American Horror Story: Season 6 (Roanoke)
In entertainment there is a time-honored tradition that an effective and efficient methodology for relating a scary story is the anthology. Whether it takes the form of a printed collection of short stories of the infamous comic books of the fifties and sixties such as ‘Tales from the Crypt’. Such pulp comics typically featured three independent stories of horror. It was only natural that this format would carry over to television. It proliferated great in the early days of TV creating some of the best examples of the genre in any form of presentation. A few years ago, the horror anthology was resurrected in spectacular fashion. The proven team of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk put their collective creative genius together and crafted a series that would explode in the zeitgeist of the public ‘American Horror story’. It just began its seventh year with each of the six seasons thus far exploring several of the varied aspects of horror in all their wonderful nuances. After plunging into such perennial favorites as the haunted house, a freak how, witch’s coven and insane asylum. Each venue for the specific story is carefully selected and expertly crafted to elicit the maximum amount of terror and excitement. One of the most coveted pieces of entertainment news has been what theme ‘AHS’ will tackle next. The producers fully exploited this ground swell of curiosity by releasing a series of six different teaser trailers implying only one was accurate.\Naturally, social media exploded with frame by frame dissections of the abbreviated content and a plethora of fan theories. The publicity department at the F/X division of 20th Century Fox had an easy time promoting this leading series. The showrunners provided the enigmatic videos and a few well placed ‘leaks’ on YouTube did the rest. Typically, the casting decisions are greatly debated by fans but a peculiar twist resulting from the form adds a new dimension as each new season approaches. Creator Brad Falchuk and his long-time partner, Ryan Murphy have chosen to retain a core of exceptional performers present in most if not all seasons, added to this are several new members to the troupe as well as a sprinkling of season specific guest stars. This robust combination has proven to be wildly successful.
The horrifying trope scrutinized in this season’s story is the cursed location. Many legends include a certain spot, a parcel of land or a structure built on such an inherently evil place that continues to inflict pain and suffering to any that dare to ignore the taboo. This essentially differs from the haunted ‘Murder House’ depicted in the freshman season in several crucial aspects. The house was specifically cursed, a result of the accumulation of evil events over time. The Hotel of the previous season was intentionally constructed as a place of unimaginable acts of cruelty, death and serve as the nest for creatures of pure evil. In this sixth season the location was based on a piece of American history that has persisted throughout the centuries, Roanoke. This was one of the earliest colonies established by English Puritans it was established in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is today's Dare County, North Carolina. It is part of the historical account that the colony completely vanished in a very brief amount of time. Subsequent settlers found only one clue, the word ‘Croatoan’, carved in a tree. One element when, infused into a tale of supernatural horror always enhances its efficacy, to base the story on what is accepted as historical fact. This is especially potent when the period is sufficiently long ago that many facts have become inexorably entangled with the accumulation of mythos and local legends. This fact serves as the foundation for a unique approach to the traditional ghost story. This technique affords a foundation strongly tied to reality. Even the most pragmatic person watching is prone to a nagging feeling that the supernatural might exist making the frightening events and terrifying imagery potentially real. The precise execution of the story utilized here.
This season is unique in that it eschews the traditional uninterrupted narrative for a tale of terror told in three parts. Opening the suite examines a young couple reaching for the American dream, owning their own home. Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt (André Holland) Miller had survived a brutal experience. He was badly beaten by a gang leaving him in a coma. He recovered, albeit with a serve physical deficient while Shelby had a miscarriage. To escape the lingering memories, they decided to make a fresh start by purchasing a home in North Carolina, near where Matt grew up. They located a sizable vintage house they could afford thanks to a government auction. The only other interested party was a family of Hillbillies, the Polk family. No sooner than the Millers move in then the Polk’s begin to harass them. As it turned out many of the strange and frightening occurrences had a supernatural origin. The threatening atmosphere spirals beyond Shelby’s ability to withstand. Matt calls for his sister, Lee Harris (Adina Porter), to keep her company. Lee is very conservative and opposes Shelby’s liberal attitude towards life. Lee has a daughter, Emily by her ex-husband, Mason Harris (Mason Harris). When the little girl is befriended by a child in a bonnet reality turns in on itself. The little girl is a ghost, one of the lost colony now trapped in a limbo of revenge extracted on anyone trying to live on the land.
The Miller’s story is related to the audience both through their direct account via television interviews, and re-enactments for a reality based show that features actors portraying the principle characters. Shelby is portrayed by Audrey Tindall (Sarah Paulson), Matt by Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Lee played by Monet Tumusiime (). The series was a success so the producers decided to reunite the original participants and the actors in a follow-up show, ‘Return to Roanoke’. The supernatural ordeal was harshly visited on the actors making it a painfully difficulty decision to return to such a terribly frightening place. The third point of view for the story was provided by means of flashbacks recounting the fate of the doomed original colony. The principle antagonists are introduced through these flashbacks continuing to the modern times both as ghostly forms and re-enactors. Chief among the supernatural evil is Thomasin White (Susan Berger), portrayed on television by Agnes Mary Winstead (Kathy Bates). The method actress delved so deeply into her character she was overwhelmed by the powerful evil that pervaded the actual woman. In life Goody White was the wife of the governor and the de facto leader of the colony.
White was better known throughout history as ‘The Butcher’. She set upon a dark path when her husband and other men of the colony never returned from searching for much needed supplies. She was ostracized by the townsfolk only to survive the wilderness by striking a deal with a powerful witch, Scáthach (Lady Gaga). White’s nom de voyage was well earned by performing animal and human sacrifices in the name of the witch and other pagan deities. A pack made between White and Scáthach condemned the colonist to an eternity of terrorizing the living.
One aspect of the series is that all the season stories take place in the same fictional universe. Events occurring in a season are referenced or otherwise affect the current story. In this season Sarah Paulson also reprises her role from Season 2, ‘The Asylum’. She is a journalist investigating supernatural occurrences. The series is host to many direct references as this but what is far more entertaining are the subtle refences and connections. This season ties to season 3, ‘The Coven’. Modern witches are tasked with selecting the next paramount witch, ‘The Supreme’. This witch must be able to manifest what is referred to as ‘The Seven Wonders’, a set of seven exceptionally potent magical abilities. It is revealed that Scáthach was the original Supreme. While the fragmentation of the story disrupts the flow of the overall narrative the season dies deliver. The reality quotient provided by the connection to the real lost colony is expertly enhanced using the familiar reality television show format. While not the strongest season it remains a critical portion of the ongoing story.