‘American Horror Story’: Twisting the show away

American Horror Story
“Chapter 6”
October 19, 2016

Well, now we know what the big twist was, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that it was pretty much exactly what we expected.

surprise, bitch

My Roanoke Nightmare is over, long live My Roanoke Nightmare. We begin the second half of the season learning that My Roanoke Nightmare was a YUUUUGE hit: bigger than Empire, bigger than NFL football, bigger even than The Walking Dead, which as I’m sure you know by now, is really really big, even though we as a society and culture really should take a long hard look at ourselves about that.

The producer of My Roanoke Nightmare is one Sidney James, toothy douchebag. He proposes to “the network” that they do a sequel to My Roanoke Nightmare, filming the real Matt, Shelby and Sister along with the actors who portrayed them and maybe one of the random other actors who appeared in all of one episode because, eh, why not, as they spend three nights in the original house, which, it so happens, Toothy happens to have bought off of Shelby and Matt for pennies on the dollar. They’ll load the house up with hidden cameras and terrorize them for a few nights: television gold!

“The Network” is FOR IT.

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Now Toothy just has to convince the real Shelby to sign on.

Toothy and his exasperated assistant, Diana, visit Shelby at her yoga studio where we learn that she and Matt separated after she had an affair with “Matt,” actor Dominic Banks. And that’s why she has decided to join the cast of this sequel: 1. because she reads the crap people write about her and she wants to set the record straight; 2. she’s tired of people leaving hatchets in her door; and  3. if she’s locked in a house for three days with Matt, he’ll have to talk to her. Shelby’s only requirement is that “Matt” not be there. Yep, absolutely, sure, that is definitely how reality television works.

And of course Dominic has already signed up. What, did you think Toothy von Douchebag was an amatuer douchebag?

Two weeks before shooting is set to begin, Toothy and his Exasperated Assistant check out the house. There, one of the effects guys shows off how he has rigged the house to be “haunted”: flying drawers, the smell of sulfur, exploding windows, televisions set to turn on the Professor’s video all on by themselves, the works. Exasperated Assistant is exasperated. She complains that the reason My Roanoke Nightmare was so popular was because it felt real, and not full of a bunch of cheap jump scares. But Toothy reveals his actual motivation for this sequel: he wants Sister to confess to killing Ex-Husband on camera, and he’s pretty sure an exploding window or two is just the trick!

Outside, a production assistant shows Toothy and Exasperated Assistant a ring of fetal pigs that someone left them as a housewarming present and Toothy immediately knows who is responsible: Feral Gaga The Hill People The Butcher Agnes Mary Winstead, the woman who played The Butcher.

Dragging his camera crew with him, Toothy sits Agnes down for exposition an “interview” in which she reveals that she felt The Butcher was the role of a lifetime. Toothy agrees and reminds her that she got so into her character that she became obsessed: she stole props from the set, moved close to the actual house and eventually had a mental breakdown that ended with her dressed as The Butcher attacking people with a cleaver on Hollywood Boulevard.

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Agnes is like, “well, I mean, yes that happened, but I got treatment and I am ready to start filming, yay!” Which is when Toothy is like, “NOPE. Thanks for the fetal pigs, but you’re not to come within 500 feet of the set,” and serves her with a restraining order. Agnes protests that they can’t do My Roanoke Nightmare without The Butcher, but Toothy explains that only want real people this go around.

As Toothy and Exasperated Assistant leave, Agnes slips back into character and begins yelling curses at them as The Butcher. Exasperated Assistant wonders how Toothy plans to keep Agnes from the set, and Toothy is all, “LOL I hope she doesn’t stay away because I am trying to manipulate her into terrorizing our cast! Get it? Because I have no moral core! Showbiz!”

Over on E!, Sister gives an interview to Kristin Dos Santos where she explains that she signed on to the second season of My Roanoke Nightmare to stop her name from being dragged through the mud. Because as everyone knows, the best way to repair your reputation is to go on reality television.

Meanwhile, “The Network’s” lawyers warn Toothy and Exasperated Assistant that they won’t be held liable if Sister kills someone, but that they could be held liable if the alcoholic actress who played Sister, the improbably-named Monet Tumusiime, gets her drink on with their knowledge.

