American Horror Story: An Ode to Roanoke History

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Episode 64  “Chapter 1”
Written by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
Directed by Bradley Buecker

[photos: FX]

Welcome, my horrendous friends, heathens, and fear mongers to another delectably disturbing season of American Horror Story! Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have heard your cries of dissent about Season 5 Hotel and have responded in the most brilliant marketing strategy yet. I applaud them for their genius of having already broken the norm to horror storytelling, and TV writing, but even more so, for drawing the lost souls back into their cult by adding mystery into the terror. Whilst they keep to their norm of reusing the same actors, it is the only familiarity we have with the previous seasons. They could have given us another panic inducing premiere episode, with lots of sex, blood, and gore, but instead they closed that door, and opened a much older, hidden cabinet; leading us from the usual story flow, to a documentary setting of ill proportions. Hold on to your loved ones, deary. It’s about to get mind numbingly horrifying.

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Right from the start we open to short clips of what is to come this episode and it sends us in a trip of wonder and confusion. No opening sequence, credits, or hauntingly staccato scratchy soundtrack. Instead, it is very reminiscent of horror documentary shows we see today, such as The Haunted, or Ghost Stories. Instead of using a civilian off the streets who claims to have gone through the haunting, we have fictional interviewee characters Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt Miller (André Holland), and while they depict the events, it cuts away from their zoomed in countenances, and to the re-enactors Shelby (Sarah Paulson) and Matt (Cuba Gooding, Jr). It takes more than a moment for what we’re seeing to fully cook in our already fried brains, but then it clicks: this is going to be far more different than any season to date.

 

Matt recounts the story of when they met at the yoga class that Shelby taught. From there it was nothing but happiness living in Los Angeles. Matt had been promoted in his career, and Shelby found out she was expecting. They went out that night to celebrate, but were interrupted by a gang initiation called “Knock Out” and Matt was their target. Thankfully Matt was able to recover, but Shelby ended up losing the baby. This is where I believe Season 1 ties in. Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) had had a miscarriage, and their family decided to leave Boston and move to Los Angeles, whereas Shelby has a miscarriage, and they leave Los Angeles to move to North Carolina. Here’s where the next link gets even more interesting. When Vivien was being visited by the medium Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) she makes mention of the colony in Roanoke, North Carolina that had all been massacred mysteriously, and how a shaman had cast a spell to drive away the evil spirits. Could it be that the spell did not work fully, and now that a couple has taken residence in what is to be assumed that very same location, they are fighting to take back what they believe to be theirs?

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After the attack, they felt the city wasn’t safe anymore, and decided to move to North Carolina, where Matt had family. While out walking in the forest, they came across an old farm house built in 1792 with a For Sale sign. They fell in love with the place, and decided to bid for it at the auction, not expecting to win. To their surprise there was only one other family bidding: a rag tag trio of hillbillies. The auctioneer opened the bid to twenty thousand dollars, stating that it also included the ten acres of forest around, but that it couldn’t be built on for it was protected. You would think that the opening bid, only one other contender, and that the land was protected, would be enough red flags to Shelby and Matt NOT to buy the house.

They win at a meager forty thousand dollars. The hillbillies give the couple a threatening glare and leave. Shelby, though excited and in love with Matt and the new house, claimed to have felt from the “very first moment, danger there”. The scene focuses out from the house, to an arm covered in mud belonging to a mystery ominous figure, watching Shelby and Matt celebrating their purchase, from behind a tree.

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Matt loved the house and the place, but Shelby seemed more reluctant. They worked together to fix up the house, everything seemed perfect. Then one evening while in the throes of love, they are disturbed by a shrieking high pitched squeal. Matt goes outside to see what it is, taking with him only a flashlight. He finds their metal trash can obliterated, with blood streaking across. Matt at first believed it could have been a raccoon or a bear, until another one of the barrels is launched at him, and he barely dodges it in time. Matt, frightened, believed that it was the hillbillies that had done this out of prejudice, what with Matt and Shelby being an interracial couple living in the South.

Shelby, not having had a lot of sleep, wasn’t feeling quite right in the head. She was in the midst of making herself some breakfast, when the sound of hail disturbed her. The sky was clear, so it didn’t make sense for their to be any storm. She went out to investigate, and discovered human teeth were falling from the sky. Matt arrived home shortly after, and when Shelby attempted to show him the teeth, they were gone. Matt was convinced that it was only hail, and chalked it up to her not being used to the weird weather in the South.

After passing off the crazy teeth event as just a freak hail storm, Matt had to leave for a business trip, leaving Shelby to be home alone, something that she had been looking forward to. At first everything seemed peaceful and quiet, until that evening when Shelby was walking around her home, she spotted two young women in white shifts, traverse in sync past the hall, and stare her down. Shelby, not sure if she was going crazy or believed in what she saw, follows them calling but received no response and found the room they entered, to be empty. She decided to take a soothing soak in their hot tub, that didn’t seem to give off any steam. She reclined back, relaxing when all of a sudden hands grabbed her from behind and held her under. We get just a quick glimpse of an older woman, with messy gray hair, a vicious expression, and colonial style clothing. It is without a doubt the actress, Kathy Bates.

