“It’s difficult to banish a spirit, but not impossible. The most successful attempt that I know of happened when America was known as the New World… In 1590, on the coast of what we now know as North Carolina, the entire colony of Roanoke — all 117 men, women, and children — died inexplicably. It became known as the Ghost Colony because the spirits remained. They haunted the native tribes living in the surrounding area, killing indiscriminately. The elder knew he had to act. He cast a banishment curse. First, he collected the personal belongings of all the dead colonists. Then he burned them. The ghosts appeared, summoned by their talismans. But before the spirits could cause them any more harm, the elder completed the curse that would banish the ghosts forever. By uttering a single world… the same word found carved on a post at the abandoned colony: Croatoan.”
Who monologued that?! Why, it’s your friendly neighborhood medium Billie Dean Howard, the kooky psychic from way back in season 1 of American Horror Story who’s called upon to help rid the Murder House of persistent ghosts. The speech, in the season’s penultimate episode, complements an earlier speech Billie delivers about how to dislodge spirits from the “paramagnetic grip” of evil, which apparently exists in the world as a sort of lingering result of the events that release it. Sort of like freshly baked cookies or pollution.
Yes, all the way back in season 1, American Horror Story teased an urban legend of vanishing townships, uneasy spirits, and the lost colony of Roanoke. Just five short years later, we have our theme for the sixth cycle of Ryan Murphy’s addictively spooky creation.
Friends, this is American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare. And you can join me on my Roanoke nightmare as I attempt to make sense of the very mysterious new season, which the network has kept under lock-and-key for what I’ve gleaned are a variety of sh-ts and an abundance of giggles. But hell if the intrigue doesn’t make me relish the strangeness of this new season all the more.
“Inspired by true events,” the season seems to be set up in dual timelines with two sets of actors: One, in the apparent present day, features sit-down interviews for a true-crime-style documentary, which I can only assume is actually called My Roanoke Nightmare. The other, in a not-too-distant past, shows what happened to a friendly couple — yoga teacher Shelby and pharmaceutical salesman Matt — in Roanoke, North Carolina. (Will there be a payoff to the documentary format, other than the benefit of knowing Shelby, Matt, and Lee survive? Or is it simply a novel concept that won’t get much explanation, like how they’ve been filming the people on Modern Family for like 15 years already?)
It’s a totally wacky yet quintessentially 2016 notion to parodize our obsession with those paranormal TLC shows, and Murphy doubles down on the format gimmick via AHS Season 6 WTF #1: double casting. Lily Rabe plays the ‘real’ Shelby; her counterpart in the reenacted timeline is Sarah Paulson. André Holland takes on the role of present-day Matt, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the flashback.
So, here’s the deal: Shelby and Matt are looking for a fresh start after an encounter with gang violence and the loss of a pregnancy, and they find it in a nice little 18th-century farmhouse in North Carolina. Matt blows his savings buying it at an auction, much to the anger of three very peeved hillbillies, pictured below:
As they renovate the house, ShelbyPaulson grows reluctant and distant. Matt chalks it up to the miscarriage, but ShelbyRabe reveals she felt an overwhelming sense of danger from the first moment they entered the house. During lovemaking, Shelby hears strange moaning, followed by a pounding (which I suppose is how you could also describe lovemaking itself). Matt goes outside and finds the yard has been trashed, and a flying trash can headed his way suggests it’s merely vandalism from the racist hillbillies who don’t support an interracial couple.
But how, then, does Matt explain AHS Season 6 WTF #2: a rain shower of teeth!? Shelby heads outside the next day to find a storm of human teeth raining down on the porch, which truly ranks high in the pantheon of insane things that have happened on American Horror Story — a list including minotaur sex, jawless clowns, and Connie Britton’s first contract.
NEXT: Shelby, you in danger, girl
Despite having every reason not to, Shelby agrees to stay in the house, doing that horror-movie-thing of explaining insanity with insecurity. “I felt pretty foolish,” says ShelbyRabe. “I mean, teeth don’t fall from the sky!” No, ShelbyRabe, they do not. ShelbyPaulson tries to convince herself the tooth storm was just a mere momentary lapse in normalcy, like forgetting to turn the oven off or buying an album on iTunes. Matt heads off on a business trip, and Shelby, being of sound mind and just-doing-her-best chakra, attempts to utilize the solitude to do some yoga, pour some rosé, and cook her way through Julia Child’s recipes.
But uh oh — she’s walking down the hallway and catches a glimpse of two ghostly girls who look like they absolutely do NOT want to be there. The weird thing is, they’re not exactly Roanoke-era wanderers, suggesting there’s a fourth time period we’ll be asked to explore.
It’s a mind game, ShelbyPaulson tells herself, and she shakes it off and goes outside (arguably the worst type of ‘side’) to take a soak in her secluded outdoor hot tub. Uh oh again — this time, her relaxation is interrupted when she’s violently pushed underwater by a mysterious figure. When she emerges, the tub is surrounded by a handful of torches and the culprits are gone.
