As both journalist and fan, I’ve attended various conventions, Comic-Cons, and celebrity panels over the years — which is probably why I appreciated the nauseating opener of the American Horror Story finale.
In real life, Ryan Murphy and his cast have graced the stage at PaleyFest to promote the anthology series, but here they poke fun at the scenario by bringing out the cast of the fictional My Roanoke Nightmare. In the timeline of season 6, this moment occurs before the mass murders in Return to Roanoke, and it embodies everything that can be aggravating, fan-baity, and — at worst — empty about these fan-driven events. The actors may try to outshine each other on stage for the best soundbite or audience reaction, the producer often makes a teasing remark about “some ideas” for another season without saying much of anything, and there’s always those one or two fans who ask silly questions like, “What’s your favorite color?” to which they get equally silly answers.
It was a moment that summed up the entirety of season 6. Roanoke began by baiting fans to guess the mysterious theme with an elaborate puzzle of teasers. The mystery went beyond the premiere, as what seemed like a True Crime show revealed four pieces to the larger puzzle: the My Roanoke Nightmare show complete with confessionals and reenactments, the behind-the-scenes drama with the producer, the Return to Roanoke reality show, and the aftermath that played out in news segments.
On top of that, this was the season to connect all the seasons: The Piggy Man killer from Murder House terrorized the mansion, Sarah Paulson reprised her Asylum character for the finale, Murphy drew a line to Coven by confirming Lady Gaga’s witch to be the very first Supreme, and Evan Peters’ Edward Mott was a descendant of the Mott family in Freak Show. The only one left out was Hotel, but we already know it’s linked to Murder House through Billie Dean Howard.
That was the true victory of season 6 — tying it all together. Murphy has hopes to make this show the Twilight Zone for a new generation, and wants to unite Murder House and Coven for a future season. Now he can do that with virtually no explanation, but if you cut away all the spectacle, there was little else to be enjoyed.
The only reasons AHS seems to be surviving are the thematic mysteries, the creatively gory deaths, and the cast. It’s the Jessica Lange, the Sarah Paulson, and the Lady Gaga of it all that impress, but the material has been waning since Season 1, arguably the best of the bunch. Asylum was complicated, but still tantalizing; Coven could’ve transcended what ended up being a kitschy plot line; I glazed through Freak Show; and Hotel, again, at least had Gaga. Roanoke was another low note: it wasn’t too far off from the trash reality television it tried to channel.
During The Lana Winters Special, Lee figured that the news woman can sympathize with her, having been through horrors of her own at Briarcliff Manor and her ability to realize there’s more to the story than what’s on the surface. That’s the problem with reality television, isn’t it? We don’t really have the full story. We don’t see the cast playing themselves, only them playing a part for the cameras.
There are few real moments in Roanoke. Audrey (Paulson), Dominic (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Rory (Peters), and Monet (Angela Bassett) all seemed as though they were hamming it up for the cameras because, hey, we only see them through the lens of found-footage from a reality show. It’s difficult to care about actual reality stars for this very reason.
It was equally difficult to care about Shelly (Lily Rabe) and Matt (Andre Holland) because their true horror story turned into a media spectacle, which was diluted further by the introduction of the self-absorbed actors. All of a sudden, a story that was physically confined to a single space (the Roanoke mansion) broke off into various moving parts, like with Agnes (Kathy Bates) and Sophie (Taissa Farmiga), each carrying less and less of an emotional impact. It’s hard to care for those we’ve only just met.
What was missing from a lot of the season was that human connection. There were attempts, like with Lee (Adina Porter) and her daughter, Flora, but most felt staged and insincere. AHS has never truly been scary, so it usually tries to bring in more flair, more gore, more style, more character. Roanoke was mostly flair. But that is the true magic of AHS: No matter how bad the seasons become, I’m still at my computer every year, refreshing the page for when FX announces the new theme.