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The Real Killer in American Horror Story: Roanoke Is Fame

This is NOT how to get to Hollywood

Ryan Sandoval

Apart from being a scary good time, American Horror Story: Roanoke's "Chapter 7" doubled down on the idea of notoriety and all the ups and downs associated with being well known to the public. Fame! Whether it was the deranged Agnes (Kathy Bates) literally hacking her way back in front of the cameras or Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) touting the importance of screen time via talking head testimonial, the episode continued the season's whole meta spirit by taking a few pit stops to dwell on the elements of fame and public reputation.

Let's take a look at all the ingredients in this spooky stew that helped that happen:

All the World's a Stage


So just by being alive in this day and age, we pretty much know that anyone willing to take part in a reality show sees life in terms of drama. Stages, audiences -- this episode played with ideas of both in a variety of ways. For instance, in its purest form a haunting is itself a tiny little performance and the area where the likes of ghost mobs or tunnel spirits manifest a sort of stage. If the Roanoke house itself is rigged to be a stage for all the reality show drama to play out, then the Blood Moon's appearance had to be the curtains going up. And it didn't matter whether the players here needed to use the exposure to clear a name like Lee (Adina Porter), just get paid like Monet (Angela Bassett), or feed an ego like Audrey (Sarah Paulson). Once the mayhem began, everyone on that stage became subject to the will of their setting. Like everyone had grand designs on how to make this show work to their benefit, but the stage fought back! All the evil in that sacred land manifested itself in violent rejection of the characters and their motivations.

See, in a way, the goal of any performer is to master their given stage in order to achieve a desired image. If Dominic comes across well as the bad guy, he'll get whatever career rewards he's after. Or if Shelby (Lily Rabe) was able to use this original setting of marital strife to convince Matt (Andre Holland) to start fresh, then all the problems they've been through might go away. Whatever the case, the fact that players are dependent at all on a stage to achieve a certain image gives that space an energy. Almost a sentience. There's at least that relationship. In the end, though, everyone was basically reduced to the same generalized character: a scared aspiring survivor.
American Horror Story: Roanaoke: Did you see this killer coming?

Pleasing the Audience


Another thing fame requires is an audience. It's important! Performers feed off the energy of a crowd. Hell, Agnes, in her testimonial-meets-Ye Olde Manifesto, cited fans wanting more of The Butcher, as a reason for her bloody return. Not to mention, the feud she has with Audrey for her Saturn Award, or Sidney's (Cheyenne Jackson) priority of filming gruesome deaths for ratings. Sure, there are good ways to be inspired by an audience, but we're not seeing them on Roanoke. This story's more invested with the dark side of fame.

Worse, for the unlucky members of the Roanoke house, every aspect of viewership aside from us actual humans here in the real world is slowly going away. Without a group of watchers to either make a judgement on Lee's innocence or respond positively to Dominic's screen time the whole reason for existing in these circumstances for these people has been ripped away. What hell for attention whores! In a sense, that's a type of death. See, the whole goal of a performance is to transfer emotions from one party to another. Without that, Shelby, Matt and the gang have essentially become trapped in a prison world where no one knows their danger and life is growing more futile every minute. Worse, their fame points aren't being counted. If a reality show gets filmed in some haunted woods and no one's there to see it, is it even a show? Some would say obscurity is a fate worse than death. But...

The Show Must Go On


Yeah, no, these showboats aren't going down without a fight. Things fell apart (Shelby killed Matt, Sidney becoming disemboweled), but Audrey still managed to be incredibly hammy and Shelby tried to film her final moments alive! Such is the world we live in. The production may be dead and the audience disconnected, but as long as these characters have phones they have still have their own mini stages.

Which is to say, the cameras kept filming even as the hands holding them changed over to the Polks. Sure, this is partly because the storytelling requires documentation to continue. But just as the "stage" of the Roanoke house upended the designs of its inhabitants, now the very format of the show has turned against Shelby & Co. Whereas before each character had plans to make the show/setting/stage bend to their respective purposes, now they've become details in the grim will of fate. Doomed props without agency to help this inevitable story play out. The opposite of famous: a captive audience.

Who will be the sole survivor? Will the Forest Witch seek her revenge on Shelby for destroying Matt? Will she go for Dominic instead?

American Horror Story: Roanoke airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.