Fact vs. Fiction
In previous weeks I wondered who or what was airing “Return to Roanoke,” considering it was an extended snuff film. It turns out to be the dullest answer possible: it aired on the same network as “My Roanoke Nightmare,” and wound up garnering even bigger ratings than its predecessor. Apparently there was some controversy at first about whether or not it was real, but that’s passed. Everyone knows that the footage was real and that people actually died. Yes, we are spared a scene of the greedy, moustache-twirling network executives deciding to air the documentary, but it’s just so lazy in its cynicism. Of course a network in the world of “AHS: Ronaoke” would air this footage. That’s just the fame-obsessed kind of world they’ve been portraying all season with all the subtlety of a jackhammer.
“Chapter 10” consists of cobbled-together footage from a variety of sources, tracing Lee’s journey since “Return” ended. There’s a hokey Paley Fest panel featuring the full cast in happier times, a celebrity expose type show called “Crack’d,” detailing how Lee managed to be acquitted for all the murders she committed, a news interview segment with Lana Winters (the heroine of “Asylum,” marking Sarah Paulson’s third role this season), and finally a “Ghost Hunters”-type show set at the Roanoke house, where all the newcomers are once again summarily killed by the ghosts. That segment in particular feels like a desperate bid to fill time in an episode that has but one point to make, over and over: Lee did all these things so she could be with Flora.
Lee Is The Worst
So yes, Lee is a mother who will do anything, ANYTHING, to remain with her child. Such actions include:
- Kidnapping her daughter at the first sign that her ex-husband might sue for full custody.
- Murdering that same ex-husband when he comes looking for his daughter.
- Insinuating that her daughter is crazy during her much-publicized trial in order to be acquitted of said murder.
- Returning to an extremely haunted house in order to convince the world (and most importantly her litigious in-laws) that she is not guilty of the murder she’s 100 percent guilty of.
- Becoming a contract killer for an ancient evil so that she will survive the return visit to the aforementioned haunted house.
- Eventually offering to die in her daughter’s place so that her daughter’s ghost friend has some company.
These actions do not a sympathetic protagonist make, but at least the show doesn’t seem to be completely on her side. When Lee is being interviewed by Lana Winters she mentions their similar circumstances, but Lana resists the comparison. She killed her murderous son in self-defense, while Lee (from Lana’s perspective) committed several murders in a drug-induced post-traumatic haze, so there’s not really a lot of common ground there. Still, Lana eventually admits that she and Lee share a dogged determination. It’s just that Lee’s dogged determination led to innocent teenagers getting impaled on stakes and burned alive. (At least she told the “Ghost Hunters” crew that they should run for it before their inevitable end?)
In the episode’s final 10 minutes, which are “real” (as in, not being filmed), there’s no great revelation or twist once the cameras are off. Lee just tells Flora that she’s sorry for killing her dad, and that she’s made a lot of mistakes. Being a parent is imagining an ideal and being unable to live up to it. Except most parents don’t commit multiple homicides, but whatever. Lee’s always come off like a psychopath, and Flora’s a sketch of a character who hasn’t been seen since “Chapter 5” (and that was an actress pretending to be Flora, not the real deal). Lee’s eventual sacrifice to look after Priscilla in Flora’s stead so that Flora can live a full life earns nothing but a shrug. Sure, be a ghost. That’s what most characters on “American Horror Story” end up doing. If it’s meant to be a redemption, it’s a hollow one. And hey, the episode concludes with the cops taking Flora into custody, while unknowingly being surrounded by the settlers, so Lee’s sacrifice may have been completely in vain. Nothing like a final nihilistic twist!
I should mention that despite the weakness of her character, Adina Porter’s portrayal of Lee has been strong all season. She simply has the bad luck to be cast in extremely unlikeable roles. But no amount of fine acting could have saved “Roanoke,” whose first half was such a startling bore. Even when the second half showed signs of life, it eventually came apart at the seams, like the weakest “American Horror Story” entries (“Freak Show” certainly comes to mind; at least “Roanoke” wasn’t that bad). Still, the back half of “Roanoke” was uniquely frustrating, as it hinted at interesting themes like how televised narratives can be only be crafted by those who control the footage, but ultimately argued that no, with these people, what you see is what you get. The surface is all there is, there are no hidden depths. And then the final episode was about a relationship that wasn’t prominent since the first half. I admire the effort in trying to do something different with the format; it just turned out to be a huge misfire.
Other Loose Ends
- Lee seems to be firmly in her right mind this episode, even when she returns to the house, so apparently becoming Witchy Gaga’s servant is only a temporary thing if you’re alive.
- Remember how much time we spent in the “My Roanoke Nightmare” half learning the ponderous origin stories of all the house’s various spooks? Shame how in “Return” the ghosts just appeared, stabbed someone, and vanished. Didn’t the survivors only escape the first time when the settlers rebelled against the Butcher? What happened with any of that?
- The less said about that one Polk coming to kill Lee, the better. Pointless.
- Glad we got to see Leslie Jordan again, this time playing Ashley, the actor who played Cricket. Of course he’s perfunctorily murdered soon after he appears, but it was still nice to hear his accent again.
- At least that Uber drive got out alive.