I really tried to be more diplomatic with the title. I really did. But, sometimes, your hands are just tied. Last year, when I sat down, shut up, and reviewed the entire season of AHS Hotel to try to figure out what the series does well and what it could work on, I took on the “hits and misses” label. However, with season six, Roanoke, the pendulum sways so decisively in the direction of misses that few other declarations feel appropriate.
This wasn’t even what I had planned on writing this week. Rather, I had wanted to offer more unsolicited opinions on Marilyn Manson’s newest release Heaven Upside Down, which have become as ubiquitous in the metal blogsphere as Fenty makeup reviews in the YouTube beauty community. I will not be contributing, but I will say this: there are two kinds of underwhelmed in the world — one where you have nothing to say, and the other where you want to yell about it to the brick wall. Since I think the latter would make for a better piece, or a piece period, that’s what we’re going with.
Like Manson himself once said “everything’s been said before; there’s nothing left to say anymore,” and THAT is precisely the problem with Roanoke. It rips off every scare from every scary movie to the point where investment steadily drains throughout the series. And if you want to make the satire argument? If satire’s executed effectively, there’s no debate about whether it is or not.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m just being an edgelord? Lemme break it down for you, homefry.
So, once again, this shit starts and I’m already pissed off. We’re introduced to a couple who met in yoga class because the lady, Shelby, was the instructor and dude, Matt, was the bumbling hamstring-pulling student b/c boys don’t do yoga, duh. Shelby proclaims their home of L.A. to be the yoga capital of the world, and keeping up with the theme of Hotel, she does so with a baffling degree of intentional tone deafness. Hare fucking Krishna. Matt gets knocked out in a gang initiation and Shelby miscarries their unborn baby from the stress. It is v sad but the losing a baby theme was already prevalent last season in terms of making the audience actually feel for the characters. I suppose the writers figure losing a child is the only thing we can universally feel sympathy for, but at the risk of sounding insensitive, perhaps they could consider a novel tactic.
In any event, a la The Village, they move to rural North Carolina to escape further misfortunes caused by the big city and they buy this creepy house built in the 1700’s. The hillbilly locals don’t like them too much, particularly being an interracial couple and all, but hey, at least they have a very architecturally inaccurate spiral staircase in their foyer.
Cliche horror hijinks then, of course, ensue. The format of the program is that of A Haunting where it’s some sort of family telling the true haunt story that goes back and forth between narration and actor depiction — a pretty lofty goal considering it’s hard to roll with that format and provide a lot of substantive background of the characters without it coming off really forced. As a result, AHS seems to have trouble committing to the concept, often falling back into your typical fictional acting and utilizing the narration sequences when convenient. Ah, the tell don’t show problem rears its ugly head again this season. Like what does Matt’s sister, Lee, telling her complete addiction story from top to bottom in the haunted hot seat have to do with the haunting at hand? It’s fucking cheap. Not to mention the dialogue in that narrative is shitty as fuck. “I hate assholes.” Me too, Lee. Me too.
After Shelby gets pulled down by mysterious forces in the surprisingly functional wooden hot tub (talk about a witch’s brew) Lee comes and stays with them for support, but Matt suspects the rednecks are out to start some racial shit, which gives off some Get Out True Horror vibes. I don’t even want to speculate on the aim for intelligent dialogue versus the aim for cash-in there.
Anyway, some corn husk dolls start popping up a la Blair Witch and Shelby gets spooked so she dips the fuck out and accidentally hits some lady on a misty road because that’s never happened before in a horror movie ever. The lady lures her into the woods and credits roll, not out of suspense, but sheer laziness.
Overall impression: While I appreciate that the first episode didn’t overload us with characters like past seasons, it went too far in the other direction by being a straight up bore war. It wasn’t scary simply because I’ve been scared by all of their attempts at scares before. I was a lot more invested in my sweet potato crackers than any of the plot. But, I did accidentally write my notes in my notebook upside down, so maybe there are some satans coming to shake things up.
Yay, we have Lee’s daughter, Flora, talking to ghosts and Matt answering the phone to mysterious voices. So visionary. Matt and Shelby go out into the woods to investigate shit further and they find a giant version of one of the dolls burning and covered in meats, complete with a pig head crown. Man, hot tubs, BBQ’s — Roanoke sounds like a recipe for a lit weekend getaway. For some reason, Matt knocks the whole rig over even though that just seems like a forest fire lying in wait. Even though he griped in the last episode about the slow police response, they manage to get there in time to put it out before there’s any harm. I could make a really inappropriate comment here, but I’ll refrain. Protect and serve. One like = one prayer.
