Spoilers ahead, obviously!
To much fanfare, season six of American Horror Story premiered last night, finally revealing the mysterious theme, and subtitle, as My Roanoke Nightmare. It seems odd that they didn’t just call it American Horror Story: Roanoke, since in the past all of the season titles have been one- or two-word nouns or places (not to mention “My Roanoke Nightmare” sounds like the name of an emo band), but that’s hardly the biggest change to the new season. Most noticeable right off the bat is that even the trademark creepy opening credits sequence is gone, replaced with a simple red-and-black title card.
Stylistically, it couldn’t be more different than previous seasons, especially when compared to the over-the-top goth glam of last year’s Hotel, or the surreal grittiness of Freak Show. Instead, like many contemporary horror movies, My Roanoke Nightmare sets out to tell a “real” story, complete with a note informing viewers that “the following story is inspired by true events.” It accomplishes this by setting the season up as a news magazine style investigation series that even toggles back and forth between interview segments and “dramatic reenactments.”
And yes, that means we have two actors playing each character. The story focuses on Los Angeles couple Shelby and Matt, played by Lily Rabe and Andre Holland in the present, and Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. in flashbacks, a couple so perfect that friends used to not like socializing with them because it made them feel insecure about their own relationships. Yes, really. Shelby and Matt’s perfect life is abruptly shattered when — out celebrating Shelby’s pregnancy and Matt’s promotion — Matt is injured in a gang initiation/hate crime attack. Matt ends up being okay, but Shelby loses the baby due to stress, or possibly from getting pushed in the attack, so the two decide that the city is no longer safe (irony alert!) and move back east to North Carolina, where Matt grew up.
Shortly after arriving in North Carolina, the two stumble on a creepy ass old farmhouse built in 1792, and decide it’s the perfect place to start their lives over. After beating out some ominous-looking rednecks at auction (Chaz Bono sighting!) and dropping their life savings, the house is all theirs. Of course, that’s when creepy things start to happen, from a hailstorm raining down actual human teeth on the house to a mutilated pig corpse turning up on their doorstep. When Shelby is attacked while Matt is away on business, he decides to enlist the help of his former cop, recovering prescription pill addict sister Lee (played by Angela Bassett in the reenactment and Adina Porter in interviews) to watch over his wife. Because apparently none of these people have ever seen a horror movie before, they’re still convinced that the strange occurrences are race-fueled hillbilly intimidation.
Things don’t go much better with Lee around, and next time Matt leaves town, the house is seized by pitchfork- and torch-carrying dead people (!!!) and the two women are locked in the basement where they find a creepy home movie starring Denis O’Hare and a, uh, werepig, while the intruders are busy leaving DIY Blair Witch Project gifts all over the home. The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Shelby flees, encountering dead Kathy Bates in the woods (played just by Kathy Bates as ghosts are not invited to provide interviews), proceeding to make yet another horror movie mistake by following her into the woods, where she quickly gets lost and is surrounded by even more dead pilgrims.
After the episode aired, many were left to speculate whether or not each episode would be its own individual vignette, perhaps jumping around in time at different points in the property’s history. However, a preview later released reveals that they’re going to be sticking with Matt and Shelby’s story, at least for the foreseeable future.
The biggest question: Where is the rest of the cast and how will they fit into the story? Lady Gaga’s absence was felt. When she’ll appear, as with everything else this season, remains a mystery. Even casting has been kept tightly under wraps, and closing credits only reveal recurring American Horror Story players Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, and Wes Bentley (who may have been one of the dead pilgrims) as series regulars.