Are We Overthinking American Horror Story: Roanoke?

Maybe it's not so complicated after all

American Horror Story: Roanoke — so far, only the AHS social media accounts have confirmed that title; creator Ryan Murphy remains frustratingly mum — is shrouded in mystery. The premise seems simple enough: It's a documentary-style story about a couple, Shelby and Matt (Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the dramatic reenactments; Lily Rabe and André Holland in documentary interviews) who are seemingly being haunted by evil spirits from the lost Roanoke colony. (Again, these supposedly nefarious sprits are being played by actors in the reenactments.) Of course that hasn't stopped fans — myself included — from trying to overanalyze everything looking for clues. There has to be something more to Season 6, doesn't there?

One of the most intriguing aspects of this season's documentary format is the addition of two unreliable narrators. Shelby and Matt have overlapping stories, and sometimes what they're saying doesn't add up. For example, Shelby (Rabe) repeatedly says she was uncomfortable living in the country, but in the reenactments, Shelby (Paulson) doesn't exhibit any trepidation — until teeth start falling from the sky. Also, Shelby (Paulson) and Lee (Angela Bassett) were apparently trapped downstairs for "20 to 30 minutes," but we only saw a fraction of their encounter when they watched the Piggy-Man tape. Did something else happen between the two? Are they telling the truth? More important, what even is the truth? Does Shelby and Matt's Roanoke nightmare even exist?!

These are much broader, more existential questions than we're used to asking from AHS. There's no Rubber Man to identify, no Supreme to be named — just a thin line between reality and retelling. And it's driving us all crazy. Why? Because we've come to expect something more intricate.

Here's the season as we know it to be now: Shelby (Rabe) and Matt (Holland) are participating in a true crime docu-series called My Roanoke Nightmare, in which they're giving first-person, albeit unreliable, accounts of a supernatural series of events that occurred at some point in the past. Actors played by Paulson and Gooding Jr. — as well as Bassett, Kathy Bates, Wes Bentley, and an unrecognizable Lady Gaga — reenact Shelby and Matt's accounts for television. Shelby and Matt are not ghosts (at least, not yet). There's no breaking the fourth wall (again, not yet). Paulson and Gooding Jr. are only actors (for now). There's no time travel, aliens, or Nazis. Roanoke is completely grounded in Shelby and Matt's reality — or at least what we perceive to be their reality.


It's entirely possible that we're being manipulated to accept Matt and Shelby's story as fact when it could all just be an artifice constructed by reality television producers. It could even be Billie Dean Howard's new show. After all, Howard, the medium Paulson played in Season 1's Murder House and again in Hotel, is not only familiar with the Roanoke story, but she's also working in television now. (Howard's involvement in My Roanoke Nightmare would be a satisfying way to tie the seasons together.) However, at this point in the season, there's no way of knowing whether Matt and Shelby's story is part of something bigger.

One popular fan theory suggests that this season of American Horror Story will feature multiple stories. It's possible that My Roanoke Nightmare is only the first chapter in the larger, potentially fractured tale Murphy intends to tell. But again, there's no way of knowing that after one episode. Right now, there are three narratives that exist this season —Shelby's, Matt's, and Lee's. Everything else is all pretense.

For the first time in our collective American Horror Story viewing experience, we're confronted with the most troubling realization of them all: Maybe there's nothing to actually pick apart. Honestly, that's kind of thrilling in its own right.