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The new season of American Horror Story focuses on a Roanoke Theme. While an interesting plot concept, the execution of this season’s formatting and how the story is told is overbearing.
The story opens with characters in present day, speaking in front of a camera crew about their experience in the “roanoke” house. The set up of this story’s structure seems planned out, a little too easily planned out. From the beginning, the characters are telling and recounting the scary events that happened to them, rather than showing these events. This idea appears out of the ordinary of the show’s structure over the past 5 seasons.
The first 5 seasons of AHS showed, sometimes in disturbing detail, what the story was about in real time. It depicted the characters’ relationships with one another and their character arcs; it also showed their emotional journeys on their own and in relation to other characters. The psychological adventures that each season put the viewers through allowed us to have a detailed view of each story line; a story of what it looked like to be in the murder house, an insane asylum, in a coven, at a “freak” show in a circus, and in a (haunted) hotel. This was accomplished by characters through showing instead of telling the audience.
The beginning of season 6 narrates what happened to the victims of the roanoke house, followed by showing; which is a jarring idea. The episode flips back and forth between actress Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson; both supposedly play the character of Shelby Miller. When I noticed this was also the case for the two male actors that played the roll of Matt, I made the connection. Like in most documentaries, stories are depicted by the retelling of what happened from the first person point of view and shown through actors reenacting these true life stories. However, in this case, it is confusing.
Usually, when re-telling a story in a documentary, it alternates between the retelling of these stories by the people that lived through them; this is supplemented in documentaries by short snippets of flashback scenes with actors who play the real life victims. However, these scenes of flashback using actors seemed overly real and detailed, compared to real documentaries. There was no need for both the interviewing of the “true life” survivors and the actors who showed this story. Considering that this is a television series, it seemed excessive here.
Showing these scenarios that make up the story using one set of characters would have been powerful enough to carry the story. It also could’ve refrained from confusing the audience/viewer.
There was a slow, natural progression of strange event leading up to attack on Shelby’s life, which was well planned. However, right after the attack occurred, the next moment cut to Matt narrating the scene; Matt (the actor) arrives home with police surrounding his house after Shelby’s attack. This then cuts to the aftermath, which also seems like an easy out. Their was a choice between showing how the attack unfolded or easily moving the story into the next scene. The route that is taken neglects Shelby’s thoughts and reactions after she had just been assaulted; it seems as if it were easier for the writer/s to cut to Matt’s reaction. This fails to allow Shelby to assess what just happened to herself.
Half way through the episode, Lee (Matt’s sister) enters the picture. This seems like a normal act, considering Lee is a cop and Matt wants Shelby to be protected. Yet, the flash of scenes showing Lee’s life events over the narrator’s voice, again, seemed too easy. Instead of showing a progression of these details throughout the story line, the writer gives them up too quickly. The scene focusing on Lee abruptly dives into Lee’s story, taking the viewer out of the current story at hand. It disrupts the flow of the story line. This, in turn, extinguishes the build-up and lowers the possible climax the story could have.
In this case, the documentary style of telling a story in past and present in a television show also spoils the ultimate question: the question of whether the character/s is going to live or die during the course of the episode or series. The fact that these characters are alive to re-tell their story means that we, the audience, know they will survive. No matter the actions taken by the perpetrator/s throughout the story line, they will live.
Showing these character arcs are during scenes of action and dialogue is essential and strengthens the story; instead of weakening the story by the simple re-telling of what happened. This plot line had the potential to be powerful standing on its own, without the addition of narration and retelling. All of the details that were told to us, the audience, could have easily been manufactured into scenes that shows what the characters thought and felt.
Overall, while the plot of the Roanoke theme is well formulated and even well executed in scenes, the re-telling of these events in a documentary-styled fashion draws the viewer out of the story and spoils a large piece of the story as well.