Setting The Scene
While last week was largely devoted to setting up “American Horror Story’s” new found footage status quo, “Chapter 7” puts its foot on the accelerator and doesn’t let up. “Chapter 6” gave me hope that the back half of “Roanoke” might live up to past seasons, and this week’s episode cranks up the scares and the WTF moments that have always been the show’s trademark. Who knows if the remainder of Season 6 can keep up this pace, but for now it’s nice to enjoy the ride.
Fact vs. Fiction
We open a few minutes before the conclusion of “Chapter 6,” as Dominic arrives and Matt rushes to beat him up. Dominic, it turns out, is a grade A heel, who immediately starts putting the moves on Shelby again, only to later confess he’s only there for the money and the fame. And who gets the most screen time on a reality show? The villain! Suffice to say, Dominic is not here to make friends. You can’t say he hasn’t done his homework.
We also get footage of Sidney, his PA Alissa and a camera guy watching the Dominic/Matt fight. Sidney is obviously delighted, but is conveniently looking away from the monitors when Rory gets killed by the nurses. He’s soon drawn outside by a noise, only to find Alissa on the ground, her neck gushing blood. Sid turns to see Agnes, the actress who played The Butcher, who has gone from somewhat unhinged to full-on serial killer in the space between episodes. Guess she was a little more unstable than Sidney, though. Agnes kills both Sidney and the cameraman, and lumbers off to wreak more havoc.
At first I was bummed at Sidney’s quick removal, since he was the focus of the last episode and Cheyenne Jackson played him with an enjoyable sleaziness, but it makes sense that he had to go. The production end of “Return to Roanoke” is the housemates’ link to the outside world, so it had to be severed before things got too crazy. Now our stars are all alone.
Likewise, Agnes immediately becoming a killer seems out of left field, but they did establish her as unstable last episode, and it’s an interesting x-factor to have a physical threat on the premises along with a mystical one. Not to mention it gives Kathy Bates plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery, as she films herself switching between her “normal” personality and her Butcher persona. “They only booked me for three episodes, but I got five because the fans wanted more!” she raves, only to be interrupted by legitimate spooks. It turns out that when Agnes encounters the legit supernatural, she’s overjoyed. When the real Butcher arrives at the episode’s conclusion, Agnes falls to her knees like a star-struck fan. “I just wanted to be on TV,” she gasps, just before The Butcher buries her cleaver in Agnes’s head all the way down to her nose. Agnes is the last character to die in “Chapter 7,” but she’s far from the first.
A Classic Love Quadrangle
After his dust-up with Dominic, Shelby again tries to reconnect with Matt, who’s still cold to her. Shelby protests that her time with Dominic was just one drunken weekend, but Matt confesses that their marriage was finished as soon as they entered the house. He hasn’t felt human for two years, so he had to come back. Shelby admits that their time there took something from both of them, and perhaps they can both work to get it back. It’s a nice scene, and I can’t express enough what a relief it is that Lily Rabe and Andre Holland actually get something to do this season. It makes you want to root for both of them and hope they can work things out.
Spoiler: They do not work things out.
That night, Matt wakes up and starts walking as if in a trance, which we all knew he would, since there’s no way the real Witchy Gaga doesn’t still want that D. He heads to the basement for some supernatural coitus, and much like the other ghosts we’ve seen so far in “Return to Roanoke,” the real Witchy Gaga is a lot less pleasant than the re-enactment version. She and Matt are interrupted by Shelby and Dominic, who followed Matt downstairs, and Shelby chases the witch off with a crowbar. Matt, instead of being relieved, is extremely distressed. “I came back for her! I’m in love with her!” Shelby is shocked for a moment, then she proceeds to beat Matt to death with the crowbar, smashing his head to jelly. Now that’s the primo craziness which “American Horror Story” is best at. It’s totally unexpected but still understandably motivated. She came to this haunted house to win back her husband, while he came back to bang a witch. Admit it: You’d be pissed too.
Lee Is The Best???
Agnes covers a lot of ground this episode, sneaking her way inside the house and wounding Shelby before Dominic comes to her rescue. Agnes escapes, and everyone tends to Shelby’s wounds. They can’t raise Sidney, so Lee, Monet and Audrey decide to head out into the woods to find the production truck before dark. No points for guessing how well that goes. Lee insists on filming everything herself, so that Sidney can’t pervert her narrative, which is a decent enough explanation for why filming keeps happening when any reasonable person would have put down the camera.
They do eventually find the production truck, but only after the sun has gone down, and they quickly realize that not only are Sidney and the others dead, but there’s no phone and the car is dead, too. Lee reveals that she brought a gun to the house, making her the smartest person there by a wide margin. And it’s a good thing too, because Agnes bursts out the trees, but Lee is able to light her ass up. Agnes still manages to get away, because she has all the lives of an 80’s slasher movie villain.
The trio stumbles across Rory’s mangled body (earlier, everyone had assumed he had left to film a Brad Pitt movie) and Lee manages to convince Audrey to continue even though she’s understandably starting to lose her mind. Still, this doesn’t save them from all being captured by the real life Polks, whose matriarch is now played by “Deadwood’s” Robin Weigert under Calamity Jane-levels of filth. One of her sons turns out to be a shutterbug, which is good news for the “Return to Roanoke” producers, since they get juicy footage of the Polks preparing Lee’s leg to be served to Monet and Audrey. These bits wander awfully close to torture porn territory, so next week might be a chore, depending on how much more time the women are in the Polks’s clutches. But considering how much action was crammed into this episode, there probably won’t be much lingering left this season.