Matt hurried home after getting a disturbing phone call from Shelby. The police searched the area for evidence and found nothing that fits with her story. Matt believed it once again to be the hillbillies, and his trust in his wife began to waiver, until she insisted on what she saw. Shelby wanted to leave, but couldn’t tell Matt. Later on, while Shelby was sleeping, Matt was up watching over her, until he heared once again the squealing. He went to investigate, and sitting outside their door was a dead, skinned pig. He didn’t tell Shelby, but buried it instead, sure that it is the hillbillies attempting to scare them away from the home. Matt decided to set up security cameras that were linked to his phone, so he could keep an eye on their place while away. He wasn’t content to leave her by herself again, so he asked his sister Lee (Adina Porter, Angela Bassett) to stay with her.

Lee, and Shelby never really liked each other. Lee judged Shelby for doing yoga as a job, her gluten allergy, and her two years of college, whilst Lee worked on the force, having her degree in Criminal Psychology. Lee was hurt on the job, and in turn became addicted to pain medication. She was in the process of catching a serial rapist, when it was discovered how bad her addiction had gotten. She was fired from the force, her husband then divorced her, and the courts gave full custody of her daughter Flora, to her husband, allowing Lee only three days every fourteen to have her.

That night, Shelby was cooking when she heard a strange noise and went to investigate. When she found nothing out of the ordinary, she went back to the kitchen, but the knife she was using to cut the carrots was no longer there, and instead was stuck straight up in the meat sizzling in the skillet. Lee accidentally surprised her, and Shelby scolded her for scaring her. Lee then made the request that Shelby no longer drinks around her, as she is holding desperately on to her sobriety and it’s too tempting. Shelby agrees. That night while Lee was attempting to fall asleep, she heared the mysteriously squealing, and in rolled an empty wine bottle.

Believing that Shelby had been the cause of the botttle, went and confronted her, but she denied having drunk the wine. They got into a verbal fight, while Matt received an alert from the security system through his phone and saw a mob carrying torches walking towards the home. Matt desperately tried to contact Shelby and Lee, but they are too busy fighting to hear their phones, until a door creaking open can be heard, stopping their fight. They headed downstairs, following the sound of a man screaming, only to find an outdated TV playing a home video. At first it was hard to make out what it was they were watching, until a clear shot is shown of a man wearing a bloody pig’s head, looking straight at the camera. The pig headed man is another link to season one, where a patient named Derek (Eric Stonestreet) confesses to Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) his fear of the urban legend the Piggy Man that will appear if a certain mantra is spoken into the mirror. Could this be that same Piggy Man in the home video?

The women decided to leave but the door was slammed shut, locking them in the basement. They heard the sound of several footsteps walk about the house. After nearly twenty to thirty minutes, the house quieted, and they decided to leave the basement. The house was dark, but with the help of a flashlight, they discovered the entirety of the house was covered in hanging wicker stick dolls, a nod to the Blair Witch Project and possibly indicative to the witches from Coven. Matt made it home after the cops had already arrived, taken a statement and chalked it up to vandalism. The women then took Matt to the basement to watch the video, but he believed it to be fake and nothing to worry about. Shelby insisted they leave, but Matt refused. Shelby, angered, stormed out and drove off, attempting to get as far away as possible.

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Matt was in complete disbelief that she would just leave. He called her, and in the process of Shelby answering, she hit an old woman standing in the middle of the road. It was the same woman that attempted to drown Shelby in the hot tub. Shelby chased her down, insisting on taking her to a hospital, but lost sight of her in the woods. Within seconds she was lost in the dark and mist. She stumbled through the woods until she came across more of the hanging stick dolls. She freaked out and ran, until she tripped and fell to the ground, where the very earth appeared to be breathing, as if she were laying on the belly of a giant. The trees and ground shifted around her so she pulled herself up and ran in the opposite direction until she came to a small clearing and found herself surrounded by a group of people carrying torches. Among the faces of the mob, we detect one that seems oddly familiar, the actor Wes Bentley, who had played John Lowe in the previous season. Shrieking came from behind her, and the beam from her flashlight caught the sight of a dirty man, blood running down his face and colonial styled clothing. He collapsed in front her, the top of his skull shining through the blood. He had been scalped.

 

The episode ends there. While we finally know what Season 6 is about, it still remains mysterious, leaving us with more questions than answers. Could this be Ryan and Brad’s idea of what had happened to the Roanoke Colony that had mysteriously disappeared several hundred years ago? Could this be the penultimate connection to all the seasons? What do all the preview shorts that led up to the premiere have to do with what we have seen so far? Is the title My Roanoke Nightmare eluding to it being more of a personalization to the viewer? Whereas the past five seasons have been labeled in more of a story title, and we remain simply the viewer? Will they keep to the faux documentary style? No matter what, I am thrilled that the mold has been broken, and cannot wait for even more sadistic turn of events.

With that being said, the trailer for Chapter 2 has already been released, and it appears to be more horrifying than any episode this show has given us, throwing in Flora (Saniyya Sidney), Lee’s daughter, as well as Shelby recounting her experience in the woods with the mob.

My final thought is this: is it Wednesday yet?

 

American Horror Story airs Wednesday nights 10/9c on FX in the US, and on FOX UK the following Friday at 10pm.

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