After some deep soul-searching and a good night's rest, I've come to the conclusion that American Horror Story: Roanoke was not very good. It started off promising enough with the show-within-a-show gimmick My Roanoke Nightmare. But as most seasons of American Horror Story ultimately do, it burned so bright and so fast that by the end of the installment, it was nothing more than a pile of ashes strewn about — a sad remnant of its ambitious beginnings.
The Roanoke finale represented everything that's wrong with AHS: It was overwrought, overstuffed, and it butchered its own logic. How do ghosts work on this show, exactly? If they're permanently tied to the land upon which they die, then why didn't we see the ghosts of Rory, Matt, Shelby, or even Audrey pop up at some point? (This probably had more to do with the actors' filming schedules, but still, it felt like a serious logic fail.) AHS often has trouble coloring within the lines, but this season, and especially this finale, were all over the place.
Roanoke peaked with "Chapter Six," when the show pulled back the curtain to reveal the morally bankrupt reality TV production behind My Roanoke Nightmare. Seeing how the show affected the lives of those who made it was perhaps the most interesting part of the season. This season, co-creator Ryan Murphy has taken a merciless look at the culture of reality TV — how it's produced, the real lives it destroys, and how we, as fans, consume it. The latter half of the season could have explored this modern-day horror story; instead, it repeated the same graphic events of My Roanoke Nightmare — only this time, we were viewing them from a "found-footage" lens.
The deaths, and the vengeful ghosts enacting them, were gorier and more ruthless. The days of Lady Gaga fucking Cuba Gooding Jr. in the woods were over. And that's where things started to unravel. How many times do we have to watch people make nonsensical, selfish decisions before we decide that enough is enough? Adina Porter's portrayal of Lee was gripping, but Lee herself was a goddamn mess. Her character was never consistent. She murdered her daughter's father and made a deal with an ancient evil known as the Scáthach, but we were supposed to feel bad for her because she was a woman at the end of her rope. Not to mention that she insinuated that her daughter was crazy during her much-publicized trial in order to be acquitted of said murder. There's absolutely no reason to root for her, not even her sacrifice in "Chapter 10."
Aside from that genre-changing twist in "Chapter 6," nothing about this season felt earned. In fact, the only thing it showed was how much Murphy hates his fans. Perhaps the worst example of this was the finale's PaleyFest panel, which saw the cast and producer Sidney coming together to celebrate the success of the show. (This scene was super meta: Every year, Murphy and select American Horror Story cast members gather for a PaleyFest panel and reveal top-secret information about the upcoming season.)
Murphy depicted the fervent fans of My Roanoke Nightmare as irrational and daft, asking questions like, "What's your favorite color?" and screaming in response to the cast's canned responses. Is that what Murphy thinks of American Horror Story fans? That we don't care about the quality of our entertainment as long as we get a selfie with Evan Peters? This was a jarring dis, and frankly, I didn't care for it, especially because AHS has developed such a diverse, smart fandom. These are the same fans who figured out Roanoke's big twist after "Chapter One." Give them just a little credit.
If Murphy really wanted to make a commentary on the provocative nature of reality TV, then shoving three television shows into a 42-minute finale — Crack’d, a docu-series detailing how Lee managed to be acquitted for all the murders she committed; The Lana Winters Special, a live prime-time interview; and Spirit Chasers, a Ghost Hunters–type show set at the Roanoke mansion — was not the way to do it. That's about as subtle as flashing a neon sign with "REALITY TV = BAD" in the back of every scene. (This isn't the first time Murphy has tried to make this point, either.)
There's a certain point in every season of American Horror Story when the viewer must ask, "Why the hell am I watching this?" But then the serotonin kicks in and you remember that Murder House and Asylum — the first two installments of AHS — delivered satisfying narratives despite their flaws, and that Coven, a lavishly uneven season, was saved by the sheer force of Jessica Lange's talent and "Balenciaga!" So of course you keep watching.
Roanoke will go down as one of the show's weaker installments, but at least it wasn't as bad as Freak Show. There's always that.
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