American Horror Story’s sixth season began with creator Ryan Murphy promising to answer “the question that’s been haunting everybody.” Obviously, he meant the secret theme, which turned out to be My Roanoke Nightmare. But it turns out the execution of the theme is far more interesting... but not necessarily good.
Murphy found huge success earlier this year with true-crime series The People vs. OJ Simpson, so perhaps it’s not shocking that he brought the same conceit to the newest season of AHS. The show’s sixth season, titled My Roanoke Nightmare is that the whole episode is presented as a re-enactment—like America’s Most Wanted, if the actors playing the victims were as vaunted as Murphy regulars Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
It’s framed as “inspired by true events,” and name-dropping “Roanoke” suggests that those early rumors of the show being about the Lost Colony might actually be correct. But though most of it was set in what’s supposed to be North Carolina—where the main characters flee after being targets of a violent crime on the mean streets of Los Angeles—the first episode was mostly a contemporary haunted-house tale. They arrive at an 18th-century farmhouse, as otherworldly as any structure that we’ve ever seen on AHS, which serves as the backdrop for some decent scares, including a creepy (and maybe-spectral) home invasion captured by security cameras.
But presenting the show as a “reenactment” messes with the stakes. If the “real people” are alive and well and able to tell their stories, why should we fear for them in the moment? It’s also annoying to be caught up in the action, only to be jerked back by a talking-head who then proceeds to over-explain everything that’s happening onscreen.
Still, the promo for the rest of the season is just intriguing enough to make me want to see what’s coming next. Surely, Murphy isn’t going to stick with the re-enactment structure the entire season—maybe he’s planning to subvert that storytelling device with some kind of dramatic twist? Maybe these narrators aren’t as reliable as they seem to be? Maybe Twisty the Clown is running the camera?
And Kathy Bates—a witchy broad who just might be 1) a vengeful spirit from the past (“I will stop at noooo-thing to hold safe this colony!”) and 2) practicing human sacrifice in the woods—is clearly gonna gnaw up some serious scenery in future episodes. That’s reason enough to tune in, even if I don’t believe for one second that there’s anything “true crime” about this tale.