—American Horror Story‘s sixth season feels like a real recycling of the first season’s major plot point. Couple suffering after a miscarriage put all their money into an old house they are able to buy on the waaaaay cheap; unfriendly neighbors, weird occurrences, wife gets left alone IMMEDIATELY, yada yada. The biracial element is straight from season 2, but set in 2016 (or whenever they are reenacting from), this detail seems a little wonky. Why would this couple move to North Carolina, specifically? Any reason? I mean, if the reason Matt wanted to move out of whatever major urban city they started in (L.A.? New Orleans?) because he was a victim of a random gang hazing thing (happens all the time, sure) that wasn’t racially motivated, why move to a backwaters Appalachian village? “Oh, at least here we are VERY sure our neighbors owned slaves. No question.”
–LOL to someone taking the time to murder a pig and set up a VHS player into this new murder house, when clearly there are TEETH FALLING FROM THE SKY and TECTONIC GROUND SWELLS. Undersells the horror, a little bit. Whatever is coming into this Roanoke Nightmare, I think the human home invaders in Colonial Williamsburg garb are probably the least of anyone’s worries.