Flora keeps saying more creepy shit and her dad overhears and since he has primary custody he takes her and gets the fuck out of the house. Lee gets really sad and desperate to get her back and this is the first time I actually feel anything for one of the characters. However, the feat is quickly eradicated by her poor acting when she starts using drugs again. Slops CaBops is the best term I can use — the philosophical concept of a drunk person.
Meanwhile, Matt starts having visions of these two random 30’s-looking nurses…or maybe 50’s? It’s ambiguous. Think some Silent Hill shit since we’re ripping off every existing horror movie here. They shoot this bed-ridden lady in the head when she doesn’t want to take her meds, which is the first scene thus far that’s really disturbed me. But, for some reason, the nurse says “you’ve been warned” before she pulls the trigger. It doesn’t seem like a warning if you’re just going to kill her anyway. I was confused as to how this pertains to the Roanoke theme, but luckily, per the usual tell and don’t show, Matt and Shelby randomly find a tape of some academic explaining how the nurses used to kill elderly patients in their house, presumably in that location to pick up on the evil vibes of Roanoke’s past. Quite a stretch, that is. It seems like the writers couldn’t develop the historic theme enough as it was so they had to intertwine an additional plot. Oh yeah, Lee steals Flora back and then she randomly goes missing *roll creds*
Overall Impression: The nursing thing is actually pretty scary and I wish I could just watch that, but I guess American Horror Story: Assisted Living wouldn’t have been too politically correct. Also, I think millennials are onto something with not buying houses. Leases are a hell of a lot easier to get out of than mortgages when the truth about the Native American burial ground starts to emerge.
So the child loss thing is officially, once again, a recurring theme this season as Flora proves to be the new Holden. While the custody thing touched my heart because I’ve seen a lot of shit working in family law that’ll haunt me for a hot minute, I’m once again a bit confused as to why this is this default attempt at emotional-tugging. What’s the target audience for this, again? If scare level is any indicator, it can’t be anyone much past junior high. It reminds me of how XX primarily catered to a femininity defined by motherhood. Again, not to sound like a cold-hearted bitch here, but this shit just doesn’t resonate and it feels plain lazy. Try something new in terms of character development. Taste the rainbow.
Holy shit, is that Kathy Bates? Oh, no, shit, that’s Cricket, played by Ashley Gilbert. He’s a medium who managed to stumble in at the right place at the right time. You would think when you have torch-wielding ghost things after you you’d lock your doors, but fuck it. He tells Lee and friends that Flora is still alive — she’s just chillin bullshittin with that little girl spirit, Priscilla, who she talked to in episode two. They have a seance and they see this butcher lady who I think is actually Kathy Bates this time and she throws her knife into a candle. Utterly terrifying.
Cricket asks for money in exchange for his help and Matt gets real triggered but then Cricket gives info about Lee’s first daughter, Emily, who went missing, proving he’s not a quack.
WHATDOYKNOW out comes the A Haunting interview format when it’s needed. At this point there had been enough acted scenes that I had forgotten all about the fake TV show shtick. Lee gets real choked up explaining how Emily went missing when she ran into the store to get sghetti sauce and she orders that they cut. While they’re at it, the story of the lost colony is finally told and Matt starts gratuitously fucking this horned Myrkur cover art-looking lady but maybe but not really because nothing proves to be more effective in cinematography than construing scenes of uncertain hallucinations. In more mildly interesting news, Lee’s ex husband is discovered as a human sacrifice and she becomes a murder suspect. Can we focus more on that? Or the nurses? Or anything besides a bunch of looking-for-Flora-in-the-forest nonsense?
Overall Impression: Lazy/10
So we learn that there used to be a family named the Chans who used to lives in the house. It serves no purpose other than to reinforce the cultural trend that Asians are the last minority group who can be made the butt of the joke without internet repercussions. The nurses are back ~yay~ but they immediately get caught by the Butcher clique (aren’t they all playing for the same dark lord team here?) and they’re both drawn and quartered. Well, it was fun. I guess the butcher is also a vigilante state nursing home inspector looking to avenge justice in her spare time. The professor dude from the tape goes looking for the ghost girl, Priscilla, but all he finds is the Myrkur lady with her making looking extra fleeky. Now that’s a YouTube tutorial I’d like to see go viral. Cricket gets tired and goes back to his hotel and, true to forced-Edgelord AHS form, he asks his Uber driver if he’s ever heard of gay-for-pay. Is there supposed to be humor in the fact that we’re pretending like Uber runs in the middle of bumblefuck nowhere? Apparently that’s the level of humor we’re working with now.