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They are interrupted by a major crisis on the set: one of the crew guys turned a chainsaw onto his own head, which is not a place you want to place a chainsaw. When Toothy refuses to shut down the production even for a day to allow the crew to grieve, Exasperated Assistant is done …

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… and she drives off the set in a huff, recording all of her feelings on the camera that has been installed in the car. For reasons.

As she is ranting about being made to look like the crazy one, she turns the camera to capture a ghost woman standing just off the road being all “Hey, what’s up.” Exasperated Assistant is like, “If y’all think I’m going to go any closer, y’all crazy.” And that’s when the Pigman pops up in the backseat and grabs her, causing the car to crash.

ZOINKS!

ahs-roanoke-title-card-diana-car-pigman

We meet Audrey Tindall, better known as Sarah Paulson mangling a British accent “Shelby,” who, as it turns out, married the actor who played Edward Mott, one Rory Monahan, in a hilarious ceremony in which he promises to “love the shit out of [her].” Every little girl’s dream …

They are the first to arrive at the house for filming, and as they are claiming the master bedroom for themselves, Rory receives a call asking him to come back to Los Angeles for a screen test. Audrey reminds him that he has a contract to do the show, but he asks who is worth more to his career: Toothy or Brad Pitt? As they discuss how he’s going to handle Toothy, they notice someone who looks an awful lot like The Butcher/Agnes throw something through the kitchen window.

But before they can go outside to investigate, Toothy arrives to drop off Shelby and the improbably-named Monet. Audrey warns them about Agnes, who apparently harassed her once filming was over, so much so Audrey had to call 911. Something about being jealous over a Saturn award (so consider THAT your season 7 clue, kids: ALIENS!).

The conversation turns to happier things: Audrey and Rory’s marriage, that is until Shelby ruins it by implying that Audrey is old.

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That’s when Toothy delivers Matt and Sister, and passes out phones on which only the cameras work so that they can record everything that happens to them. Has he never heard of GoPros?

When Matt declares his intention to sleep in the basement, Shelby begs to talk to him, prompting Sister to warn Shelby to leave him alone. When she persists, Sister lets loose on her, calling her a “weak self-involved little girl” who does whatever she wants without caring about “the carnage [she] reaps.” Sister complains that thanks to Shelby’s “reckless bullshit” everyone thinks she’s a murderer. Shelby replies that it was a “mistake” and complains about Sister holding it over her head, especially since Shelby has apologized so many times.

wait-what_glee

But then Shelby turns her attention back to Matt, insisting that it was “one time” and that she was merely “lonely” and “out of her mind.”

Later, the actors discuss how it didn’t look like Matt and Shelby were playing for the camera, before agreeing that their whole ghost story is patently ridiculous. If it were true, why would they ever come back to this house. EXCELLENT QUESTION, GUYS. Rory then notes that over the eight weeks they shot there, nothing happened (of course, he was in one episode, so he probably wasn’t there for two months — BUT I DIGRESS). Matt, having overheard their conversation, walks in and asks what time of year did they shoot. When the actors agree it was summer, Matt urges them to look out the window and note the blood moon.

And that’s when we get the real episode twist:

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found-footage-ahs

surprise, bitch

Everyone goes to their separate corners: Rory and Audrey christen the hot tub; Matt heads to the basement; Monet begins drinking; and Lee, after she locks the front door, seems to feel a presence. The cameras capture the charred ghost of Ex-Husband starring directly into the camera, but when Sister turns around, no one is there.

Sister then goes to the kitchen and judges Monet for being a drunk, but Monet is all, YOU DON’T KNOW ME, before asking how Sister can live with herself after killing the father of her child. Sister is like, “Bitch, that’s not me. That’s how you chose to play me.”

Meanwhile, Shelby sneaks into the basement to talk to Matt who worries that they made a terrible decision returning to this house. Shelby insists that Toothy von Douchebag has cameras everywhere, nothing will happen to them, but Matt knows it’s going to happen again, and he’s not sure if they are going to survive. Shelby urges him to leave with her right then and there, but that’s when their conversation is interrupted by a knock at the door. It’s Dominic, because of course it’s Dominic.

