American Horror Story: Season 6 Episode 1 review – Chapter 1
We’ve been fans of American Horror Story right from Season 1’s pilot through to now and we’ve stuck with the show weekly the entire way. Along the way we’ve had some extreme highs (Season 1), some troublesome lows (parts of Season 2, Season 3 and Season 4) and one rather interesting return to form (Season 5). What lays ahead for each successive season has always been a fun enigma to crack, but never have Murphy and the creators been so resolutely close-mouthed about a season as with Season 6.
During the hiatus we would normally be granted news on which core cast members are returning, on what the theme will be and more, however, even right up to the very start of last night’s premier, we were given nothing at all, except for some leaked set photos showing the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved into a tree, which Season 1 fans and history aficionados might recognise as being from the real life vanishing of the Roanake colony. Below you will find our spoiler-heavy review of the Season 6 premier.
Last night, the heavy veil of secrecy was lifted, presenting us with exactly what the leaked photos implied – a tale about Roanake – but also something we didn’t expect at all: a documentary-style approach. This season’s mouthful of a subtitle is American Horror Story: My Roanake Nightmare, which immediately begs the question why not call it simple American Horror Story: Roanake? Which flows slicker and sharper. The answer is that the show is taking the documentary angle and running with it, which is why the title has to be in line with the kind of B-grade documentary that you’d find on some late night reality channel. But why they would want to liken themselves to the cheapest of cheap reality documentaries, we don’t know.
Right from the outset, it is clear that the show is borrowing very heavily from American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson, right down to even stealing two actors directly from that show (one of whom was already part of the American Horror Story gang). That show was certainly popular, but it does place the show in a position of weakness to be borrowing from a new show, when it should be the other way around – new shows should be borrowing from the now 6 years-in American Horror Story.
Personally, we’re feeling that leaning on the documentary angle is a big mistake. We appreciate that the show is six seasons in and that the writers are having to prove more inventive with their themes with each passing year, in order to keep the show fresh, however, the documentary angle holds restrictions that we can already see are plaguing this season.
The above has two immediate detrimental effects; firstly it reveals that all of these “real” characters make it out of the narrative alive in the end, which ruins the suspense and tension a little. Secondly, the fact that what we’re seeing is a re-enactment highlights to us that what we’re seeing on screen is not real and is only a fabrication of real events (we know that the entirety of a television show is not real, but it’s a detrimental storytelling when you’re not allowed to fully envelop yourself in the believability of a world). It’s going to be a difficult stylisation to get used to, given the slick and relentlessly cool approach that we were granted last season, in American Horror Story: Hotel.
The writers have opted to have the slightly less famous cast members (Lily Rabe and others) play the real life victims of the horror tale, who are now telling the tale in retrospect, and the more famous cast members (two actors from The People V. O.J. Simpson – AHS resident Sarah Paulson and Cub Gooding Jr. – plus Angela Bassett) play the dramatic re-enactors of the story being told. Personally, we favour Rabe as an actress over Paulson, and we’d have much preferred the casting to be the other way around, so that we get more Rabe screen time than Paulson screen time.
Being big fans of Season 1, we do like that the writers have opted for the large creepy house angle again (right down to the purchasing of the property at the start), but what’s being provided is far from what we were hoping for. When we saw those leaked photos, our excitement soared at the thought of a period piece season set back in the time of the infamous Roanoke vanishing. Perhaps we’d see the colony settled and happy and then watch it all fall apart amidst terrifying horror.
For those who are unfamiliar with this historical event, in the late 16th Century the Queen established colony of English settlers on Roanake Island. Upon the fleet returning, the entire colony had vanished completely, in a mystery unsolved to this day. The only clue that arrivals found as to their disappearance was the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved into a post of the fence (or as some reports claim and as the show will depict – into a tree) around the village.
We therefore thought the writers might opt for the period piece angle, perhaps with Lady Gaga as the head of the Colony. Instead we’re being presented with a narrative set in the present, with the ghosts of the Roanake colony haunting our new homeowners. Ryan Murphy, incidentally, once in fact stated before that the show “already did ghosts in Season 1” and that they would never return to ghosts again, but this rule has already been broken several times by the show, so this season breaking the rule is no new thing.
Each season always holds a monster of sorts and in this episode we got a better glimpse than ever at what that might be. This is when our characters freeze framed a home video to get a better look at what appeared to be a man with a pig’s head (reminding us a lot of Signs and catching the alien walking past the alley). Of course, this could simply be a man wearing a hollowed out pig’s head as a mask, rather than any crossbreed abomination, but something does need to be making those animalistic noises around the house, so this could be our culprit (who is likely one of many of these creatures).
As stated, we’ve been through many highs and lows with this show, but more often than not each season opens strong, before then declining in its later episodes (except for Season 1, which for us remains perfect from start to finish). Contrary to that rule, we didn’t feel that this episode was a strong opener. We’d even go so far as to say that our enjoyment of it was only predicated upon our appreciation of the Roanoke vanishing and on our inbuilt love of creepy houses, formed by our everlasting adoration of the Murder House in Season 1.
The season will have to pull off many sharp turns and some harsh reshuffling if it is to keep viewers interested. If we’re stuck following this couple and their haunting troubles throughout then this might prove a season that is looked back upon as one of the show’s worst turns. The promo for next week does imply as much and also shows us our first glimpse of Lady Gaga, looking dirty and disheveled in what looks appears to be tribal gear (we’re betting she’s one of the natives who some believe are the cause of the colony vanishing). We’d love some flashbacks this season to show us what really happened to the lost colony, but we’re concerned that the documentary construct will restrict even those, because such events cannot be told retrospectively by anyone, given that the events happened many years ago without any witnesses alive to tell the tale.
Image credits: FX