Thoughts: American Horror Story Season 6 Episode 1

When it comes to Wednesday’s premiere of the latest season of  American Horror Story, the first thoughts that cross my mind are laden with expletives. Fortunately, I was able to reign in that overly-excited fangirl side of me — a task that, under most circumstances is fairly easy, but in the case of Season 6, was double-sided. Please be warned that this post contains spoilers. Proceed at your own will.

Image © 20th Century Fox (2016).
Image © 20th Century Fox (2016).

Unlike most new seasons of American Horror Story, Season 6 remained shrouded in mystery all the way up until its premiere, and there is a very specific reason as to why they did this: it was a mirror of this year’s theme. I’m not going to lie, when I found that the idea of American Horror Story: Ghost Ship, or rather the rumor of it, was dismissed (at least, in respect to what I had been anticipating it to be), I was devastated. Without a doubt, I attribute that to my childhood experience of watching Ghost Ship. More specifically, I was a sixth-grader that was in the kitchen whipping up a Jell-O pie when I looked up just in time for the cable to snap, and those that have watched Ghost Ship know exactly what I’m talking about. That disappointment I felt was overwhelmingly strong until Season 6 was officially revealed as American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare, and at that moment, I about died from excitement.

For those that don’t have a vested interest in the paranormal and unexplained mysteries of our everyday lives, whether it be skepticism or a simple lack of interest in the ideology of ghosts, aliens, and Bermuda Triangles, the significance of Season 6’s theme, and the method in which it was revealed, might have been lost. American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare is steeped in Croatoan roots and, from what has been said, will be referring heavily to the mythos surrounding the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Settled in the late 1500s, the people of Roanoke had a habit of disappearing. Some returned to England by other ships, some supposedly integrated into local Indian tribes when supplies were not received (largely in part due to the Anglo-Spanish War), and others appeared to have vanished. Namely, the last of the settlers to be left in Roanoke. When John White, the man that had led the final expedition to Roanoke in attempt to colonize the island, finally managed to return from England with supplies, it was to a completely vacant site. The sole clue left by the settlers was the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree, from which the idea of integration stemmed. (There is, of course, far more information regarding what happened in Roanoke, and if you’re up for some light reading, I suggest checking out Wikipedia¹.) Since then, the word “Croatoan” has been used many times over in popular culture to refer to various oddities. In fact, there is an episode of Supernatural called “Croatoan”, and fans of Haven are likely familiar with the word via the existence of a creature that spanned four episodes of Season 5. These are, naturally, two fandoms that I am also a part of. There is also, apparently, a science-fiction novel of the same name, but with a rather odd topic that is solely worthy of note because it’s weird enough for me to be curious.

The history of Roanoke and Croatoan aside, let’s delve into the first episode! One of the things that caught my attention first and foremost is the method in which they’ve approached filming the sixth season. Not only are they adopting the typical method by which most paranormal shows are filmed, such as A HauntingGhostly Encounters, and My Haunted House to name a few, but they’re also adding their own flavor to the typical “haunted house” series. As long time fanatics of paranormal television shows, one of the things that my mother, sister-in-law, and myself tend to notice is that the individuals within the dramatic reenactments of hauntings rarely resemble the people that they are based upon. In some series, there’s no similarities at all, and at times this can result in an almost comic rendition of the experiences being recounted. American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare has incorporated these realistic differences in their premiere. While the characters in the dramatic reenactments, which are of movie quality as opposed to cheap television quality, do resemble their “real-life” counterparts more closely than some tv shows, it is clear that they are not the same actors. This fact, which I noticed immediately, won me over in so many ways. It played to my love of American Horror Story as an anthology and to my obsession with documentaries on the paranormal. Of course, unlike the documentaries we fawn over, American Horror Story has already showed that it fully intends to keep with its usual level of gore — and I’m glad!

However, this perspective is not without faults, and I’m curious as how character deaths may be portrayed. A quick look at the cast list shows that the only characters that have two faces are as Shelby and Matt Miller and Matt’s sister Lee. With that in mind, are we save in assuming that these three will survive the entire season? Or will they transition from the paranormal documentary style into the paranormal reality type, like we see in Ghost Hunters, Grave Encounters, and other shows that exist solely for the purpose of debunking a haunting? If the season does transition into the reality style, will we be forced to endure shaky camera footage and jump-scares? If so, I can honestly say I may find completing the season to be difficult.

Story-wise, the Millers are a nice, interracial couple that have recently moved to the rural South, a place where racism is still rampant, after they are attacked in the city as part of a gang initiation and Shelby loses her child. Matt falls in love with a gorgeous, old house built, if I recall correctly, circa 1700s. The farmhouse is going to auction, with a ridiculously low starting bid and the only other interested buyers are some hillbillies. Matt and Shelby appear to be satisfied without receiving a real answer as to why the home is so cheap, especially since it seems to be remarkably up-to-date for its age and the repairs don’t appear to take long at all. Of course, their new paradise is fleeting and before long, things start happening and they start happening fast.

Ranging from an unseen force tearing up and hurling bloodied trash bins, to ghastly visions of strange people wearing colonial garb, to a hailstorm of human teeth, the first episode of American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare doesn’t hold back on throwing in ghostly factors early on, much to the chagrin of some viewers. In fact, the general consensus of reactions to the first episode of this season are extremely mixed, with some viewers loving it and others completely losing interest.

One such complaint, from my sister-in-law actually, is that it fails to keep in rhythm with the early seasons of the show, citing American Horror Story: Hotel, which I have not yet had the pleasure to watch, as being much the same in regards to failing to uphold the level at which we have come to expect to see with the series. While that may be correct, again I would not know, we did receive a glimpse of that old gore that I am familiar with near the end, however fleeting it might have been. When Shelby, upset with Matt, angrily leaves her house near the end, he calls her. Distracted by looking down at her phone, she hits an oddly dressed woman, which we later discover to be Kathy Bates, with her car. The scene that follows shows Shelby running into the woods in search of the mysterious woman and instead encountering a gathering of what may be witches — male, mind you. It is here that we see an older man that has been scalped.

My overall feelings regarding the premiere of season six are hopeful. While the first episode was definitely a striking contrast to its predecessors, I can’t help but hold out at least a small bit of hope to see it become something good. Like other fans, I am disheartened by the fact that we do not see Evan Walker at all in this episode. I can also admit that my lack of enthusiasm last season, and the fact I failed to keep up (also in part because somehow, the recording got canceled on my DVR), is also in part due to the loss of Jessica Lange from the season. The best I can do, and the best us fans can really do, is simply wait to see how the series plays out.

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¹ Wikipedia is not a legitimate source, as anyone can edit it; however, it has its uses and namely, I use it largely to brush up on subjects I already have in-depth knowledge about, but have not studied in several years. The Lost Colony is one of those subjects and the preceding statements are a brief summary of what can be found on the Wikipedia article. My memory was, quite literally, limited to: colony vanished, Croatoan carved into a tree, sometime in the late 1500s. Additional reading, and facts, can be found via the resource links at the bottom of the page.

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