“Chapter 5” opens with [real-life] Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (presumably on My Roanoke Nightmare) talking about the history of the house.
In 1789, the fabulously rich art collector Edward Philippe Mott (played by perennial American Horror Story leading man Evan Peters) left his wife and young heir up in Philadelphia to secret an unparalleled art collection at a personal hideaway deep in the North Carolina woods. Mott, envied even by the very rich of his day, commissioned Shakers to build what is “today” Matt and Shelby’s house, to house his paintings and busts, worth more than “every tobacco farm in the state.”
So of course, Mott ran afoul of the Butcher.
One night he found his precious art collection destroyed. Incredulous at his servants’ desperate rantings, the furious Mott imprisoned the lot of them — a goodly number of naked women at least — in what we viewers know today as Elias’s root cellar.
Mott was subsequently staked and immolated by the Butcher. His black footman boyfriend (quite possibly a slave, given it was 1792) fled on a stolen steed, only to be jailed for killing his master and hiding the body. No one mentioned the poor women in the root cellar. Those servant women starved to death underground, discovered some time later, nothing but bones.
Was — or is — that big Shaker house haunted?
Doris Kearns Goodwin, the narrating historian, would love it if the dead could come back to talk to her! That said, she would never spend a night in the Roanoke house; certainly not under a full moon.
Matt and Shelby…
In the present, Matt and Shelby (and the rescued Flora) are themselves about to be butchered by the Butcher’s mob. With seemingly nowhere to run, the trio encounter the ghost of Mott, who guides them away not out of altruism, but because he “can hardly suffer three more souls.”
Getting the family out of the house and getting them to safety are two different things, sadly; so the minute they seem free (woo hoo), Matt, Shelby, and Flora are captured by the hillbilly Polk family (boo).
The Polks are still sour for offenses real and imagined. Out bidding them for the house. Leading the cops to their farm. Taking their mistreated, malnourished, “babies” into state protection. The Polks did save Dr. Elias Cunningham’s life, though (whew). In the aftermath of his encounter with the Butcher’s archers in Chapter 4 the Polks found Elias full of arrows, porcupine-like… But are now using him as a living source of jerkey (ew).
Mama Polk, played masterfully by Frances Conroy, is dissatisfied with the taste of her “meat”. She has no further use for the crippled Elias. As quickly as we are reintroduced to that mad, altruistic, professor, the Polks smash a lethal hammer into his head!
It turns out Polks made a deal with the Butcher 200 years earlier. They help provide human sacrifices. She leaves them alone to grow lots and lots of cannabis. In order to make good on this centuries-old deal, the Polks cart Matt, Shelby, and Flora right back to the house.
In a burst of heroism, Matt seizes a Polk shotgun and blows the head off of one of their captors! Shelby kicks another out of the back of a moving pickup! The Millers flee! Yay, right? For a second only, sadly… In order to keep [Matt] from running, Mama Polk takes a hammer to Shelby’s ankle, nearly severing it with a blunt object. She knows Matt won’t leave his hamstrung bride. This is one of the most grisly things I have ever seen on television… and remember just a few minutes earlier on the same show we saw a screaming man missing half of his appendages being essentially eaten alive.
Despite promising that Flora will die last, the Butcher decides to kill the little girl first. This infuriates ghostly playmate Priscilla, and spurs the Butcher’s own son Ambrose to a brief moment of defiance. He tackles his own mother into the giant fire!
Released from police custody, Lee rockets onto the scene and spirits the rest of the family away from the deadly mob.
In kind of an end tag, the Miller family, broke with their life savings sunk into that damned house, feel collectively wealthy — thankfully alive — at the cheapest hotel in town. Shelby, on crutches due to her Polk-inflicted ankle injury, calls dibs for a shower. A strange mist seeps out from under the door. The Butcher bursts out and chops poor Shelby right between the eyes!
Except… We all know that Shelby can’t be dead. She’s been narrating My Roanoke Nightmare for the past five weeks, right? That last bit was “just” a nightmare. But it had to be, right?
Chapter 5 of American Horror Story: Roanoke leaves us with a most enchanting (and horrifying) head scratcher. Given the unique structure of the show, we can’t know what is “real” and what is unreliable narration. But you know what? Despite knowing Shelby lived to tell the tale, I still jumped out of my chair.