American Horror Story returned Wednesday night, still shrouded in mystery. Creator Ryan Murphy opened season six to announce a contest winner of a Mercedes-Benz (congratulations Miranda W. of Oklahoma). When the highly anticipated season six began, a cold open. no opening credits or title cards like viewers have grown accustom to the past 5 seasons, welcomed us back in the American Horror Story universe.
We’re quick to discover that there is another reason this season is different: it is a show within a show. “My Roanoke Nightmare” in the American Horror Story Universe is a docu-series recounting the horrific events that Shelby and Matt Miller (Lily Rabe and Andre Holland, respectively) endured after moving to an, of course, seemingly beautiful but actually haunted house in North Carolina. While the “real” Shelby and Matt tell their story for the camera, Sarah Paulson and AHS newcomer Cuba Gooding Jr. act out the haunting events the Millers endured. Another familiar face introduced this episode is Angela Bassett, playing Matt’s sister, an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic within the “My Roanoke Nightmare” show.
The episode draws on some classic horror tropes. For example, a woman home alone who is haunted by an as-of-yet unknown force (and the cops don’t believe her). While this seems predictable, Paulson’s performance gives this trope a believable new life. Unlike her characters from the past two seasons, Shelby has an air of innocence to her. You feel sorry and worried for her. Bassett, and Gooding Jr. all click with Paulson and give wonderful performances. Gooding Jr. comes off his role as O.J. Simpson in American Crime Story as a vastly different character: a man who deeply loves his wife while worried for her and her well-being. Bassett, as usual, gives her fierce “ain’t nobody gonna mess with me” performance we’ve come to love from her throughout past three seasons, and she gets to deliver a great one-liner.
Although this episode plays out like a classic horror movie, it is very hard to tell how the rest of the series will unfold. The episode ends with Shelby running off into the woods after hitting a mysterious woman (Kathy Bates) with her car and is overcome by barrage of equally mysterious figures in what appears to be colonial era garb.
For long-time viewers of the show, the “show within a show” format is a fresh shakeup from its traditional format. Additionally, the episode resonates as a more mature version of the storyline from the first season, “Murder House.”
American Horror Story: Roanoke stars Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lily Rabe, Andre Holland, Denis O’Hare, Wes Bentley, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, and Angela Bassett and airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 pm on FX.