The premise of the sixth season of American Horror Story, subtitled My Roanoke Nightmare, has been revealed at last. I luckily wasn’t expecting all that secrecy and mystique to actually result in anything but intriguing marketing, although I must wonder if fans will be satisfied with what the crazy build-up was for. I don’t know that the Roanoke Colony disappearance was deserving of such hype.

Another question is whether or not this will be the story for the whole season. I gave American Horror Story a raving review way back when but it has steadily decreased in quality over the years, much of it having to do with its inability to carry a coherent storyline for a full season – subplots would come and go without warning or end abruptly, the story developments from one episode would be retracted or ignored by the very next, and so on. By now, it seems they’re gonna make a change to the formula of having one semi-self-contained story per season and shake things up a bit. We’ll see how that goes.

In some parts of the episode, which is “based on true events”, we see Lily Rabe and Andre Holland as the “real-life” versions of Shelby and Matt Miller. They retell their dreadful experiences at a mansion they purchased in the vicinity of Roanoke, as their memories are re-enacted by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. (whether these two are playing themselves playing Shelby and Matt or are fictitious actors who inhabit the same universe I know not, but maybe we will learn this in a  later episode). Basically, a good 60% of the episode is composed of in-universe actors re-enacting an event that the characters involved will obviously survive, given that we see their real-life selves in the interview segments, which leaves us with little tension. It didn’t work in The Fourth Kind (unless the purpose was to make more people fall for the tagline “based on a true story” when attached to horror movies), so why would it work here?

The stuff Shelby sees in and around the mansion includes two spooky twin girls straight out of The Shining, creepy straw dolls straight out of The Blair Witch Project, deranged rednecks straight out of real life, and some kind of pig creature (I think). I guess it’s nice that sound designers for monsters are finally relying on stock “squealing hog” sound effects in a context that makes sense.

For now, I am mostly perplexed by the new season. I don’t know if they’ve given up on trying to make it seem like all the seasons are connected or if they’ve taken the anthology element to a new level by giving us multiple new stories per season (which would be just as well, given how increasingly unfocused each new season has been). For what it’s worth, the fact that they’re changing things around a bit has me interested, as does the interaction between the actors so far (particularly Sarah Paulson and Angela Bassett). I won’t give the episode itself a high rating but take that with a grain of salt and a candy apple.

2/5

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