Over the years, American Horror Story has given us some surprisingly haunting stories. The anthology series, which is currently in its ninth season, took its audience by surprise when they came up with their sixth season, Roanoke. Before the season premiered, the promotional material gave nothing away about the plot which was quite unlike for a big horror series such as this but it was surely worth it.
With Roanoke, AHS presented its most daring season where what you see is not what is happening.
What is Roanoke about?
Roanoke begins in a mockumentary-like format where we are introduced to a couple and the actors playing their parts as they move into a mansion built on the grounds of an abandoned colony. The house is shady and you know it as soon as Sarah Paulson and Cube Gooding Jr’s characters move in but what is really happening here?
For the first five episodes, the audience is told about the history of the property, the cannibals who live on the grounds and the ghosts of those who once owned the place. We watch the characters struggle to live and fight until they die but all of that goes up on its head when the sixth episode begins.
Here we realise that the first five episodes were actually a TV show called My Roanoke Nightmare and the people we saw struggle were actually actors playing characters. The producers now decide to make a second season called Return to Roanoke where the actors and the real-life characters they were inspired by are all thrown into a Big Brother-like setting. But since they have to abide by the horror genre, it is decided that the producers will throw in a few scares.
The audience is intrigued as soon as the characters enter the house as we are told that everything we are watching is found footage since all but one died.
How is Roanoke different from the other seasons?
This season of AHS was a departure from the previous seasons where we were usually told one story per season. Here, we saw three major stories in true meta fashion spread across 10 episodes making it AHS’s most unique season.
Like most other seasons of AHS, this one too was set in a haunted place but the treatment was starkly different from what we had seen before. Agreed that it eventually turned into a Blair Witch-like thing but it was sure engaging enough to make you wait for the next episode.
What works in AHS Roanoke?
The series had AHS favourites Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters and Kathy Bates and like always, they delivered. The series came soon after the success of Ryan Murphy’s People v/s OJ so it was great to see Cuba Gooding Jr bag another good project. While the casting was great, the strength of this season was in its ability to shock the audience.
The season unfolds as three mini-series and until one is concluded, you don’t know what’s coming next.
The stand out performer here was Kathy Bates. She first appears as the actor playing ‘The Butcher’ who eventually becomes so obsessed with her character that she is caught swinging the knife on the roads trying to attack people. Her eventual descent into madness is haunting as she shocks the audience every time she appears on screen.
What does not work for AHS Roanoke?
This was the era when Lady Gaga was honing her acting skills and after an appearance in AHS Hotel, she was cast as the main ghost Scáthach. Since the series is heavy on witchcraft, creator Ryan Murphy later revealed that this character is the original Supreme, a concept that has been explored in seasons Coven and Apocalypse.
While we are told that this is the character who rules the place, her terror isn’t built up sufficiently. The cannibals Polk Family who reside on the property were much scarier than her. We are told about her history but she never becomes the figure who should be called the Supreme as per AHS mythology.
With multiple storylines at play towards the end, the season left a lot of questions unanswered. Adina Porter’s mysterious escape and her deal with the ghosts of Roanoke was left quite vague by the end. Even little things like the tooth rain, the sticks in the mansion, the mysterious Uber driver were left open-ended.
Weekly television has its charm and a series like this truly builds up when you are desperately waiting for the next episode. But since this is now available online, you can binge all the ten episodes at once because the storytelling is just so engaging that it’s almost impossible to stop midway.
AHS Roanoke is the most binge-able season of the anthology series.
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American Horror Story Roanoke is available on Hotstar.