Now that other horror-movie-thing happens, where the cops straight-up don’t believe her (she claimed her attackers were dressed in old costumes and holding pitchforks) and Matt is equally convinced she was just frightened by the hillbillies again. As the police leave, we have no evidence and no resolution, though we now know the cops are going to be of absolutely zero help from here on out. Perhaps even more troubling: Matt and Shelby’s relationship isn’t in pure jeopardy, but it’s showing very early signs of possible bad news (like when you get unexpectedly tagged in a Facebook photo, which could go either way).
With all that’s happened, it finally takes the appearance of a dead pig on the doorstep — which Matt buries and doesn’t tell Shelby about, because that sounds like a perfect idea right now — to convince Matt he’s going to need some backup protection against this trash-can-throwing, pig-head-pranking white-trash gang.
As such, he sets up a perimeter of security cameras and enlists his sister for protection. Enter Lee, a grizzled ex-cop and criminologist who lost her job, her husband, and custody of her children after a messy addiction to pills and booze. In TLC’s My Roanoke Nightmare timeline, Lee is Adina Porter (a one-time alum of Murder House), here playing opposite the inimitable Angela Bassett in the Paulson/Cuba Paradigm.
Matt heads off on yet another business trip, leaving the sisters-in-law to feud over their ideological differences (or, really, leaving Lee to chastise Shelby’s gluten allergy). Separately, they each have a brush with the supernatural: Shelby encounters a phantom knife in the kitchen, while newly sober Lee comes up against a taunting empty bottle of wine. As they fight over what they each believe are nasty pranks, they suddenly hear a sound in the basement and head downstairs to follow it. Because when in doubt, basements. (Around the same time, Matt’s receives a notification from the security cameras that the sensors have been triggered by men holding torches and bloody knives. He heads home, a casual 100 miles he’s able to travel in like 30 minutes.)
RELATED: Hear More Theories About the New AHS Season
The basement noise turns out to be an old TV, playing a grainy VHS tape of footage from a camera in the woods. A horrifying figure appears wearing a pig head. There’s a scuffle, then an anguished man facing the camera upside-down saying, “I finally got you, you son of a bitch.”
After being briefly trapped in the basement, Lee and Shelby head upstairs into the foyer, and here comes AHS Season 6 WTF #3: It’s filled with dozens of little handmade figures made of twine and straw, strewn everywhere. There are hundreds of them, the complete retail line of 16th-century Barbies, hung up across the room like an intricate maze laid by Spider-Man to catch some criminal through the magic of reverberation. Matt returns soon after, and the three analyze the situation, assess the suspects (still just hillbillies), and revisit the pig video for clues.
But not Shelby. Girl has had it with this house. Fool me once (trash my yard), shame on you. Fool me seven more times (tooth shower, hot-tub attack, ghost girls, knife thing, bottle thing, pig-head thing which she technically doesn’t know about, and now this), shame on me, right? So Shelby makes a run for it, hopping in her car and driving like she just can’t wait to exhale.
NEXT: Roanoke roadkill
In her frantic rush to escape her horror house of casual crafting, ShelbyPaulson’s so frazzled when Matt calls her phone that she subsequently hits an old lady in the middle of the road.
Here’s a picture of said lady:
It took me six re-watches to get this screengrab, but yes, I do believe this is Titanic and Harry’s Law character actress Kathy Bates, and if it’s not, you can’t blame me. Bates is chameleonic in her oeuvre. But yep, that’s her, and if this hit-and-run victim is indeed sticking around, I assume this was either a specific move on her character’s part to trap Shelby, or a very bad calamity that Old-Timey Bates won’t quickly forget.<a href=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ews-what-to-watch/id1150064881?mt=2″ target=”_bl
Either way, Shelby gets out of the car and finds the old woman has casually gotten up and crept back into the woods. Shelby decides to pursue her into the forest, but promptly loses both the woman and herself. She finally stumbles into a clearing and is horrified to find the same web of straw dolls hanging from the trees.
She runs again, tripping and falling and finding herself laying on a patch of land that seems to be pulsing and throbbing — almost breathing. And so she runs again, this time running straight into a third clearing that is quickly surrounded by figures with torches.
As the light hits them, we see just two faces illuminated. The first is walking period-piece actor Wes Bentley, who OF COURSE is playing an old-timey staring enthusiast. The second is this guy, who I can definitively say is NOT Finn Wittrock:
Let’s just go ahead and call this one AHS Season 6 WTF #4.
So, how did we get from Lily Rabe to a man with no scalp? Well, that’s just what we’re going to have to figure out during this Very Special Season. I leave you with these questions to ponder: Why do you think Murphy felt it was important for us to experience this story through the lens of Shelby, Matt, and Lee specifically as survivors? Does the framework last the whole season, or could the Roanoke ghosts find their way into the present day as well (almost a la the meta layers of Scream 3)? Do you think Shelby’s touch during Matt’s coma — and her subsequent miscarriage — was coincidence, or a bout of the paranormal? What does psychic Billie Dean’s description of the lost colony of Roanoke have to do with the actual events we’ll see? Will anyone say the word Croatoan? And tell me if I’m wrong here, but…I swear, was one of the hillbillies Chaz Bono?
I swear to you, if Lady Gaga rolls out in a pilgrim costume next week, I’m just going to straight-up lose my mind.