This recap contains spoilers for episode 6 of American Horror Story: Roanoke.
After five episodes spent watching the “documentary” within the show, American Horror Story flipped the script in episode 6 by breaking the fourth wall and turning the cameras on the crew responsible for retelling Matt and Shelby’s ordeal.
This new iteration of AHS began by following Cheyenne Jackson’s manipulative producer character, Sidney, as he attempted to mount a sequel series to My Roanoke Nightmare, titled Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell.
The new show was designed to reunite the real Shelby (Lily Rabe), Matt (Andre Holland) and Lee (Adina Porter) along with the actors who portrayed them in the reenactments; Audrey Tindall (Sarah Paulson), Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Monet Petusmae (Angela Bassett — who also directed this episode).
Instead of a straight sequel, Sidney’s new TV pitch was to send the group back into the deadly farmhouse for a Big Brother-esque documentary series that would film over the three nights of the blood moon. What could go wrong?
In the world of the show, the original Roanoke Nightmare scored record ratings (beating football and The Walking Dead, a delusional interstitial card proudly declared), making overnight celebrities out of its cast members and their real-life counterparts, whether they liked it or not.
After the series, Lee was branded a killer, since the murder of her husband Mason (played by Charles Malik Whitfield in the reenactments) was never solved on the show — in fact, Sidney’s ostensible reason for staging the sequel series was to prove that Lee murdered Mason, since fans were frustrated that Mason’s storyline didn’t get closure.
Shelby and Matt separated, prompting Shelby to sleep with Dominic, the actor who portrayed Matt in the docu-series — something the tabloids soon gleefully uncovered. Audrey got married to Rory Monahan (Evan Peters), the actor who played the ghost of Edward Mott, and Agnes Mary Winstead (Kathy Bates) had a breakdown after going a bit too “method” while portraying The Butcher, subsequently getting arrested for assault after attacking tourists with a meat cleaver on Hollywood Boulevard.
As we later discovered, Agnes tried to attack Audrey too, after the actress won a Saturn Award for her portrayal of Shelby, beating Agnes in the same category.
This combustible combination seemed like perfect reality TV fodder, with Sidney and his production team rigging the farmhouse with groaning pipes, exploding cupboards and other spooky effects. Along with wall-to-wall cameras to capture every minute of the drama, since no one believed that the ghosts they depicted in My Roanoke Nightmare were actually real.
But in true American Horror Story fashion, it didn’t take long for things to spiral out of control. Before filming began, Sidney and his colleague Diana found a gruesome circle of dead piglets outside the house, and, believing Agnes was the culprit, slapped the unstable actress with a restraining order.
Then an unfortunate crew member decapitated himself with a chainsaw, and Diana quit the production in response, driving away from the house while trying to record a confessional of what was happening on set, only to be attacked by the Pigman, causing her car to crash.
Another ominous interstitial card then revealed that while Diana’s tape was found, her body was never recovered.
Oblivious to all of this, the cast (Shelby, Matt, Lee, Audrey, Rory and Monet) moved into the house for their three-night stay, and things escalated quickly. Audrey and Rory thought they caught sight of Agnes lurking outside the window; Shelby and Matt were still on bad terms after Shelby’s affair with Dominic, and soon began arguing; and it was clear that none of the actors believed that Shelby, Matt and Lee actually experienced any of the events depicted in My Roanoke Nightmare, openly mocking Matt for his warnings that they were in danger.
Then things got really creepy, with another interstitial revealing that every cast member who was involved in Return to Roanoke died over the next three nights — except for one — and that Sidney’s proposed show never aired, with this footage having been pulled from the archives to try and uncover the truth.
Things only got worse after Dominic showed up at the house — even after Sidney promised Shelby that he wouldn’t be part of the production — since he immediately got into a fistfight with Matt.
A burned and mutilated man (the ghost of Mason?) drifted past one of the cameras, unseen. Audrey got out of the shower only to be confronted by the Pigman, and ran screaming downstairs, prompting Rory to go up and check the closets for the masked actor they all assumed had been sent by Sidney to freak them out.
But it wasn’t an actor that greeted poor Rory, who was stabbed to death by the ghosts of the two murderous nurses — leading Matt to discover that the spray-painted word MURDER on the wall was complete, since the nurses had finally found a victim with an R name to finish their wicked game.
On that chilling note, the episode ended. So what does it all mean?
This new twist certainly changes the rules of the season, which had previously lulled viewers into a false sense of security, since we were safe in the knowledge that Shelby and Matt had survived their first experience in the farmhouse.
It remains to be seen whether the show can maintain a sense of tension when we now know that all but one cast member will die during the course of filming Return to Roanoke.
The new setup also poses its fair share of questions: After discovering that Rory has been killed, why would any of the remaining cast members stay in the house? If the producers are seeing murderous ghosts on the cameras, which are undoubtedly being monitored constantly, why wouldn’t they call the show off and get everyone to safety? Ratings?
And, after this midseason twist, how much can we actually trust what we’re seeing? Are we supposed to buy into the “found footage” conceit, or like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, are Sidney and the producers within the show trying to play a trick on their audience by fabricating another Roanoke murder spree?
Will the finale reveal that everyone is actually alive and well and that the house never really had the gruesome history that has been depicted up to this point?
No matter what happens next, Ryan Murphy and his team have ensured that we’ll have to keep tuning in to find out for sure.