Fact vs. Fiction
I bet you were sitting at home thinking, “What could make these talking head segments better? I know, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin!” Well my friend, you’re in luck, because that’s who opens “Chapter 5,” giving the most painfully stilted line readings imaginable while recounting the tale of how the house was first built by Edward Mott (Evan Peters, appearing at last) back in 1792.
Edward built the house as a refuge from the world, since he didn’t like people and also preferred having sex with his male servant than spending time with his wife and daughter. It’s fitting that Edward is the ancestor of Dandy from “Freak Show,” since he’s just another typical “AHS” Rich Sadist. And once he has proven himself as such, he’s dispatched by the colonists. It’s a real come-down from Peter’s wonderful turn as James March in “Hotel” last year, but then many of the usual “AHS” regulars seem to have been reduced to cameos this season.
You’re already familiar with how the rest of the talking head segments go: obvious declarations of stuff we’re seeing, along with the tension-deflating “Obviously we all made it out of this because we’re telling you about it.” I don’t much care about beating this drum every week, but the writers have done nothing with the format and it’s more than worn out its welcome. The good news? The format might be done, as of this episode!
This Week In Horror
The meat of this week’s episode is basically just a big roundabout chase, where our heroes escape the house and run around a bit, only to wind up back there for everything to resolve itself. Edward pops up as a ghost to help Matt, Shelby and Flora escape into the woods. These scenes have a few nice touches, like the skittering ghost child who briefly snatches Flora, and the way Edward’s face flickers between normal and death’s head, depending on the torchlight. The best detail is that Edward saves the others not out of any sense of altruism, but that he simply doesn’t want any more ghost roommates. He built the house for solitude, dammit!
Matt, Shelby and Flora stumble through the woods, only to fall into the hands of the Polks, the hillbilly clan from earlier this season. They also find Elias, who it turns out is alive, only to pop the stakes of the Polk scenes. They’ve cut off Elias’s arm and leg, you see, because they’re cannibals (naturally), but once they find out his meat is rancid, they smash his face in with a hammer in a startlingly graphic shot. Bye, Elias! Again!
The Polks are of course in league with The Butcher, assisting in bringing her sacrifices during the blood moon. So why did they try to buy the house from Shelby and Matt if they knew The Butcher needed some oblivious schlubs to kill for her yearly offering? And did Elias know about them? How did they not catch that guy until now? These questions would nag more if any of this mattered, but all of this is just to kill time before they get back to the house. Matt manages to kill one of the Polks, Shelby’s ankle gets smashed with a sledgehammer in retaliation and oh yeah, the Polk matriarch is played by Frances Conroy, checking another “AHS” regular off the list. She’s suitably menacing in her brief screentime, but it’s all just a hamster wheel to fill the hour.
Everything Works Out
Back at the house, The Butcher decides to kill Flora first to punish Priscilla, but that’s a bridge too far for her son Ambrose, who bonks her on the head and drags them both into the bonfire. I guess ghosts can die during the blood moon, too? And don’t all the ghosts work for The Butcher because she has magical power over them? Apparently a few centuries of resentment can break that spell. Edward cuts Matt and Shelby free, Lee shows up and runs over the Pig Man, and everyone drives away. The end!
Yes, really! Our heroes retire to a hotel and Real Shelby complains of recurring nightmares, but everyone’s okay and safe. And that seems to be the end of “My Roanoke Nightmare,” the show within a show. No sign of poor, horny Witchy Gaga this episode, even. To say the first half of “Roanoke” has been a disappointment is a bit of an understatement, with a crippling format, many well-worn horror cliches (including ones lifted from previous seasons), and overall, a deep feeling of boredom. The only silver lining is that beyond a teaser featuring Cheyenne Jackson telling a cameraman to keep filming him, no matter what, there’s honestly no telling where the season goes next week. Maybe outer space? Fingers crossed!