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‘American Horror Story: Roanoke’ Review Reminds Us That The Camera Is A Mirror

"Chapter 8" argues that what you see is what you get.

"American Horror Story: Roanoke."

“American Horror Story: Roanoke.”

FX

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: Chapter 7 Lets The Bodies Hit The Floor

Fact vs. Fiction

At one point during “Chapter 8,” Lee speculates that the footage that makes up “Return to Roanoke” could be used against any of the participants. As she tells Audrey, “If the wrong people get that footage, the only thing the world will see is the image of you caving in an old woman’s head with a hammer.” Whoever has the footage has the power to shape it as they see fit. “Reality” is what one makes of it in the editing room.

So here’s the question: Who’s airing “Return to Roanoke”? Someone found the footage and cut it together. Someone provided that title card in “Chapter 6” telling us only one person made it out of Roanoke alive. And the “Three Days In Hell” bumpers suggest some level of professionalism, so you might guess it’s the network that aired “My Roanoke Nightmare,” but would even pay cable air a documentary that depicts this many actual murders? Is whoever made the show truly giving us the whole story, or do they have an agenda?

They’re intriguing issues, and “Chapter 8” is at its most interesting when it raises them, but its answer seems to be no, there’s no agenda here. Everyone on “Return to Roanoke” is just as bad as they seem, no fancy editing required. The episode flirts with cleverness when it turns out the Polks watched “My Roanoke Nightmare” and are pissed about how they were presented, but the episode undercuts any potential satirical point when they confuse Audrey for the real Shelby and don’t seem to understand what actors are. The Polks didn’t suffer from a villainous edit or unfair depiction; they’re exactly the dumb, inbred hicks that “My Roanoke Nightmare” depicted them as. How did no one get away from these goofs until now?

Lee Is The Worst

The Polks aren’t the only ones who turn out to be as bad as they seemed. When Lee thinks she’s done for in the Polks’ lair, she asks that she be allowed to record a message for her daughter, Flora. And in that message she confesses that she really did kill her husband! Lee was shaping up as the one true hero of “Return to Roanoke,” with her supposedly righteous motivation for returning and her basic competence last episode, but nope. Again, TV doesn’t make people look bad, they’re just bad. Or in this case, worse.

READ MORE: ‘American Horror Story’ Will Do a ‘Murder House’/’Coven’ Crossover Season, Ryan Murphy Teases

This Week In Horror

"American Horror Story: Roanoke."

American Horror Story: Roanoke.”

FX

After a great deal of screaming while tied to chairs, Audrey and Lee manage to get away from the Polks after killing Mama and one of her sons. The other two sons are preoccupied with re-capturing Monet, who managed to give them the slip earlier. The Polk stuff this episode doesn’t have quite the torture porn vibe I was afraid it would after last week, but it still mostly feels like filler. At least Adina Porter makes the most of her scenes as Lee, particularly her fatalism in her message to Flora and her decision to do a line of coke because, what the hell, people are slowly cooking and eating her.

Back at the house, Shelby and Dominic get hassled by the various house ghosts, who herd them into the upstairs bathroom. At first it seems like the ghosts might be keeping them alive for some particular reason, since it seems like they have ample opportunity to kill them both before they get upstairs, but not, they’re just lousy at their jobs. Shelby, still distraught about killing Matt, slits her own throat in despair. When Lee and Audrey return, Dominic tells them the truth about what happened, but they don’t believe him and kick him out of the bedroom, where he’s immediately killed by the Pig Man. Why didn’t the ghosts try to break down the door before then? Guess they just figured they had time to wait them out, since they’re ghosts and all.

Ready For My Close-Up

The brightest spot of “Chapter 8” is Sarah Paulson’s depiction of Audrey, whose depiction of an obnoxious theater type reaches new heights this episode. Her greatest hits:

  • When Mama Polk threatens her with some impromptu dental work: “I paid good money for these teeth!”
  • Implying the Polks have sex with their farm animals: “How else do you think you got those deformed monstrosities you call sons, you twat?”
  • Immediately after finding Shelby’s body: “I feel like part of me has died with her!”
  • After being informed that Shelby killed herself: “She’s way too self-centered to commit suicide! I played her for six months! I know her better than I know myself!”
  • Walking by Dominic’s mutilated body: “He really was such a wonderful scene partner.”

Keep in mind that all these lines are delivered via a very dodgy English dialect. It’s great.

Suddenly, Wes Bentley

As Lee and Audrey are about to leave the house, they find that Wes Bentley is on the front stoop, dressed as the pig man for some reason, even though he played the Butcher’s son. Tune in next week, when Wes Bentley says “I just wanted to be on TV,” probably.

Grade: B-

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