Overall Impression: This is the episode that really started to lose me. I had tried so hard to invest myself, but much like the blood moon, I’m starting to wane. If I had to attribute it to a specific reason it’s probably that the final third of the episode is just a whole bunch of Butcher clique mumbo jumbo. We learn that there’s some kind of sacrificial ancient gods shit going, and it’s such cheap and poorly-developed pseudo-meaningful ranting and raving.
We find out more about the history of the house,
and it’s told with the enthusiasm of a kid who got stuck as narrator in the school play. Apparently Cricket’s gay-for-pay talk was some kind of foreshadowing for a gay sub-plot involving the original owner of the house, Edward Mott. It’s like a softcore gay porn mockbuster of Interview with the Vampire. There’s also a bit of a Dorian Gray subtext because he also seems to be gay-for-paintings. I fucks with it because I’m a cuck but it’s pretty much completely self-serving. But, it does nothing to advance the plot or add insight into why the house is the way that it is. It’s pretty much just flowery nonsense attempting to act as a bone-throw to people like me who AHS is still trying to keep interested by any means necessary. The lines are also further blurred between paying homage to other great works of the macabre and blatantly ripping them off. As per Hotel, if you have to ask, you’re certainly not doing the former correctly.
Sadly, we stumble back into the regular plot as the spirit of Mott leads Matt and Sandy or Shelby or whatever the fuck her name is (I really don’t care anymore) through underground tunnels and uh…into a house with wild hill children? ~Problematic~ Flora’s back and there’s some type of Grudge-style attack from the ghost of one of the Chans, leading me to further stand by what I asserted in episode four. Uh, what else happened…fuck, this shit is boring. Okay so Matt and Shelbs go trampling through the woods again and end up in one of the yahoo’s houses where Elias (who even is that again?) is crying about his injured leg like the fish from SpongeBob. They go on to have too close of a call with the butcher clique, but they narrowly escape to a hotel with no plans to return to the house. They’re all relieved and eat Papa John’s in bed but, lemme guess, something spooky is still going to happen to show that they started counting their garlic knots before they had risen. Something spooky happens, showing that they started counting their garlic knots bore they had risen.
Overall Impression: This is where it should end. How are they going to drag this shit out for another half of a season? How?
Well, it didn’t take long to have that question answered. There’s going to be a second season of the fake show but this time it’s going to be the cast, including the actors in the fictional segments, returning to the house for three days of sheer terrors and spooks. I’m totally stoked to watch the same haunt over again. The writers literally could not develop the Roanoke theme to save their lives, so instead, they’re stretching out their kernel of a concept like a pair of goddamned leggings.
It’s spearheaded by a slimy director named Sidney whose caricature is probably really funny if you’re an AHS story writer who’s familiar with Hollywood, but otherwise, it feels stupid and cliché. To spread the plot even thinner, they throw in the divorce of Matt and Shelby because it turns out Shelby banged Cuba Gooding Jr., who played Matt on the fake show. That’s why she’s returning to the house she was almost murdered in!!! To make up with her OG bae!!!!! I guess she couldn’t get him to agree to talk things out at a Denny’s or something. I’m really excited to see how this is further used as a tool for making the new fake show remotely novel. It becomes obvious that the secondary of the two characters becomes a conduit for all of their insecurities. So deep. So sassy.
In Casting JonBenet form (which, at least, I think Roanoke predates), they show a variety of different actors auditioning for the part of the butcher. it’s gradually revealed that Kathy Bates literally became her role to the point of being diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, wielding a knife on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s the first time in the season where I actually felt genuinely surprised in a meaningful way, although, again, once it’s stated that Sidney had to take out a protective order to keep her from getting involved with the new fake show and threatening their lives, it’s clear it’s just a set-up for a call-back. I’m just going to take a wild guess here and say that she’s going to violate it. Spoiler alert: she violates it. Also, good job at mitigating mental health stigma. Oh, AHS; you’re so socially conscious.
