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 'Real' Carnage In The Season's Second Half Is Just A Rehash
Even though Roanoke often feels like two shows thrown into one season, there's a lot of repetition in the second half, especially concerning the gore. The first example comes when the real Shelby bashes in Matt's head with a hammer in the second half of the season.
Denis O'Hare's character meets a similarly grizzly fate at the hands of one of the Polks in the My Roanoke Nightmare dramatization. In the first and second halves of the season, Leslie Jordan and Wes Bently's characters are respectively disemboweled in a gratuitously gory scene involving the Butcher and her tribe. Actually, Leslie Jordan is slain twice by the Butcher: once in a dramatization and then "for real" in the season finale.
Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, the characters of Sophie and Milo are pierced by stakes and set on fire, much like Evan Peters's character in the first half of the season. While we're supposed to feel worse for the characters in the second half because they're "real" people, we never have a chance to get close enough to the characters to really care.
The Whole Finale Is Spent Redeeming An Awful Character
The "real" Lee Harris (Adina Porter) is the only character to survive until the end of the season - almost. While Porter does a superb job developing Lee's character over the course of Roanoke, it's difficult to feel sorry for her.
Lee slays multiple people - and allows even more to perish - with seemingly little remorse. Even though the entire finale revolves around Lee, the audience is still unclear on how much control she had over her actions when she returned to the Roanoke house. While she does make the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter at the very end, viewers are left to question if Lee is a character who can - or should - be redeemed.
Like most endings to American Horror Story, the answer seems purposely ambiguous, but nevertheless frustrating.
The Season Has Fewer Episodes Than Its Predecessors
The first five seasons of American Horror Story each consist of 12 to 13 episodes, allowing ample time to develop characters and tie up plotlines. Roanoke consists of only 10 episodes, with a definitive split in the plot between the first and second half of the season. As a result, audiences don't have as much time to connect with characters, and plotlines aren't fully fleshed out.
Ryan Murphy defended the choice for a shorter season even before the Roanoke premiere in September 2016. Murphy claimed that the mid-season break the show usually takes over the Christmas holiday disrupted the show's flow. By running all 10 episodes week-to-week with no break, Murphy believed the show would better keep viewers' attention.
Murphy even went so far as to say that he would consider airing American Horror Story during the summer if it fit the mood, although he seems to have abandoned that idea since American Horror Story: 1984 is set in the summer but still aired in the fall.
Some Fans Thought The Season Was Mocking Them
The final episode of Roanoke is bizarre, to say the least. We see the cast of My Roanoke Nightmare at PaleyFest, an event that the real-life AHS cast members attend each year, along with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.
The scene shows screaming fans asking vapid questions, like what Evan Peters's favorite color is. The scene may have been a callback to past PaleyFest panels, like the one for Asylum where the audience seemed to scream and cheer for everything.
Were the show's creators simply exaggerating their experiences at a real-life event, or were they poking fun at fans? We also see Taissa Farmiga get slain while playing an overly enthusiastic My Roanoke Nightmare fan. The implication of these scenes suggests that fans are equal parts loud and stupid, which is hardly the best message to send to dedicated viewers.