'American Horror Story: Roanoke' S6E6: Chapter 6

★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Lo and behold, American Horror Story really can have a cohesive episode.

One of the best episodes of American Horror Story to date, "Chapter 6" takes the unreliable narration Roanoke has been attempting to portray and turns it on its head in a more-than-groundbreaking manner. Found footage is a difficult genre to latch onto, mainly due to the fact that it relies heavily on trusting what is happening onscreen. Now that it's been established that My Roanoke Nightmare is just the narrative of Matt, Shelby, and Lee, suddenly you can't help but trust the found footage far more than the over-the-top series you had been watching in the first five episodes of the season.

American Horror Story often renews genres in intelligent manners, but what Roanoke does for found footage is learn from the mistakes people have made with the genre before and acknowledge the absurdity of them. The fact that this series now revolves around a reality show allows for high-drama situations to occur and the filming of them seems less incidental than found footage films appear to be. The first movie to attempt to detach audiences through the usage of non-handheld footage was Paranormal Activity and while it gave good reason for the use of that, it failed to give a logical explanation for the handheld cameras. The same goes for Cloverfield and for practically every other found footage horror film.

The only movies that have managed to get away with this are ones where the characters have good reason to keep filming. Ones where characters work in some form of media. (See Rec, Quarantine, Cannibal Holocaust, The Last Exorcism, and The Sacrament for how this kind of logic makes it easier not to question motives.) So when Roanoke's Sydney tells cameramen to "not stop rolling," has security cameras placed all around the house, and gives the stars phones to aid with filming, there's a level of believability to it. As well as that, American Horror Story's campy tone can get away with things most contributions in the horror genre can't (for example: people acting like idiots).

AHS: S6E6

Roanoke isn't first to make a found footage concept revolve around a reality show. Grave Encounters was a movie using a ghost hunting series to give reason for found footage; however intelligent the concept was at first, it lost control of itself and lost sight of the potential it had due to sloppy usage of jump scares and an inconsistent use of ghosts. While American Horror Story may not have known about it, they corrected mistakes found in that film that otherwise would not have worked. Their ghosts feel natural because viewers have been trained to view them in that way since Murder House, the only random addition to their mythology being that weird ghost that kidnapped Flora.

What's interesting, conceptually, about My Roanoke Nightmare and how it has portrayed the world of American Horror Story is that it's an inaccurate representation of AHS's ghosts. How much did Shelby, Matt, and Lee exaggerate? Did it really rain teeth? Did pigtails really appear on the wall? Just how much of that is in the realm of possibility for the ghosts of American Horror Story?

Cheyenne Jackson does a wonderful job playing Sidney, and he should, especially since Sidney's a far fuller character than his Hotel fashion mogul. Ruthlessly ambitious and willing to do whatever it takes to get good ratings, this character will make any fan of UnREAL wonder what everyone on that show would do if they had to deal with murderous ghosts. (I'd watch that.) Following the pitching of the series (just like Cannibal Holocaust) to production, you think the rest of Roanoke is going to be in this format only to have the rug pulled out from under you with the reveal that this is all found footage. That out of all the cast and crew members, only one person survived the incident.

Cheyenne Jackson easily slides into the flirtatiousness of his character, using charm to win over people and manipulate them into giving the best reaction. He knows that giving time off for crew due to a death would not only put them off schedule, but that continuing production otherwise would cause everyone in the crew to be on edge. There's a large amount of dramatic irony and cruelness in character flaws that allows viewers to look forward to these deaths, all the while dreading them.

Everyone involved in the show has a believable reason for wanting to be there, except for Matt. Matt's intentions haven't been revealed yet, which makes his wanting to stay in a house that almost killed him more than once the least logical portion of the episode. Lee wants to prove her innocence and Shelby wants to get back together with Matt. Though Shelby's excuse isn't as strong as Lee's, at least she has one. That being said, this is the form of stupidity that American Horror Story can get away with. In all other walks of life, anyone in Shelby's shoes would have immediately said no to going back there, even if it meant getting back together with a loved one, but this is AHS and it works.

There is nothing more entertaining than getting to see the actors interact with the people they had portrayed. It's hilarious to see Sarah Paulson's character delight in the fact that she captured Shelby so accurately and nice to see both Lee and her actress counterpart struggle with alcoholism.

"Chapter 6" mends the errors of Roanoke's repetitiveness, shaking all of it up with the smartest excuse for doing so. The rather light-hearted humor throughout the episode, mainly through the reactions of people to the fights that happen around the house, helps ground this into the real world it needs to be in. It's a ridiculous situation at times and it's good to get a good laugh here and there. (I just really hope that Evan Peters comes back soon.)

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TelevisionFanboyContributor
Oct 21, 2016 8:42PM EDT

I have to concur with you, this was one of the best episode of the series. The largest qualm I have with Return to Roanoke though, is how much the first five episodes suffered setting it up. Matt, Shelby, and Lee making up some of the original story or hiding aspects for the reality show is interesting. That idea does not however, magically erase the terribly mediocre start to this season. The beginning of this season was boring, disjointed, and overdramatically acted. Even considering that this was one of my favorite AHS episodes, Roanoke's current brilliance doesn't make up for the time it took to get there. By now, Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, and Hotel were delivering equally entertaining stories that didn't require nearly half a season of back story to get there.

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