Despite American Horror Story: Roanoke's shortcomings (or fake shortcomings — just pull the rug out from under our feet already!), this show has at least given us another batch of relatable characters dealing with some rather inhuman scenarios. OK, Shelby and Matt can be pretty dumb sometimes, but maybe this is on purpose? Like, how many characters in horror stories have you seen go down darkened stairs all alone or mistake a slasher for a lover trying to slip into a pitch black couples shower? Probably some. Tropes be damned, these two knuckleheads still need all the help they can get considering how stubborn they're being about setting down roots. There is the whole Flora thing, but even beyond the missing child these two can be a real pair of dopes sometimes.
That said, "Chapter 4" doubled down on the element of "help" as pertains to the horror genre. It's a genre basically powered by the idea of "help," in all the concept's many iterations and permutations. By focusing on the relationship between the helpless and the helpful the episode demonstrated what role aid plays in life's scariest scenarios, and how assistance can define, and defend against, the world's various threats.
Specifically, Matt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Shelby (Sarah Paulson) got a ton of help in terms of information about the unknown. Or rather, The Unknown. Think of a haunted house. Of darkness. Of mysterious sounds. Of things that go bump in the night. Of a Piggy Man like the one that chased Shelby in her own home. Terrifying things like thick-tongued ghost hordes or Druid Forest Witches (Lady Gaga) are even scarier when their actions go unexplained. Forget that a scary thing is happening, the inability to find logic in traumatic experiences can be a damning position. Think about parents wanting closure on missing children, no matter the violent end. Information can help rationalize the horrible.
So someone like Elias Cunningham (Denis O'Hare), was especially helpful for bozos Matt and Shelby because the academic brought with him a slew of research on the home. Details to help demystify the inexplicable. Sure knowing the particularities only made The Butcher slightly less scary, but his facts at least got the dim-witted couple one step closer to figuring out a strategy to recover Flora: approach Priscilla, and don't ruffle The Butcher's feathers.
But help is also transactional. It comes with a price. Not that we expect ding-dongs Matt and Shelby to pick up on this sort of subtlety. Characters like Elias and the wonderful Cricket (Leslie Jordan) may have offered their time, wisdom and physical energy but in taking the risk both ended up paying the ultimate price. Did they need to help the Millers? Nope, not at all. One did so out of the goodness of his pre-arrow-pierced heart, and the other for money. Although to be fair Cricket seemed to have a soft-spot for the plight of Flora. He seemed to actually care.
Story-wise, while Elias illuminated the shadowy danger of this land's history with his tireless research that our dunderheaded heroes might better understand their enemy, this new knowledge coincided with the growth of the threat itself. See, by killing off the two most helpful characters in this world, the Millers became 10 times more vulnerable. Also this all happened at the worst possible time. Which is to say the Dying Grass Moon allowed for all the past ghosts of this land to do even more physical harm to the even more helpless moose-brains.
To be fair its pretty common for characters to lose the assistance of mentor type figures like Elias and Cricket. The absence of backup usually means it's time for the protagonist to step up and handle business. To help themselves. Any battle between victims and threats can be viewed as a simple "Us vs. Them"-type game. The people who want to keep living take on the forces that want to kill. What was interesting about "Chapter 4" though was how the two rival factions needed each other's help. The Forest Witch needed the help of Matt to satisfy her womanly urges (moon sex) and the Millers needed the help of the legions of dead to deliver Flora back safely to the world of the living. Or from another perspective, each side had the power to hurt the other by depriving help. If help is transactional, it also has a positive and negative value. Again, no way Tweedledum and Tweedledee noticed any of this. Yeesh.
If the idea of help hadn't already been warped enough, both "sides" also had individuals who went ahead and helped out the opposing team by hurting their own. For instance, Priscilla shoved The Butcher in a show of defiance and Matthew made sweet druidic love to the Forest Witch instead of watching over Shelby. So there was helpers hurting, and hurters helping, and of course we couldn't expect Mr. and Mrs. Ignoramus to make any sense of the situation. What does it all mean?
Well, if you think about it, the season's whole focus on the Roanoke colony is all about the terrors of helplessness in the face of the unknown. Hell, the concept of "help" is as natural as life itself. A seed needs the help of the elements to grow. A baby needs the help of a mother to survive. Just as the Millers were dependent on the more experienced Cricket and Elias to guide them through the new world of the unknown, people like the doomed colonists of Roanoke needed the help of the land and instead found it in the care of the Forest Witch. The idea of help is embedded in the very fabric of existence.
And that itself is terrifying.
American Horror Story: Roanoke airs Wednesday's at 10/9c on FX
Why does the Forest Witch want to bang Matt so badly?
What was Cricket planning to do?
What's going to happen to Lee if the Millers fail to help?