Tuesday, April 16, 2024

American Horror Story is Back. What Now?

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It’s that time of year again! The return of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy’s uneven anthology series that returns each fall to confound and divide us. I want to clear something up right away, because I know it’s important information in the AHS fandom: my favorite season is Asylum.

Okay, wait, calm down. I’m aware that’s one of those statements like “my favorite character is Jar Jar” (maybe not that bad…and it’s not, by the way!), but I have my reasons. American Horror Story‘s bread and butter is ~shocking plot twists~ which usually amount to dead-end storytelling and pointless characters. Asylum worked (besides that damn Christmas episode) because it was balls-to-the-wall, no-holds-barred crazy face. Aliens! Polygamy! Mutant creatures in the forest! Nazis! Possessed nuns! God’s gift to musical numbers! If you wanted it, Asylum had it, and I loved it.

Thank you for this, at least, Ryan Murphy.

Murder House was intriguing until it wasn’t anymore. Coven, despite its stellar cast and amazing concept, went in frustrating circles and was ultimately disappointing. Freak Show was just. A mess. I didn’t hate Hotel as much as many people, but they killed Queenie, so bye-bye.

Season 6 has been wrapped in secrecy from the get-go. All we knew for sure were the actors, and the fact that it had been cut from 13 episodes to 10. Hallelujah. Maybe Ryan Murphy can self-edit after all. The network released false teaser images and trailers, and as a marketing ploy it worked like gangbusters. I usually sort-of-kind-of watch at AHS, but this season I was intrigued.

Finally on Wednesday night we all tuned in to find out what, finally, Murphy et. al. had in store for us this fall. “My Roanoke Nightmare”. Hm. Okie dokie.

For those of you not familiar, or who didn’t watch season 1 of AHS, the Lost Colony (or Roanoke Colony) was the first English settlement in the New World. Sir Walter Raleigh had John White settle over 100 men, women, and children (including his granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English baby born on this side of the Atlantic) on Roanoke Island, off the coast of NC. White went back to England on a beer run, but the Anglo-Spanish war delayed his return for 3 years. By the time he got back, the colony was gone. The houses had been dismantled, and there was nothing left except the word “CROATOAN” carved into a nearby tree. You can go see a play about it in the summer, and if you forget your own mosquito repellent they will provide some for you because no one wants you dying of blood loss mid-show.

Mystery! Intrigue! Excitement!

In AHS lore, apparently the word “croatoan” is a curse to banish ghosts. In real life it’s the name of a local indigenous tribe, and theories abound: the colony was destroyed by the Croatoan. The locals helped the colonists survive the winters and eventually absorbed the colony itself. Point is, we don’t really know, and John White was too busy fighting a hurricane and the Graveyard of the Atlantic to find out at the time.

My Roanoke Nightmare

The episode is done in a docudrama format: Lily Rabe and Andre Holland play husband and wife Matt and Shelby Miller, while Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. play their reenactment counterparts. Obviously this is a significant departure from anything AHS has done before, and while at first I thought it was kinda nuts, as the episode went on I warmed to it. I actually dig it, to be honest. At least 43 minutes in.

Matt and Shelby live in LA, and one night they’re attacked on their way to the movies. Matt is beaten rather badly, and Shelby loses the baby she’s carrying. After that they feel unsafe in the city, so they decide to move back to Matt’s home state of North Carolina. Eastern North Carolina, which. Well, at least they’re at the beach, because honestly anything between the beach and Raleigh is just a wash.

Did I mention I’m from NC?

They find this AMAZING farm house just stuck out in the middle of the forest and buy it at auction for $40k. There are some hillbilly types bidding on it as well, and they warn Cuba and Sarah they don’t want the house, but they buy it anyway. Because of course they do.

I’d live there if it weren’t all creepy and shit.

Lily Rabe tells us that she felt uneasy about the house from the start, but Andre says she never said anything about that. Sarah and Cuba seem to be settling in nicely, though Sarah is a little jumpy. It rains teeth one day, so I can’t blame her too much.

One night Cuba goes to Raleigh and leaves Sarah there alone, and she’s attacked in the hot tub by unknown assailants. The cops find no evidence, of course, but Cuba is sufficiently bothered to call his sister to come stay with them.

Enter Angela Bassett (reenactor) and Adina Porter (docu version). I’m seriously loving the cast this season.

Lee thinks Sarah is crazy,

A jumpy bitch.

but then one night the intruders return. They lock the women in the basement, while Cuba, in Raleigh, watches some of it on his cell phone through a security system he set up. He rushes home, and in their foyer is a sort of Blair Witch-like display of twig dolls.

Matt is still convinced the whole thing is racists, but Shelby and Lee aren’t so sure. Matt and Shelby fight about it, and she drives off. On the road she smashes into Kathy Bates, pretty damn hard, but Kathy’s a pro and walks it off. Shelby/Sarah follows her into the woods while Shelby/Lily tells us that after only a few feet she found herself lost.

She finds more of the doll things, and a crowd of poorly dressed people, led by a hairy Wes Bentley, emerges from the woods and surrounds her, all while carrying torches and looking creepy.

It’s a good damn thing this isn’t really filmed in North Carolina or she would’ve wandered into a bog, and people with torches would’ve been the last thing on her mind as she was viciously consumed by swarms of human-eating mosquitos.

That wasn’t a joke.

I’m intrigued…

I’ve seen a lot of people complaining that the episode was too vague or confusing, but…well, first of all, it’s AHS. It’s supposed to be vague. I didn’t find it confusing in the least, though I guess maybe if you’re not familiar with shows like, I dunno, A Haunting or something, it might be.

I’ve also seen people bitching because Evan Peters wasn’t in the episode, but cry me a damn river. We’ve got Angela Bassett, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Gaga in the preview…I’m not at all worried about Evan Peters. Stay home, kid. I don’t mind.

There are theories that the reason FX has been so cagey about this season’s theme is because it intends to follow an episodic format, that each episode is presented as an episode of the show-within-a-show docudrama. Whether all the episodes will connect or not is unknown, but most theories say yes.

I gotta call bunk on that one. First of all, the first episode was just too vague to be standalone. Not enough happened, really, and it set up too many mysteries for us to try to figure out. Also, of course, the preview for next week seems to show a continuation of this week’s, so I mean. There goes that. But people are still pretty dedicated to it, and I even saw a blurb in Vanity Fair earlier this week that trotted it out.

Overall I liked the episode. To say it was better than 5×01 is to do it a huge injustice, because honestly the first episode of Hotel was pure trash and I hated every second of it. If the season gets better from here, as Hotel did, then I think we’re in for a good ride.

It’s got a lot of callbacks to season 1: the creepy house, a dude in a pig mask, Denis O’Hare as a former owner of said house, random ghost nurses wandering around, of course the whole Croatoan thing. Do I miss Jessica Lange? Not yet, and I was okay without her last season. Let’s be honest, she can never top this:

Oscars shmoscars, this is the pinnacle of her career.

Images courtesy of FX

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