Chapter 1. The FX limited series, American Horror Story, returns for a sixth installment. An FX Original Series Wednesdays 10PM ET/PT on FX.
The sixth season of American Horror Story brings with it a new format for the series. This year the show is being presented as a kind of “play within a play” — complete with DRAMATIC RE-ENACTMENT subtitles — as “My Roanoke Nightmare”.
We meet Matt and Shelby, played by Andre Holland and Lily Rabe. Matt, a pharmaceutical salesman, wins a free yoga class at a work raffle. Matt pulls a hamstring and never does another downward dog… But does walk away from the class with Shelby, the teacher, to be his bride.
Matt is promoted. Shelby is pregnant. The two go out to celebrate…
It is the worst night of their lives.
Matt and Shelby are attacked during a gang initiation. Matt is concussed while Shelby loses her baby to the stress of seeing her beloved knocked out. The pair flee the dangerous city of LA for a country life.
While Holland and Rabe give voiceover — talking directly to us — about their traumatic experiences, their same characters are played out by Academy Award Winner (and OJ Simpson darling) Cuba Gooding Jr. and American Horror Story mainstay Sarah Paulson. So there are two Matts, and two Shelbys; one pair of talking heads, and the other acting out scenes, simultaneously. All four of them are meant to be on a different show, “My Roanoke Nightmare” and not American Horror Story ostensibly.
It’s an interesting presentation style that — in addition to Cuba’s post-coital buttocks — gives us one substantially un-American Horror Story foothold: There is little real threat of danger. We aren’t watching American Horror Story proper… We’re watching “My Roanoke Nightmare”. Sarah Paulson isn’t just an actress playing a part… She’s playing Lily Rabe’s Shelby Miller; since Rabe is talking to us about her traumatic experience, we can assume she survived to sell her story to “My Roanoke Nightmare”. So even though there are scary hillbillies, colonials bearing torches, pig-headed monsters, and weird traffic coincidences there is less a threat of seeing either Shelby dismembered like Chloe Sevigny’s patient in American Horror Story: Asylum or burned alive like Frances Conroy’s witch in American Horror Story: Coven.
One thing I’ll give it: Roanoke is creepy. It highlights racial tensions, and the visceral fear a black man — or a mixed couple — might fear from less enlightened neighbors. It reminds us of real violence as a catalyst for the show’s trademark supernatural events. And of course, if you blink, you can find yourself blanketed by fingerlike string fetishes hanging from every which wall (or every tree in the forest), depending on where you are when you run afoul of the mysterious.
“Chapter 1” is a proper introduction to the new season, and as the name implies, only the first chapter. It ends on cliffhanger. We will learn more tonight!