Contrary, it seems, to the rumors that AHS would turn in the direction of The Hills Have Eyes and all the homicidal incestuous gore that connotes, Wednesday night’s premiere focused on a different, truly American horror story: the mysteries of Roanoke, the North Carolina colony that, in year 1587, effectively disappeared without a trace.
Season 6 takes clues from the kinds of reality-dramatization shows that populate channels like SyFy and Investigation Discovery, a strange effect at first: as it tells the story of Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt (Andre Holland) via confessional-booth style narration, it simultaneously tells the story of Shelby (Sarah Paulson) and Matt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) via reenactments. Even the dramatic title card—My Roanoke Nightmare—sounds and looks like a salacious SyFy series investigating real-life ghost stories and the human fear that accompanies them. It’s an interesting notion, and a flip for a show that has seemed to get itself into a rut; potentially, threading the story through narrators and this particular format could help right the meandering, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink story problems it’s dealt with in the last couple seasons.
In last night’s premiere, Shelby and Matt are a so-in-love Los Angeles couple who decide to go back to Matt’s home state of North Carolina after Matt gets randomly punched in the face on the street in a gang initiation ritual. Wandering through the virgin forest, they happen upon a for-sale farm house, built in 1792, and the couple wins the home in a steal of an auction in which the only other bidders are a trio of dirty country men with a flatbed truck and fucked-up teeth—“ZZ Top wannabes,” as Matt later describes them—something like the 1970s stereotype of a “hick,” so we may well get The Hills Have Eyes yet.
But are the ZZ Top dudes a decoy, meant solely to illuminate how bougie Matt and Shelby—with her yoga practice and rosé in the tub—might be in contrast? Perhaps, and that aspect is certainly a knowing spoof on LA yoga types; when Matt’s sister Lee (Adina Porter/Angela Bassett) comes in the picture, she scoffs that “yoga’s not a job,” and Rabe’s Shelby responds: “Lee mocked my yoga, my gluten allergy, and my two years of college. She thought I was too much of a phony to be with her brother.” As it happens, Lee’s former addiction to painkillers caused her to lose her job as a cop, her marriage and full custody of her child, as the show gets deeper into timely slice-of-life archetypes.
As ever, though, the premiere’s main focus is fear; after presumable foes Lee and Shelby are holed up in the farmhouse together for a night, a mysterious force turns on a nutty home movie in the basement of a scraggly man racing through the woods to confront what looks to be a... pig monster?... only to return to the great room being rigged up with Blair Witch style, voodoo-y stick traps. (Timely!)
And where do we see these scary stick men again? In the woods, of course!
It’s the premiere, so it’s unclear where this is going, though we can float a guess: Kathy Bates is a devil worshipper from colonial times, some unnamed earth-evil wants to reject and/or sacrifice newcomers, pigs as a species are vessels of evil conjured by human foibles, etc. But it’s promising so far, and the familiar narrative format is a nice angle, so as ever, we’ll keep watching.