An explosive final sequence consecrates Roanoke to TV history
First off, let’s make it clear: Congratulations are in order for Ryan Murphy. After six seasons, he and his American Horror Story team should be proud of the stunningly scary and ever-surprising cycle that is Roanoke, or My Roanoke Nightmare, or Three Days In Hell: Return to Roanoke, or Two Guys Nine Girls and a Virginia Place or whatever we’re calling it. Love it or hate it, Roanoke was one hell of an entertaining ride from its surprise mic-drop start to tonight’s grand finale.
And oh, how grand it was. Not just talking about Lana Winters’ bouffant and bedspread, though we’ll get to that in due time.
Last week, as you know, it seemed we were all done with that old twee mansion in rural North Carolina. Lee Harris (Adina Porter, the breakout star of this naughty nightmare) turned out to be the sole survivor after the Agatha Christie pick-off led us to the riveting penultimate shoot-out from, by, and through several internal organs of Audrey Tindall.
Kudos to Paulson, too, for the strongest comic character work of the season — always hysterically funny, but always delivered with the gravest seriousness. If that weren’t enough, though, Paulson had one more up her sleeve for the finale, playing her third (!) character of the year: Season 2’s rogue asylum reporter, Lana Winters. You’ll recall that Lana is a bigwig in the media world now, having made her name in journalism after escaping from Briarcliff and telling all in the late ‘70s. Now this Barbara Walters is out of retirement and back in action, covering Lee — the world’s most beloved and most hated Roanoke mega-star, who went on to write a best-seller and tour the country speaking after her escape from the sophomore slump.
Lee’s become a provocative, polarizing figure since, yes, Three Days in Hell did in fact premiere — shockingly. The world still doesn’t know whether it’s all real or fake, but they do know that Lee is on trial for basically all the dead bodies that wound up there. Trashy tabloid shows — like the all-too-real newsmag fodder, Crack’d — do the typical curtain-lifting on Lee’s humble past, her early marriage to Mason and the birth of Flora, and then the scandalous sh-tshow that is My Roanoke Nightmare and Three Days in Hell.
In its wake, she faces lawsuits for all the folks she killed in season 2 (including the Polks, Audrey, and Monet, whose sister sits in court every day) but miraculously manages to get off, aided by the media circus, a jury sympathetic with her extreme duress and various cannibal-related stresses, and the defense team’s brilliant albeit ridiculous hallucinogenic marijuana angle. The prosecution then attempts to get Lee indicted for the charges from season 1: The murder of her husband, Mason. Despite her video confessional and other circumstantial evidence, there’s no proof, but for eyewitness Flora, who testifies that she saw Lee kill Mason in the woods. Lee then allows her attorney to malign Flora’s character by making her bring up Friendly Ghost Girl™ Priscilla and, in turn, sound crazy enough to invalidate her testimony. So Lee gets off, again.
NEXT: Lana goes bananas
That brings us to Lee’s first major TV interview after acquittal and exoneration, with the now-unretired Lana Winters, who uses her cheesy primetime special to drive claws into Lee and ask the tough questions. “Why did you agree to this interview? I know for a fact that you turned everybody else down… Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters,” Lana says, burning. Lee says it’s because of what Lana herself has been through — killing her son, Bloodyface — that made her believe Lana would treat her with sympathy. That particular throwback Thursday does not make Lana happy: “I killed a psychopathic murderer before he could kill me.” “Exactly,” says Lee.
Lee then gives a heartfelt plea to now-estranged Flora, hoping she’s watching. But Lana pulls the rug out and reveals that Flora was reported missing by her grandparents an hour before going on the air. Lee panics, but before Lana’s stunt can work, the last surviving Polk bursts in with an assault rifle. Yes, it’s yet another shocking twist that you should have felt completely free to gasp at. On live television, Lana tries to talk the Polk down; he knocks her out, but is quickly gunned down by the arrival of the police. The feed cuts out.
Flash-forward to: Yet another TV show to skewer, this time called Spirit Chasers. Paranormal investigators (who also mention visiting Asylum) are on location in Roanoke, which they dub “the deadliest paranormal phenomenon in America.” They’ve broken in and brought actor Ashley Gilbert (Leslie Jordan), who’s still slightly peeved that Sidney never asked him to return for season 2.
It’s no time at all before someone shows up: It’s Lee! She’s lucid, anxious, and in desperate search of Flora. She has no time to put up with the shenanigans from the douche-bro production team, who are, unsurprisingly, quickly picked off (along with the cops) by all the ghosts we’ve come to fear and love: The Pig Man, the Chen family, the sister nurses, and — my girl — the Butcher! It’s like the Brady Bunch, only with Kathy Bates as Alice and also like half of Jan.
Soon, it’s Roanoke all over again as everyone is dead but Lee, who finally encounters Flora. As a hostage crisis storms on outside, Lee tries to level with Flora, who’s too entranced by Priscilla and has grown eager to stay with the colonists in the forest, dead, so she can look after her colonial friend. Lee, desperate for her love, volunteers to take Flora’s place, encouraging Flora to visit her often and proving her love once and for all. Flora agrees, and Lee makes the ultimate sacrifice — taking Priscilla’s hand, burning the house to the ground, and consecrating herself and the land to the Butcher for good. In the season’s final shot, cue the colonists, descending on the police perimeter as a scream rings out underneath the blood moon.
And so ends a brilliant string of episodes, sequences, and scares that have left me totally reinvigorated for what American Horror Story can be. It broke its own formula to stunning degree, and though there were some logical missteps and a few too many bumps in the night, Murphy and company still managed to create a genuinely scary, always surprising, fairly provocative treatise on voyeurism, on media and viral exposure, on actors and producers, on television, on the press, even on gun violence. And on you. How you watch TV, how you consume it, what you say about it, and who you decide to turn into a celebrity. All this and more, wrapped up in a solidly entertaining 10-episode season that, in my opinion, has brought AHS back to roaring life.
Watch yourself, America. Because Ryan Murphy is.
Episode grade: A
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