Overall Impression: The shift in tone in this episode is jarring, and not in a way that makes the impending repetition feel refreshing. I wish they would have integrated more of the dark humor into the previous episodes so that it doesn’t feel so disjointed. Prior to this episode, it was pretty much limited to the gay-for-pay comment and a jab about feigned gluten intolerance. Pander, pander; thou shalt cleanse the earth by pandering to the lowest common denominator of relevancy.
Sidney gets killed off by Kathy Bates and we all cheer because he was an over-simplistic depiction of an asshole. Lee, Monet (the lady who played Lee), and the British Lady who played Shelby–who I would call a cougar but apparently that’s more offensive in the eyes of the show than promoting questionable stereotypes about East Asians–find his dismembered body. The British lady gets really triggered and starts crying to her handheld camera.
Actually, let me touch on that whole mess of an aspect before I even broach the subject of that shitty scene. So it’s revealed in the beginning of the episode that everyone died and the new fake show is going to be the found footage from the cameras set up by Sidney and those carried by the cast. However, this idea, much like the A Haunting concept, is only employed when convenient. Is this supposed to be an intelligent dialogue on how found footage-style movies are often poorly executed? IF YOU HAVE TO ASK.
Anyyyways, the British lady is crying into the camera with blood dripping down her face a la that famous scene in Blair Witch. You know the one, most likely because you were forced to watch Scary Movie on FX that one time when you were too hungover to get up and change the channel. It’s hard to really successfully make a compelling allusion when the scene was already fucking parodied years ago. Oh yeah, true to edgelord form, the hillbillies, who eventually kidnap the three women, start doing lines. They have to eat people because they can’t afford food, yet they have money for drugs? What tangled webs we weave.
Overall Impression: It’s hard to really give a fuck when you know they’re all going to die — it’s just a matter of finding out how, and honestly, I don’t care. It’s regressed into a slasher program at this point.
Interestingly, the intro of this episode is branded as American Horror Story rather than the new fake show’s title My Roanoke Nightmare. I’m not sure if this is intentional or if the show forgot the pattern it had been working with. Interestingly, this is the only interesting novelty in the episode.
The hillbillies still have Lee tied up and they force her to drugs and ruin her longstanding sobriety from narcotics. Seems like a good excuse for you to store in your brainy worms for the next time your parole officer makes a surprise visit. Meanwhile, the rest try to rip out one of Monet’s teeth, calling-back to the first episode where teeth rain from the sky.
The writers continue to beat you over the head with the secondary character alter ego of insecurities thing. Matt says some petty shit about banging the Myrkur lady and Shelby beats him to death, and we’re offered another laughably-poor dialogue gem of “it feels like part of me has died with him.” Talk about a call-back to Lee’s asshole revelation. Oh yeah, because Shelbs is back on the market now, Cuba Gooding Jr. takes the opportunity to slide back into the DM’s. Being thirsty, for fame or otherwise, is bad, mkay.
Overall Impression: Writing four episodes and spending the next six making call-backs does not constitute a series. Cliché symbolism does not constitute meaning. Pander. Pander. Pander, pander, pander *bass drop* I’ve got broads in Atlanta
Some kids go looking for the Roanoke house because “it’ll get us so many Instagram likes.” Yes, because that’s how people talk. Here we have another compelling call-back to the Millennials in Hotel. I guess they used up all the opportunities in this season, so they had to go back to the last. The kids are eventually burned at the stake by the butcher clique, which is captured by the very found footagey aerial shots.
Lee confesses to the murder of her ex-husband and we all die a little bit more inside.
Overall Impression: Anyone still tuning in at this point is just doing so out of obligation.
Babble, babble, bitch, bitch, rebel, rebel, party, party, sex, sex, sex, and don’t forget the violence. Yep, now AHS has got me making call-backs too. Manson basically already offered the only commentary this season has to offer back in 2003. Americans cheer for violence on the television set like a bunch of lobotomized apes. Needless to say, it’s sad that a series that’s clearly smart enough to rewrite socially sensitive scenes is wasting its potential.
Lee undergoes an OJ-style trial and fuck it, why should I try anymore when this show does not whatsoever. Fuck you. Fuck me. Fuck your mom. Fuck the 60 hours I just wasted.
Overall Impression: While this season was left bloated and overblown than Hotel, it’s definitely the laziest in AHS history.
– Jenna (no fast bands)