Tonight, I am home alone, sitting on my couch, stomach empty and grumbling, trying to decide what’s for supper. I’ve got myself somewhat of an oral fixation and my favorite vice is an All-American Classic. TV Dinner. On the menu tonight: American Horror Story: Roanoke. I pick up my figurative fork and begin to take my very first bite. Before I know it, I’m choking down a heaping helping of televised, cinematic glory.
Season Six hits its opening note like Babe Ruth hits a baseball: powerful, precise, and proud; American Horror Story: Roanoke marks the beginning of the sixth installment of its saga by turning things inward on itself. It takes a long, hard, reflective look in the mirror and creates a comforting yet unnerving paradox for both its faithful viewers and its curious new-comers. Chapter One begins with an introduction unlike any that have come before it. We see that all-too-familiar advisory warning that subtly prepares us for what we will soon be consuming; a hearty plate of violence, charisma, and whimsy. For some, American Horror Story is difficult to digest. Its five-course meal of morbidity and decadence all too often catches itself becoming garish and, at times, narcissistic.
American Horror Story continues to over-indulge us with a simple yet ambrosial dessert of a feature couple; a pair of well-intentioned normal folk who are gluttonously glazed with more than their fair share of deep dark-chocolatey drama. A smorgasbord of talent, the American Horror Story: Roanoke cast is unwavering. We have beloved alums Lily Rabe, Angela Bassett, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, Wes Bentley, and our resident golden boy, Evan Peters making a much-anticipated return for the latest chapter in our most cherished horror-anthology series. Even the likes of Lady Gaga, Frances Conroy, and Taissa Farmiga have agreed to be included as tasty side dishes to what will most certainly be a binge-inducing Season Six, brought to us fresh from the market by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.
Lily Rabe is the first to splash across the screen as Shelby Miller, who is being interviewed for a paranormal-centered documentary called “My Roanoke Nightmare”. She is present and attentive but subtly insincere. Shelby comes off as a unique blend of bland and bitter, like a stale saltine cracker. Under her docile and complacent exterior, her frigid core radiates outward from beneath her, inciting inside of me a deep distrust of her seemingly-pure intentions. Shelby seems almost defensive and decidedly cold; like a deep-frozen Klondike bar, complete with a crunchy and protective outer shell. I find myself feeling hesitant towards her, my instincts nag at me like a child to its mother for no real, solid, fact-based reason.
This kind of skepticism differentiates from Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Shelby drastically, as I suppose it should, since Sarah’s Shelby is merely a dramatization of Lily’s, provided strictly for the pseudo-documentary’s purposes. Like oil and water, there are seemingly two vantage points on this character and each actress plays her part accordingly, careful to never cross too far into the other’s territory. I almost enjoyed the sensation that came from being weary of Lily Rabe’s Shelby but not knowing exactly why. It gave me a burning spark of dread that would kindle an uneasiness and morbid curiosity that spread like wildfire inside of me for the rest of the episode.
Gifting us with a tasteful appetizer, Sarah Paulson has returned this season with a bursting mouthful of potential. As an American Horror Story veteran, Sarah is given the artistic freedom and the proper platform to serve us all up with a piping hot cup of her most potent punch: an honest and raw performance that would make even the most frosty-hearted among us melt into bliss. Recovering from a most painful gang-violence instigated incident, Sarah’s character, Shelby, is arguably the most fragile dish in this episode. Like a nerve-wracked soufflé, Sarah becomes deflated if not handled with extreme care. Not even stopping for breath after losing her child and almost losing her husband to a juvenile, shock-driven initiation game called ‘knock-out’, Shelby gathers the slippery silk fabric of her spirit, shoves it hastily inside a suitcase, and ships it to the other side of the country to start life over with her hubby on the East Coast.