Matt is not particularly happy to see his portrayer/wife’s lover and attacks him as he enters the house. Fight fight punch fight until Rory is able to separate the men.

Upstairs, after her post-hot-tub shower, Audrey spies Pigman in the bathroom mirror and goes running, screaming to her Rory. Everyone agrees they have had perfectly enough of Toothy’s tricks, and Rory heads back upstairs to go investigate. He does not find Pigman, but he does find the Murder Nurses who waste no time stabbing him to death in the remarkably large walk-in closet for a house that was supposedly built in the 1700s.

Downstairs, something in the dining room catches Matt’s attention: the word MURDER has appeared on the wall again, this time complete with its final “R.” So he heads back to the group and explains that “‘R’ is for Rory.” So, I hope you weren’t looking forward to a lot of Evan Peters this season, guys!

sad-lettter-r-telly-sesame-street

This episode and its BIG TWIST was pretty much what most people expected: that the real people, the cast and the crew are haunted by the ghosts that inspired the original story. Color me underwhelmed. I am not mad — I just wish Murphy and Falchuk hadn’t oversold the surprise or had even mentioned it at all. I will grant that the second twist at the end, that this is found footage and all but one person dies, was a clever way to shift the narrative in another direction, but it wasn’t as shocking or unimaginable as Falchuk claimed.

But that’s fine! It would have been better if we hadn’t spent five weeks worrying over what the twist was going to be, but it’s fine. I am not going to spend a whole lot of time being mad at showrunners for over-promoting their show. It’s not as though they left us on a cliffhanger for 6 months only to deliver a hyper-violent gore orgy with no real narrative value.

What I do like about the found footage element is that it raises the stakes the way that the reality show structure of the first half lowered them. We knew that Matt, Shelby and Sister had to come out of this story alive, because here they are telling the story to us. But now we know that in the best case scenario only one of those same people will be alive at the end of this back half of the season; and in the worst case, none of them will be. And so now we can just sit back and let this now much more conventional American Horror Story season happen and begin playing the “who’s the survivor?” guessing game.

But before we start that game, we have to first talk about that weird fight that Shelby and Sister have in which they are clearly not talking about Matt. How did Shelby make the world think Sister was a murderer? Why has Shelby apologized to Sister too many times to count? What, exactly, happened to Ex-Husband?

Heads up: Ryan Murphy recently said that we shouldn’t trust Matt, Shelby and Sister:

Can we trust Matt, Shelby and Lee as reliable witnesses? Up until now we’ve been taking what they’ve presented to us at face value.

“My comment to that is: You cannot trust them. I think all three of them are…What they said and what they explained in their version of events is not actually the truth.”

Backing up: I insisted the entire time we were watching My Roanoke Nightmare that it felt like they were being led through this story by someone who wanted them to believe that this whole haunting business was real, that the story didn’t feel organic as much as scripted, and that it was possible nothing supernatural was happening at all. And in fact, that is exactly what Toothy the Producer is trying to do to his cast in this sequel: there are no ghosts — so he believes — so he’ll make them himself.

And once again, this line between reality and fiction are blurred. While Toothy is busily trying to convince his cast that they are being haunted, there is actually something menacing and killing these people. And on the flip side, Shelby, Matt and Sister’s “real” haunting is apparently a fiction, and not to be trusted or believed. Of course this creates all sorts of headaches: how much of Matt and Shelby’s story is fake? Did they make up the whole ghost thing? The hillbillies? The deaths? And if Toothy was in the business of fake scares, how can we trust anything that we see from his footage?  Just because it was “caught on camera” doesn’t mean it couldn’t be manipulated. How much of any of this is real, and how much of it is Hollywood magic? WHAT EVEN IS REALITY? AND WHERE IS FAKE CRICKET? WE NEED MORE FAKE CRICKET.

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I’m going to go lie down before the next episode.

American Horror Story airs on FX Wednesdays at 9/10 p.m.

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