5 ways to fix everything that’s wrong with American Horror Story: Roanoke

By ·October 9, 2016 11:30 am

We’ve made it very clear in our weekly reviews that although we are fans of American Horror Story in general (and hardcore fans of Season 1), we don’t like American Horror Story: Roanoke very much at all. But we believe that if you’re going to knock something you should suggest solutions for how to repair what’s broken.

At the time of writing the season is now 4 episodes in and is therefore close to its mid-season point. Now is the time that we’d love to see the show change its direction and turn itself around. We fully recognise that all of the remaining episodes have already been written and probably have been shot too, but we’re putting forth these suggested alterations regardless. Then we can see if the show – by happenstance – takes similar turns  to what we suggested, in the second half of the season, or if it falls deeper into a pit of its own making (historically, from Season 2 onwards, every season of the show loses its way most severely in the second half of each season).

Below you’ll find our suggestions on how Murphy and co can turn this season around. Please be aware that there are spoilers below, for those who are not up to date with the show.

Move away from the documentary approach and swap Paulson for Rabe

Lily Rabe as the real life Shelby in American Horror Story: Roanoke, who tells her story retrospectively to a documentary crew.

Lily Rabe as the real life Shelby in American Horror Story: Roanoke, who tells her story retrospectively to a documentary crew.

We’ve highlighted many times just how limiting the documentary framework for this season is. Not only does it mean that we know that certain characters will definitely survive, which ruins any suspense, but it also hems one of the show’s best actresses into a very limited role. We’re talking of course of Lily Rabe, who’s featured in several seasons of the show, to much popularity among fans. This is personal preference, but we much prefer Lily Rabe to Sara Paulson, yet each week Paulson is the focus, as we watch her re-enacting hauntings while pretending to be the real Shelby (Rabe).

We propose that the show casts this documentary framework aside and brings the narrative up to date. This would be achieved by having the real Shelby and Matt state that they have reached the end of their story, which would bring us fully back into the present (Shelby and Matt being surrounded by the documentary crew). Shelby and Matt could then continue to be plagued by Roanoke horrors in their current lives, proving that their “Roanoke nightmare” is not over, which means that we would then be following Lily Rabe and André Holland, instead of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sarah Paulson. This would provide a much needed kick to the narrative, not to mention bringing back some much needed suspense around the fates of the main characters. This is also a great way to bring in new characters (see our fifth suggestion below).

Stop trying to re-live/remake Season 1

Nurse Bridget (Kristen Rakes) - one half of the murderous nurses in Chapter 2.

Nurse Bridget (Kristen Rakes) – one half of the murderous nurses in Chapter 2.

This season has been guilty of trying to replicate Season 1 in various ways and doing a poor job of it. We’re not talking about simple things like Shelby opening a shower curtain and seeing Mr. Piggy standing there – this was a nice succinct nod to Season 1. We’re talking about obvious and shallow attempts to copy Season 1, such as having Episode 2 focus on two nurses who now haunt the house. For us, this reeked of a faded show trying to lean, crutch-like, on the shoulders of its greatest season, perhaps in leu of being able to come up with new, original ideas itself.

The line between homage and cheap rip-off is distinctive enough. Returning to the word ‘CROATOAN’ as a way of banishing ghosts is a good reference back to Season 1, but setting up a whole season around another large haunted house in which murders have happened and where ghosts roam is a little on the nose.

Craft more interesting flashbacks

Kathy Bates is great, but these Roanoke colony flashbacks often bore us.

Kathy Bates is great, but these Roanoke colony flashbacks often bore us.

We’re big fans of flashbacks in general, in any show. This season has been full of them already, to the point where the writers have already answered the huge real life mystery concerning what happened to the vanished Roanoke colony. Frankly, the answer that was provided wasn’t that great. For such an enormous mystery, we thought they might have played on the suspense of the mystery a little more and delivered a stronger answer.

The other flashbacks too have been questionable. While old-England flashbacks gave The Witch of the Wood a little more substance, most other flashbacks are often simply The Butcher chopping people up, or Ambrose White (Wes Bentley) pleading with his mother. None of this interests us very much, which is sad to say, given how much the real Roanoke mystery intrigues us.

