Now that the mystery of AHS’ sixth season has evaporated, we’ve had another week to settle into the most miserable house this side of Roanoke Island, North Carolina — which, yes, I’ve recently learned is not actually the same thing as Roanoke, Virginia, where apparently people are very upset Ryan Murphy has set narrative crosshairs on their least-favorite talking point in colonial American urban lore.
The ghost colony of Roanoke is also fast becoming the least favorite topic for Matt, Shelby, and Lee, too, who spend this week’s episode denying their surrounding danger like a Rent fan in Moscow.
We last left Shelby screaming in the middle of the woods, where she bears witness to the first of what I imagine will be many torch-laid circles dedicated to ceremonies, social events, and, in this case, human sacrifices (which theoretically does fall under social events). Kathy Bates’ character appears to be the leader of the tribe, and Gaga, her sort of forest-nymph sidekick, the rabid Tails to Bates’ possibly vaguely European Sonic.
Shelby watches as Tribe Elder Kathy Bathes calls herself “the queen of every hive, the fire on every hill, the shield over every head” and orders the murder of a colony deserter and thief. It’s death by pig roast, apparently, as a giant pig’s head gets placed on the man, whose scream transforms into that same squeal we’ve been hearing creaking through the mahogany back in the house.
And that’s all we get from this tribe of misfits for now, because, in keeping with the theme of uneventfulness this week, it may as well have never happened. That’s how much of an ostensible effect it has on convincing Shelby, Matt, and Lee that something is very, very wrong in Roanoke (and it’s not just that “Perfect Illusion” is underwhelming). Denial, denial, denial. How much can a person rationalize the irrational?
So, we’re back in the house where Shelby and Matt are thoroughly convinced it’s just the mountain-men hillbillies trying to drive them away, and even though Lee witnessed the very scary break-in-and-flash-mob-decoration of the foyer last week, she decides it’s in everyone’s best interest to host her daughter for a weekend visit. (Again: The status quo is racist hillbillies are trying to terrorize an interracial couple, so let’s invite an 8-year-old African-American child into the equation. Good idea, Lee.)
Unfortunately, Lee’s daughter Flora has a penchant for hide-and-seek, and horror movies have a penchant for children having imaginary friends. Combine the two, and you’ve got Flora suddenly corresponding with an unseen presence whom she’s calling Priscilla (which a quick Google search will tell you isn’t even on the top 50 most popular colonial girls’ names, so no wonder she’s a ghost).
Lee is spooked but girls will be girls! She leaves Flora to fantasize, because ghosts have not yet entered Lee’s threat consideration threshold just yet; instead, she’s more concerned with a vase that mysteriously breaks and a dirty old bonnet that falls out. If you didn’t know, bonnets are THE item for people in the 1590s. Everyone has a bonnet, from youngest baby to oldest living 36-year-old. If you didn’t have a bonnet, you wanted a bonnet. You can cool off with a bonnet! Protect your head in a bonnet! Use a bonnet to slowly weaken the fragile rehabilitated psyche of a mortal in the 21st century! Decorate a bonnet with lace! They are truly the most versatile.
NEXT: “They’re going to kill us. And save me for last.”
From Lee’s bonnet discovery, the horror gets worse. Shelby and Matt have decided they’re going to stick it out in the house no matter what, even if “no matter what” includes:
- A delightful pig squeal coming from outside, which leads Shelby to grab her baseball bat and Matt, his Warby Parkers.
- Being separated in the forest, wherein Matt is scared by a pig and Shelby stumbles across another Surprise Bonfire™, this time featuring a man wearing a pig’s head burning on the stake alongside a ton of dripping meat.
- The cops prove themselves absolutely useless, save for an offer of til-morning protection and the revelation that the mountain men are actually Ishmael Polk (my new drag name) and his sons.
That night, Matt gets a distressed phone call from a disconnected landline. He realizes it’s coming from inside (!) the (!) house (!) and wanders through to find the genuinely insane sight of two nurses straight-up murdering an old woman, then spray-painting the letter M on the wall. Matt starts shrieking and wakes up the cop sleeping in his car outside, and like Daphne’s contributions to a Scooby-Doo episode, he finds nothing. The good news is Matt has now experienced his own nightmarish terror in the house and can understand Shelby’s woes, even if they’ve both officially lost credibility in the eyes of the entire police force.
