By the time American Horror Story aired its sixth season, the show was a proven television and horror-genre triumph. The previous season, Hotel, even dispelled many fans' skepticism that the show couldn't survive without Jessica Lange at the helm. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk ambitiously sought to reinvent the show with its sixth season, Roanoke, which is essentially a show within a show. The audience witnesses the acted-out and "real-life" horror of a malevolent haunting caused by the infamous lost colony of Roanoke.
So why is Roanoke often considered the worst season of American Horror Story? Are there too many plotlines? Did fans not have enough time to bond with the characters? Or could it be that Roanoke is simply a bad concept? Here we examine all the possible ways that American Horror Story: Roanoke became arguably the worst season in the series.
The teasers for American Horror Story are usually mysterious and always creepy, but they also share clues about the upcoming season. For example, the teasers for Asylum featured nuns as a nod to Jessica Lange and Lily Rabe's characters in the season.
However, Roanoke's teasers gave fans no real information about the season. These promos often featured a prominent question mark next to the number six. One instance even showed a house out in the country, though it was not the one used during the actual season. Even critics were left in the dark, as they weren't sent the usual screeners in advance of the season premiere.
Some have also pointed out that the mixed reviews of the previous season, Hotel, may have prevented the show's producers from giving away the show's theme ahead of time. Whether or not the secrecy surrounding Roanoke was an attempt to excite fans, many agreed the hype for Season 6 never really paid off.
At Roanoke's halfway mark, Shelby, Matt, Lee, and Flora are able to escape the Butcher - but then what? How could My Roanoke Nightmare be finished after just five episodes? That's when the show's creator (Cheyenne Jackson) arrives to inform the audience that he's doing a reality spinoff called Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell.
Now the "real" Matt, Shelby, and Lee are brought face-to-face with the actors from My Roanoke Nightmare, but this time, the actors are all just playing themselves. As with all of Season 6, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were extremely secretive about the second half of Roanoke. In fact, they made it a point to claim that no one could guess the season's big twist.
However, this twist felt like a trainwreck to many, since the large cast of actors played different roles in a different situation than in the first half of the season. The reality TV twist seemed too inauthentic compared to some of the brilliant plot twists of other seasons.
One of American Horror Story's greatest strengths is its ability to interconnect its seasons. The most prominent example of this is the connection between Murder House and Coven in Season 8, Apocalypse. Another example occurs in Freak Show when fans learn the origin story of the beloved character Pepper, who first appeared in Asylum.
These meaningful connections aren't as readily available in Season 6, even though the season is ostensibly meant to tie every season of the show together. The first reference Roanoke makes to a past season is the use of the term "Croatoan," which Sarah Paulson's character briefly mentions in Season 1. We then meet Lady Gaga's character, who is essentially the first Supreme, a role that plays a prominent part in Coven. However, we see very little of Lady Gaga in the first five episodes, and she completely disappears in the second half of the season.
We also learn that the character of Dandy Mott from Freak Show is a direct descendant of Evan Peters's character in Season 6. Perhaps the most bizarre connection to a past season comes when Sarah Paulson reprises her role of Lana Winters from Season 2, which reads like a forced connection meant to shock fans.
One of the hallmarks of American Horror Story is the emotional connection viewers feel to characters like Lana Winters, Tate Langdon, and Elsa Mars, just to name a few. At no fault of the actors, Roanoke arguably fails to develop this bond between the characters and the audience.
The primary issue stems from the fact that we know the actors in My Roanoke Nightmare are acting, and the "real" people being interviewed are removed from all the action. Once everyone is brought together in Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell, the actors (Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Cuba Gooding Jr., etc.) are playing "themselves" and not the characters we've been attempting to bond with.
On top of that, the "real" versions of Flora, the Polks, and the Butcher are all played by actors we've never seen before. While all the twists and turns of the season do demonstrate the collective talent of the cast, the experience is largely unsatisfying for fans who want to empathize with the characters.