Initiating a newbie is never easy (especially when it comes to American Horror Story), but if anyone can hack it, it’s Andre Holland. No stranger to deep, penetrating eye contact, Holland portrays Shelby’s husband, Matt, with a deeply moving sincerity that is seldom seen in Hollywood nowadays. With his relaxed and casual demeanor, he slinks across our screens as one cool cat. A human ice cream sundae, Andre’s precise and intelligent articulation is a double scoop of velvety magic; drizzled with a heart as pure and golden as warm caramel. The cherry on top of this rookie split is his effortless grace; I find myself inherently trusting of our enchanting main man. I’ll take two, please!
Double the pleasure, double the fun; our dramatization double for Matt is thoughtfully portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. Gooding warms our souls the way only a home-made batch of Mom’s Chicken Noodle Soup can. The epitome of the everyman, Matt is a malt ball shell of logic, driven by facts and rationale with a soft nougaty core of compassion and firm family values. He is the husband that every woman would be blessed to have. Protective and fearless in the throngs of danger, Matt pushes us towards the kind of bravery that we may otherwise have opted out of and shamefully fed to the dog under the table.
As the black man in an interracial relationship, Matt has come to terms with the presence of unwarranted animosity from complete strangers. This experience has notably made him prepared for a frightening family that feels like the second coming of the raise-hell twins from Murder House; this time, reincarnated as the Polk Boys. With the same kind of roadkill-esque repulsion, these boys make themselves the scarily satisfying liquid refreshment of the night after Matt and Shelby outbid them in a snarky stand-off at a house auction. Not yet ready to come over with a neighborhood-welcome muffin basket, the Polk boys make under-breathed threats and fill up cup after cup of hillbilly horror that keeps our glory couple (and us viewers) on our toes throughout the entire episode.
Angela Bassett plays a starkly contrasted character this season. She is not the divine and invincible goddess that we have now come to worship. This time around, our Ang is slated as the dramatization version of an unhinged motherly figure, Lee. Peppered with just the right serving size of sugar and spice, Angela Bassett is unbelievably believable as a pain-riddled, pill-addicted, post-dismissal police officer who is struggling to draw the fine line between fantasy and reality. Her moral compass seems to be strategically flawed, as she is starved for a second chance with her daughter. She will obviously go the extra mile- but will it always be in the right direction?
Adina Porter startles me with the powerful burst of freshly made popcorn and is just as hot and salty. Her mania jumps out at me and raises questions that I anxiously await answers to. A resurrected cast member from Season One, Porter is familiar with portraying off-kilter characters, and boy does it show. Her frenzied disposition mimics the rise and fall of a sugar high; jittery and excitable one minute and vacant and solemn the next. Lee’s increasingly hurried and scatter-brained thoughts seem to be melting her mind like butter on toast. Tragedy follows this woman like a dreadful black cloud, with an entire hail-storm of anguish and guilt that accompanies it.
This episode, while one of the more visually startling, is not necessarily forcing me to the edge of my seat - or in this case, my couch cushion. Chapter One gives me a deep sensation of unity and perseverance even during its off-peak moments. It is strangely nostalgic and feels like a hopeful, not hopeless story of terror that leaves me hungry for more after each forkful.
Although I have only just wrapped up the first episode, I feel like I have watched an entire half season unfold before me. I am cautiously curious as to which direction they intend to blow this, and I find my mouth watering, my tongue salivating for more. Oddly enough, this season marks the first time since Asylum that I have imagined this series as a written collection, a leather-bound library of campfire ghost stories you’re just aching to share.
I imagine that is the kind of sentimental sensation Ryan Murphy was hoping to provoke within his audience this time around. The sex-fueled, dark and divine humor of Hotel was able to quench some of their viewers’ thirst but left others quite a bit dehydrated. Remembrance is a powerful elixir that seduces its viewers and crafts die-hard years-loyal fans that every television show only dreams of acquiring. With this, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have a certain Midas magic where everything they touch seems to turn to gold (Nip/Tuck & Glee, anyone?) and American Horror Story is no exception.
By the ending credits of this season opener, I find myself contented with the fanciful feast of fear, excitement, and mystery that American Horror Story: Roanoke has dished out. With it, they have given me a generous doggy bag full of questions that are still to be answered. A familiar feeling inside of me demands my utmost attention; I think it's time to go back for seconds.