It's impossible to talk about "Chapter 6" of American Horror Story: Roanoke without at least mentioning The Jinx on HBO. If you'll recall (spoiler alert) the documentary on alleged murderer Robert Durst ended a pretty straightforward true crime study by capturing an on-camera admittance (following a gross devil's burp) that Durst had indeed committed some murders. It was riveting television! To go from voyeur on a journey to uncover the truth, to a witness of the very moment when that truth came out for the first time ever, was — well, it's the kind of moment producers chase like the Holy Grail.
We have to imagine American Horror Story at least had this in mind when they decided to lump all involved with My Roanoke Nightmare into this pressure cooker of a reality show-meets-found-footage premise in hopes of getting to the bottom of the mystery behind the death of Lee's (Adina Porter) barbecued husband. Not a complaint! As an unabashed fan of any time found footage makes its way into television (I liked The River and Siberia) and a lukewarm fan of all previous episodes this season, this hour managed to fully redeem itself.
American Horror Story: Roanoke breaks the fourth wall and kills your favorite character
Let's take a look at what made this happen:
Non-Reset Reset: Fresh starts are great. They're like the first day of school, but for our eyeballs. Especially when it comes to American Horror Story. Each season we get to see which of our beloved stable of actors will be playing who, and become newly acquainted with whatever premise will tie together all the human drama (however late that premise gets established). Five episodes of setup was honestly unnecessary to get to Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell, but hey it's cool to see identity swaps without having to wait for a new season. Characters became other characters. Edward Mott became the bro-tastic, flip-flop wearing, fight-stopping Rory Monahan (Evan Peters). New faces, like the ratings-hungry Sidney (Cheyenne Jackson) popped up. Plus, even outside the American Horror universe, the concept of making people endure a Dying Grass Moon in a house rigged with cameras and fake scares is a fun-as-hell idea. Not only will the normal human drama play out, but the game of keeping track of all the mind-bending parallels is going to be highly satisfying. Suddenly the show feels fresh again.
The Doppelganger Effect: There's an old saying in showbiz: if you're going to go meta, then baby, go meta. Which is to say American Horror Story is always so good about introducing themes and following them through that I'm happy at least the premise of sparring realities has been taken to the next level. The episode was chockablock with mirrored happenings big and small. The very idea of filming a reality show that looks to recreate real-life events in an actual haunted house rigged with fake scares was the biggie, but it didn't stop there. The actual players seemed to have absorbed this fluid identity complex too. Agnes Winstead (Kathy Bates) dove too deep into her role as The Butcher and ended up having schizoaffective disorder. Fake Lee/Monet Tumusiime (Angela Bassett) and Real Lee had words about how their shared personas affected each other's real lives. Shelby (Lily Rabe) was seen canoodling with Fake Matt/Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Now whether any of this is building toward a message or just telescoping ad infinitum remains to be seen, but the interplay between realities sure is fun to watch.
Triple the Laughs: Nine words: production assistant cuts off own head with a chainsaw. Earlier episodes couldn't be overtly hilarious because of the poker-faced tone necessary to build up to "Chapter 6"'s full-fledged reveal. Which meant the belly laughs here were earned and cathartic. Where to begin? Sidney's cutthroat producing could be its own series, but there was: Agnes citing the most coveted roles in drama as "Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, and The Butcher"; or Lee calling her child custody battle "the real Roanoke nightmare." There was Rory breaking character during the tunnel scene or Audrey Tindall's (Sarah Paulson) British accent; the couple's cheesy wedding video, including Audrey's earnest reaction to some genuinely dumb wedding vows. The best joke though came from Shelby's 911 phone call: Shelby: "She's coming to take my Saturn?" Dispatcher: "Someone's trying to steal your vehicle?" Perfection.
Established Dynamics: Of course Agnes stealing Shelby's Saturn Award (lol) wouldn't have been as funny if these two were strangers, nor would it have been as entertaining if all the inhabitants of the Roanoke House didn't already have such a bizarre connection. We're talking about some individuals whose only thing in common is the fact that they helped tell the story of a haunting for television. What a weird way to be connected! Every interaction is charged with subtext. Hell, Bachelor in Paradise knows this. To see Real Shelby in a love triangle with Real Matt (Andre Holland) and Fake Matt is good soapy drama, and you just know Agnes is going to ignore that restraining order.
All these reasons made for a strong comeback. Plus, the new tone has successfully revived curiosity about where the final four episodes will lead. Well done, American Horror Story, well done.
Do you think Rory is actually dead or just fake dead? Did Real Matt come back to the house because of the Forest Witch? What other reason would he have? Were the original hauntings maybe not that bad if Matt, Shelby, and Lee were all willing to return? Will Sidney "get his"? Who will be the sole survivor in this game of death?
American Horror Story: Roanoke airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.