As the sixth season of the show, American Horror Story: Roanoke had a lot to live up to. After Hotel was panned as a total failure and Freak Show generally regarded as sub-par, Roanoke really needed to bring in the quality as well as the scares. And, for the most part, it did. In fact, this season took the risks that the format needed to survive and really amped up the frights.
The basic plot of the show is a little complicated. The first episodes are done in the style of “true crime” shows, where the real people give their testimony while seated and actors reenact the incidents. We see the story of Shelby and Matt, a couple from California who moves to Virginia to find peace and ends up on extremely haunted land. Things go from bad to worse when the blood moon comes about and the spirits of the land begin to get incredibly violent. In the second part of the season, it is revealed that the show became so popular that they’re making a show called “Return to Roanoke” where the real people and the actors return to the house, only for madness and murder to ensue.
If you are not a big fan of blood and guts, you really shouldn’t be watching American Horror Story to begin with but especially not this episodes. There is a lot of bodily damage done, and over long periods of time. It’s great because you never really know who is going to die, but it can be intense. It’s the fact that it never pulls any punches that makes it such a good season though, and it knows when to hit home. It’s almost amazing that this show reminded me that the whole point of this show is to be scary. Hotel was more style over scares, and Freak Show before really only had the clown going for it. Roanoke is both a haunted house thriller and a human drama train wreck. The ghosts of the house are excellently designed, from nightmarish to stylish, with the “real” ghosts being far scarier than their reality show.
In terms of characters, it’s almost difficult to separate the actors from their “real life” people, if only because for the first half of the show, they were basically the same people. Basically, they’re all terrible people that are highly sympathetic because of the extreme circumstances they come under, and all the actors do a great job portraying that duality. Lily Rabe and André Holland as the real Shelby and Matt are two of the best, because their chemistry and later sadness are palpable. Rory, the actor who plays the ghost of Edward Philippe Mott, is also excellent, playing this superficial, frat-boy type which should be ridiculous but because of the juxtaposition of the stuffy and commandeering attitude of Mott, it all works out. Honestly, everyone is excellently cast and, for once, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
The weakest episode by far is the eighth, if only became redneck torture only really works in Cabin in the Woods, and compared to the feeling of fear and hopelessness that the bloody, angry ghosts created, regular people are more gross than scary. However, all of the episodes around it are strong before and after that, so hang in there, I promise it doesn’t last.
American Horror Story: Roanoke is also an excellent looking show. If there’s anything this series has, it’s always been an interesting and engaging aesthetic. The wood take on a sinister nature as they are explore, the house becomes the perfect stage for all those sick scenes of torture and fear. There’s a lot of energy put in the details of the windows and room composition. The show also great with the bodily specially effects and designs of the ghosts coming for people, giving us a variety of horrors without over-extending its scope.
The biggest issue of the series is the ending. Most American Horror Story seasons have thirteen episodes but Roanoke capped its story at ten. I’m not say that it needed three more episodes, but one more episode would have helped prepare a smarter, more emotional ending that did the rest of the season justice. If only Lee was given proper time to end her storyline with her daughter, or if we could see the house finally destroyed, we might have closure. But clearly, Murphy is going to want to come back to this world, as he often does with other shows, but more than anything, I’d want another season set here, to see more of the “real” Roanoke. This is one of the show’s strongest seasons, and will likely be in everyone’s top three for the next few years.
Roanoke soars, but fails to stick the landing
American Horror Story: Roanoke is one of the best seasons of the show, and yet it is hard not to feel cheated by the ending. Every moment of the show was thrilling but grinding the story to a halt rather than letting the story spiral out like it was gearing up to really sours the experience.