The big “twist” in American Horror Story: Roanoke finally happened. But it wasn’t a conventional twist — a conventional twist would have been like, “They were dead the whole time!” — since pretty much everyone figured out that Shelby and Matt would somehow get lured back to the Roanoke house. Having said that, it certainly was fun to see how they arrived at that point, and finally peek behind the curtain of the whole “reality show” conceit. As the episode opens, a title card informs viewers that the show within the show, “My Roanoke Nightmare,” became the runaway hit of 2015 despite minimal promotion, with the finale attracting more viewers than Sunday night football, The Walking Dead, and Empire. That’s a lot of viewers!
Of course, when you take a bunch of relatively unknown people — both the survivors of the house as well as the reenactment actors — and suddenly thrust them into the spotlight (hi, Stranger Things kids!), their lives are going to change dramatically. And in this case, it’s not necessarily been for the better. First of all, Matt and Shelby, the most perfectest couple ever, have separated! The stress of the ordeal proved to be too much on their marriage, and then in the most fun turn ever, Shelby ends up having an affair with “Dominic Banks,” the actor who played Matt on the show. The scene in which they get caught by the “paparazzi” was a hilarious and hopefully intentional nod to Cuba Gooding Jr.’s many, many run-ins with TMZ. (You don’t have to talk to them, Cuba!!)
Meanwhile, the real Lee (Adina Porter) was never charged with the murder of her husband, but now the entire country thinks she’s a murderer because ghosts aren’t real, obviously. Things aren’t going much better for Monet, the actress who played Lee (Angela Bassett). The stress of portraying a probable murderer on a high-profile reality show sent her spiraling into alcoholism. Likewise, Agnes, the actress who played The Butcher is actually crazy in real life, and has spent the time since the show aired threatening her castmates. But the most fun development by far is that the actress who played Shelby (Sarah Paulson) is actually a British actress named “Audrey” who ends up falling in love with the bone-headed, much younger actor Rory (Evan Peters) who played the ghost of Phillipe Mott, and the two quickly marry.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. The so-called “twist,” as it would be, is that in an attempt to capitalize off of the success of the show, the producer Sidney (played to perfect sleaziness by Cheyenne Jackson) somehow managed to get all of these big beautiful people to agree to come back and stay in the house together during the blood moon for a Big Brother-style sequel called “Roanoke: 3 Days in Hell.” Oh, except for Agnes, who is instead served with a restraining order forbidding her to come near the set, which Sidney expressly hopes will provoke her into coming near the set. What could go wrong here? (Everything!)
Strange things start happening as soon as pre-production sets up at the house, such as someone or something leaving the crew a welcome gift of a heart made out of pig fetuses, and a crew member chainsawing his own head off. You know, weird stuff! Because much like the original residents of the house, Sidney stubbornly refuses to believe that there is anything truly evil taking place (the reenactments were filmed at the house, albeit in the summer when the ghosts are dormant), and insists upon going forward with the sequel regardless.
The whole episode was so solid I don’t even mind them using the tired “found footage” conceit, because — oh yeah, as a title card later informs once the participants arrive at the house and are left alone, over the course of the next three days, every participant in the series dies under “mysterious circumstances,” with one sole survivor. So whereas with the first part of the season we knew all of the major players made it out alive, now it’s a matter of watching to see how everyone is gonna die, with the added mystery of who lives. Pretty solid work from Ryan Murphy this time around, I gotta admit.
- The big question on everyone’s mind is why the original survivors would come back to the house if they know how evil it is. This definitely lends credence to the theory that Shelby, Lee, and Matt’s account of their story wasn’t 100 percent honest, and that they may have made a deal with The Butcher to escape with their lives.
- Reenactment Shelby was supposed to be terrible. As beloved as Emmy-winning actress Sarah Paulson is to AHS fans, her portrayal of Shelby for the first part of the season was almost universally panned as screechy and annoying. (“MAAAAAAAAATT!”) But after “Audrey” meets Shelby once they’re all in the house together, she remarks: “Fiery and pathetic, that’s exactly how I played her.” All of the Emmys. All of them.
- The ghosts in the “reenactment” world weren’t all that terribly scary, once you got to know them. This time around they’re much creepier. Holy Hell, Lee’s dead ex-husband just wandering around, just happening to look directly into the camera? And the ghost lady standing off to the side of the road? My viewing companions and I screamed so loud when the pig man grabbed the producer’s assistant in the car that we actually startled my half-deaf, sleeping dog.
- Did I mention how perfect Cheyenne Jackson’s character was? Setting up Shelby and Matt to have Dominic Banks show up at the house was diabolical and the line “alcohol is the secret sauce to reality shows” made me laugh out loud.
- The nurses finally got their “R.” Hello again and goodbye again, Evan Peters.