Things get worse when Lee’s husband, Mason, comes back to pick up Flora, who — lo and behold — has gone missing again. Their very distressing game of hide-and-seek leads them to a hidden cupboard under the stairs, where instead of the boy who lived, they find the girl who talks to pilgrim ghosts. But Priscilla has been scared away, right in the middle of a trade for Flora’s doll. “It’s so she wouldn’t kill us,” Flora explains. “They’re going to kill us. And save me for last.”
When Matt and Shelby return from wherever they venture off to during the day when they’re not being haunted (Target?), they return to find Lee in a boozy, drunken stupor and a slew of knives sticking into the kitchen roof. They’re then distracted by the shape of a lady in the backyard, standing on a trapdoor they open and enter like any good self-destructive adventurers.
Meanwhile, Lee — now alone in bed — wakes up to see the two nurses standing over her, and she freaks. She runs into the hallway, where a variety of either tongues or intestines are pinned to the wall, wiggling like a toddler after naptime. To cap it all off, she blinks and they disappear, until she looks into a mirror and comes face-to-face with Piggy Man. PIGGY MAN! That same distressing myth that terrorized Cam from Modern Family in season 1. No, no, not Mitch.
NEXT: Meet the Jane Sisters
In our last act, Matt and Shelby head down into the trapdoor cellar and find it’s been turned into a de facto home. They pop in a VHS tape and discover the tenant is a man named Dr. Elias Cunningham, a professor who arrived at the house in 1997 in the hopes of researching a true-crime novel about Helter Skelter (is this our AHS season-7 tip about the much-rumored Manson theme?). Elias is played by Denis O’Hare, and he proceeds to explain he moved down to the cellar after being terrorized by the ghosts inside the house.
He also explains the house has gone through several tenants, which more or less solidifies the fact that we’re going to get a healthy dose of timelines set in the house this season. Most notable, perhaps, is his focus on Miranda and Bridget Jane, our pair of creepy nurses. They’re sisters, and they apparently opened an assisted-living facility in the house years prior, where they would take in elderly people who had been dumped off by their relatives…and kill them. It’s a hospice designed for murder.
Well, technically, murde. The Jane Sisters apparently only kill people whose first names help them spell out messages in spray paint onto the wall. So, presumably after kill-writing NBC BRING BACK SMASH and TRUMP RELEASE YOUR TAXES, the sisters decided to write their favorite word, MURDER, only they gave up right before the final R. The story is they ‘fled the country’ but Elias believes they were taken by the same malevolent force plaguing the Millers.
Elias declares that this video message is his bold involuntary suicide note, as he goes inside the house to confront the spirits once and for all. It’s a genuinely scary scene when he tours the house in night vision, only to get attacked by what looked like a figure with long, nasty hair. (Gaga’s wood nymph? Or Kathy Bates’ inside nymph?)
Matt and Shelby return to the house and tear down the wallpaper, proving the nurse story and, because Matt saw them in the flesh, the haunting. And if that’s not enough, a meat cleaver comes crashing into the door as they happen upon the revelation. But unfortunately for everyone involved, their money is tied up in the property and they can’t sell — leaving them to sit restlessly as Lee returns from a drunk bender with Flora in tow.
She’s abducted her in her desperate stupor, and Matt quickly talks her down while Shelby calls Mason and begs him not to get the police involved. Fortunately, he backs off the ledge, and Lee calms down and collects herself. But uh oh, the damage is already done. Flora’s spotted Priscilla and followed her outside, disappearing from the house and sending Lee, Matt, and Shelby into the woods to get her.
And they get something totally different than what they bargained for!
Sorry, I’m just kidding. That was a completely insensitive way to word that. In actuality, they find a tall tree smeared with fresh blood and Flora’s yellow sweater tied to the very top. So, sure, let’s pretend that’s less horrifying, stomach-churning, anxiety-inducing, and cliff-hanging.
So, what’s the theory? Are the Roanoke colonists (and accompanying wood nymph) just pranksters? Do they have a bloodthirst for families, nurses, or young children of separated parents? And, like, the pigs…what’s with the pigs? Could they not have chosen anything other than pigs?