We suggest that the flashbacks continue but that their general quality is elevated. Rather than jumping around, perhaps one whole episode on just one character would help, such as a more detailed look at the history of The Witch of the Wood (this how good this could be if they went for something akin to the recent film The Witch), or even of John White himself. Something needs to change here and the writers have already tossed away the hand of cards that they held concerning revealing how the colony vanished. Our suggestion here is vague, perhaps, but the flaw is a real and pertinent one that needs to be repaired.

Delve deeper into the Ancient Gods mythos

Lady Gaga as The Witch of the Wood, who has spoken of ancient and terrible Gods.

Lady Gaga as The Witch of the Wood, who has spoken of ancient and terrible Gods.

In Episode 4, The Witch of the Wood mentioned: “Other gods. Demanding gods. More ancient and thirsty gods,” which firmly put H. P. Lovecraft in our minds, whose work we and many others adore. This is a rare instance where this season has provided something that has piqued our interest, so why not have the writers latch onto that and use this as a theme for what’s to come.

Now that the show has answered the vanishing mystery, the subject of the ancient Gods themselves could be the subject matter for the back half of the season. Although we don’t suggest that the show literally shows these Gods (which risks awful CGI), we’d love to have them lurking just around the corner so to speak; have them be a formidable threat but always lingering out of sight (deep underground, or wherever they reside). It’s heavy lifting for the writers, who tend to like sticking to simple ghostly scares, but it could be achieved, with some innovation.

Bring back fan favourite actors and actresses for strong roles

The last time we saw Alexandra Breckenridge was in American Horror Story: Coven, when she played Kaylee.

The last time we saw Alexandra Breckenridge was in American Horror Story: Coven, when she played Kaylee.

Ryan Murphy has stated that this season will be the biggest ‘greatest hits’ in terms of bringing back a large number of the old cast from previous seasons. We’ve seen a few already, including Denis O’Hare and Leslie Jordan, both of whom were strangely killed off recently in Episode 4.

Our primary gripe here is that if Murphy is going to bring back the old cast then firstly they should be good choices (fan favourites) and secondly they should be to play great characters, who stick around for a while. One unfortunate example of getting this wrong was in American Horror Story: Coven, when Murphy and co brought back fan favourite Alexandra Breckenridge, exciting fans immensely in the process, only to have them watch her be killed off very quickly indeed. It felt like a waste back then and it still feels like a waste now.

We suggest bringing Breckenridge back in for this season, but only if it’s for a meaty and excellent role, and one where she isn’t killed off too quickly. Although people like Leslie Jordan are fine actors, we don’t think they were ever really fan favourites. Denis O’Hare, on the other hand, we love to have back every season, but even his role here was a little drab (and over too soon). This suggestion could backfire by having Murphy bring in great people for terrible roles, which would have us come away feeling even more irate, but it’s a risk worth taking.

Other actors and actresses that we’d like to see return are Evan Peters (who we’re sure will show up soon), Taissa Farmiga (unlikely to happen, in our eyes), Connie Britton, Lizzie Brocheré (who would be a nice underdog choice), Matt Ross, Teddy Sears (who’s no longer on The Flash and therefore might be free) and even someone like Rosa Salazar would be a really nice deep underdog pull from Season 1 (we thought she was great).

MORE: American Horror Story: Season 6 Episode 4 review – Chapter 4

Overall, this season simply has to change. With the way that previous seasons have fallen down in their back halves, the odds are very much against this season improving (if anything, it might get worse). We have already spoken to people who have now given up on the season after Episode 4. As a site and as American Horror Story loyalists, we’ll continue to watch and review this season, and truly – as fans – we do want to see it improve and overcome its issues. Let’s hope that the remaining episodes swing around somehow and that at least some of our above suggestions come true, or that the writers find their own unique ways of correcting their errors.

Image credits: FX

More: American Horror Story FX

Written by Christopher Hart

Co-Editor in Chief / Film, TV and Literature Writer

Christopher holds an MA in Publishing and a BA in Comparative Literature, and currently works as an analyst for a major Bank in London.

Christopher self-publishes his own Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. His completed series of short stories is titled 'Altered Stone' and can be found on Amazon.

His specialist subjects include LOST, Preacher, Supergirl, A Song of Ice and Fire, Kevin Smith, Bioshock and Fallout.

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  1. i agree… this season is dull, i too, would have liked to see MORE Rabe, less Paulson, the dialogue is dull….. four episodes in and what has really happened? the only nod i can give this one is, it’s better than Hotel…