This review contains major spoilers for American Horror Story Roanoke, season 6 episode 4.
While this season started things off at a faster pace, things have definitely been slowing down as of late. This is especially true this episode, as we have lots of pretty heavy exposition dumps. You may have heard that the midpoint episode (so, next week’s episode) is going to be a big turning point for this season, so perhaps that’s why we’re getting so many flashbacks this week.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We pick up with a crazed Shelby screaming at Matt, demanding to know who the woman in the woods was. Thankfully, after Matt breaks down and admits he doesn’t remember anything about going in the woods, Shelby realises that maybe there’s something paranormal going on and believes him. AHS definitely gets points for not dragging that out too long, I had visions of a dramatic storm out and inevitable evil spirit encounter.
The calm after that storm doesn’t last long, as Shelby goes to take a shower and encounters the spirit of the pig man we saw being sacrificed in an earlier episode. A typical chase scene ensues, complete with Shelby tripping over and scooting backwards instead of standing up. Matt arrives, and the pair flee through the house until the pig man corners them.
Just as things take a turn, we get a surprise visit from Elias, the crazed professor from the tape. I had a feeling we might see him again, but I figured it would be in more tapes, or perhaps in spirit form. To see him return, seemingly in the flesh, was quite the pleasant surprise.
Elias shouts the word, “CROATOAN!” (there it is again), and the pig man vanishes. Afterward, Elias begins to tell us more about the house. Apparently, he has been the owner for years, making sure that no one buys it and falls foul of the spirits within. It was a mere non-payment of taxes that lead Shelby and Matt to the auction at the start of the season.
He also tells us more about the history of the house, and the usual horror movie parade of missing people and inexplicable deaths going back centuries. Through the story of one family, the Chens, we begin to see the connection between the deaths and disappearances and the blood moon in October. Each of the deaths/disappearances was in the same six day period in October, and whaddaya know? We’re just now entering that period in the show.
After some flashbacks showing the grizzly deaths of the Chens and the MURDE sisters, Elias insists that they leave immediately. But, of course, there’s the issue of Flora, that inconvenient plot device. Elias knows where she is, and the group head into the woods.
On the way there, Shelby and Matt see the sorceress from last week, and Shelby gives chase. This ends about as well as you’d expect, with Shelby eventually running into a group of spirits, this time a group of men who turned their rifles on each other. Shelby tries the “CROATOAN!” shout, but it seems to have no effect. Is this a power issue, a belief issue, or are these particular set of spirits special in some way?
In the end, Elias leads them unerringly to where Priscilla is playing, alongside several others of the spirits of people who died in the house. Just as Elias tries to get Flora back, a hail of arrows hits him in the chest.
Is he really dead? Will we see him again? I think we will. Even if he is “dead”, every other person killed on these grounds comes back in some way, so I think that we are not done with the good professor just yet.
Seemingly on cue, the couple return to the house to find Cricket waiting for them. He’s understandably exasperated that the couple didn’t leave as he arranged with the Butcher, but seems confident that he can still salvage this and goes off into the woods.
Here we get our bigger dump of exposition, as when Cricket tells Matt and Shelby what happened. While out in the woods, he met the sorceress, who is the real power behind the Butcher and the other spirits. Here we see a little more of the Roanoke colony, after they moved to the house’s location after the flashbacks of last week. Here, we see a prospering community with rich and fertile lands – but at a cost.
We see the Butcher once again commit human sacrifice – but now we get a look into why. These are to appease ancient gods, seemingly worshiped by the sorceress and by extension, the Butcher herself. However, we see the settlers quickly turn on the Butcher as they express their displeasure at being lead away from their Christian beliefs.
Seemingly having learned nothing from how the Butcher reacted to her last betrayal, the settlers turn on her, leaving the Butcher and the sorceress alone. The sorceress continues to be an interesting, if slightly predictable character, and suggests that the Butcher use the power of the blood moon to enslave their souls. One by one, the Butcher kills them all, but not before binding their souls to this land.
Finally, the sorceress kills the Butcher, starting the chain of deaths and disappearances that all occur on the anniversary of the blood moon massacre. Following the flashback, Cricket leaves to prepare for a spell which he thinks will rid the lands of the spirits. But of course, it won’t be that easy.
Later that night, Shelby and Matt awake to find he still hasn’t returned. A running theme of this season so far, alongside the pigs, is the tired and overdone horror film tropes. However, given the docu-drama setting and the promises that the mid point will turn things on it’s head, I’m not ready to write this off yet. But, it is wearing quite thin now, and is definitely bringing down an otherwise interesting series.
Matt is lead outside by a voice, and finds the sorceress waiting for him in the underground basement we saw earlier in the season. Here we learn more about her, how she was an English girl descended from the druids, hence her connection to “ancient gods”. “Real” Matt says to the camera crew how he would have joined with the sorceress, had the spell not been broken by cries from Shelby, back at the house.
The full group of spirits await them, and with them is Cricket. I had thought that the fact we hadn’t seen him in the “docu-drama” sections didn’t bode well, and true to form, the Butcher lives up to her name by disemboweling him in front of Matt and Shelby before making it clear that they are next.
So, a slower boil of an episodes that once again is eager to clear things up and answer questions. Things are definitely building up to some sort of climax here, but of course, we’re only at the almost halfway point of the season. Will things end for these characters, and bring to an end the facade of the docu-drama? Will Shelby and Matt find a way out of this somehow?
I have a feeling that the docu-drama facade will fade, but that we will see more of “real” Shelby and Matt, and “fake” Shelby and Matt, given past comments by André Holland that said the two versions of Matt may somehow meet. Perhaps the “docu-drama” features actors, and we have a three layered story somehow connected to the events they are telling?
Despite some of the tired tropes being trotted out, it all still fits in the theme of the docu-drama and the “dramatic retelling”. It would make sense for such a show to be covering such familiar material. Also, the story and characters are still interesting – especially that of the sorceress. Hopefully, when we drop/change the docu-drama umbrella, she will remain a steadfast character.
. One thing that was puzzingly absent, was the character of Lee. She is briefly mentioned by Matt, but apparently the false imprisonment of his sister isn’t a big concern, as she is quickly swept under the rug. But, despite that and the slower burn this week, AHS still kept me interested, and left me hankering for next week.