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American Horror Story: Roanoke Review

*Spoiler alert: Don’t read if you haven’t finished American Horror Story: Roanoke*

American Horror Story: Roanoke concluded with its tenth and final episode. A lot of things happened in this short season of AHS – including two different television shows, cannibalistic hillbillies, a lost American colony explained, and a lot of murders. This season was terrifying and full of characters with multiple names and plot lines that weaved in and out through the season. There’s a lot of things to comment about, but first let’s recap the season in the most abbreviated way possible.

Season 6 Recap

Roanoke started off with a very interesting premise. It followed the fictional docuseries My Roanoke Nightmare, which told the story of Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe) and Matt Miller (André Holland). After falling victim to a gang initiation in Los Angeles, they decided to move to North Carolina, where they bought a large farmhouse, even against the wishes of the local hillbillies.

Shelby and Matt were soon tormented by strange events in their new house. They initially suspected the local residents who did not want them to buy the house. When Matt left on a business trip, he asked his sister, Lee Harris (Adina Porter), to stay with Shelby. Lee came with a lot of baggage of her own: a failed marriage, a ruined career, past drug addiction and a daughter, Flora, whom she later kidnaps and brings to the house against the wishes of her ex-husband, Mason.

The group was tormented by an array of different ghosts – the most notable being the Butcher, an old leader of the Roanoke colony, and her son, Ambrose White. Shelby, Matt and Lee are aided by the ghost of the house’s original owner, Edward Philippe Mott; a living previous owner of the house, Dr. Elias Cunningham; and a psychic named Cricket Marlowe.

The first half of Roanoke was a mix of interviews with the “real” Shelby, Matt and Flora, and dramatic reenactments. Audrey Tindall (Sarah Paulson) played Shelby Miller in the dramatic reenactments, Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) played Matt, Monet Tumusiime (Angela Bassett) played Lee Harris, Agnes Mary Winstead (Kathy Bates) played Thomasin White/the Butcher, William van Henderson (Denis O’Hare) played Dr. Elias Cunningham, Rory Monahan (Evan Peters) played Edward Philippe Mott, and Dylan (Wes Bentley) played Ambrose White. Mason’s actor in the reenactment went unnamed, but the real-life actor was Charles Malik Whitfield.

Everyone managed to escape the house, the ghosts and the hillbillies, except Mason, who was found dead in the woods.

My Roanoke Nightmare became a hit show. After the show, Shelby and Matt broke up because of Shelby’s affair with Dominic Banks. Agnes became too encompassed by her role as the Butcher and was committed to mental hospitals; and Mason’s murder was still unsolved.

The network executive of My Roanoke Nightmare, Sidney Aaron James (Cheyenne Jackson), wanted to make a sequel called Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell, where he would put the family and their actor counterparts in the same house. The ultimate goal of this sequel would be to reveal that Lee murdered Mason. Sidney was convinced that Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell would be an even bigger hit.

Sidney managed to get Shelby, Matt, Lee, Monet, Audrey, Dominic and Rory back into the house together. Pretty soon afterwards, strange things started happening again, and it was revealed that only one person survived the filming of Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell. After torment by the ghosts and the hillbilly family, the Polks, the only surviving cast and crew members were Lee and Audrey. However, Lee had been potentially possessed and attempted to murder Audrey. Audrey attempted to shoot Lee with a policeman’s gun but she was shot by the police and died.

The final episode, “Chapter 10,” of Roanoke showed Lee Miller being acquitted of the murders she committed, including Mason’s. However, her daughter went missing, so she went back to the farmhouse to look for her. She found Flora, convinced her to leave, and died in the fire that destroyed the house after it was revealed that she definitely murdered Mason. The last shot showed the ghosts of Roanoke with their torches marching toward the house.

Review

Roanoke was a lot to digest.

Also, it’s worth pointing out the total lack of an opening theme. Every American Horror Story season prior to this one had a super interesting and super freaky opening theme that set the tone for the season. Roanoke failed in this respect. I understand that Ryan Murphy originally chose to leave out this opening theme in order to keep major plot points secret, but I still wish we had one!

Framing this season in two different television shows was an interesting choice, but it also reduced many elements of surprise. In My Roanoke Nightmare, we see Shelby, Matt and Lee being interviewed about their experience in the farmhouse. These interviews obviously revealed that they survived the terrors in their house. Similarly, we are told that only one person survived Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell. Although we don’t know which person until the very end, we are still waiting for all of the characters to die.

And they do. Almost every character, except for Flora and William van Henderson, dies over the course of the season. Although the fact that everyone dies definitely makes this season a true nightmare, it also made the ending a bit disappointing because, literally, everybody dies.

I found it really ambitious of the writers to include two sets of antagonists: the ghosts of the Roanoke colony and the Polk family. In my opinion, this was overwhelming and the Roanoke colony ghosts failed to hit the mark for me. The explanation for why the Roanoke colonists ended up far away from the original lost colony and populated the area around the farmhouse was a stretch. I felt the writers were looking for an excuse for the farmhouse to be haunted even though it wasn’t near the lost colony. The backstory of the lost colony was not engaging. Consequently, I don’t think it deserved to be the namesake of the show. The other ghosts in the house, such as the nurses, seemed pointless and distracting.

The Polk family, the cannibalistic inbred neighbors that terrorized the Miller family and the cast of the show, was a much more interesting plotline. Their back-story – the inbreeding and strong familial ties – was engaging and the crimes they committed were much more horrifying. Lee Harris’s struggle to be set free by Jether Polk (Finn Wittrock) was one of the more terrifying and emotionally draining plot lines from the whole season.

Ultimately, although there were a lot of frightening and suspenseful moments, this season was very cluttered. There were far too many protagonists, antagonists and plot lines to keep straight. However, I’m not surprised since there’s always a lot going on in every season. I enjoyed this season, but I think that it was too ambitious for its own good. Comment and let us know what you thought!

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