American Horror Story has been on an interesting path over its most recent seasons. Each successive theme has upped the ante in some way, leading to crazier and crazier stories from the ensemble anthology series. Still, there’s a strong argument to be made that its first season, titled “Murder House,” was by far its best. Season 6 returns to the “scary house trying to murder its residents” motif, but not without a host of initial problems in its early episodes. The “Roanoke” theme itself is intriguing. The only problem is that through just a handful of episodes, we’re already seeing the same host of narrative issues that often plague showrunner Ryan Murphy’s work.
1. The scattered mythology
To preface: Yes, we expect the series to answer most (if not all) of our pressing questions regarding all the crazy stuff happening to our main characters. But for the time being, it all amounts to a scattered set of scares that reek of a series throwing everything against the wall and hoping something sticks. Already we’ve seen a house haunted by the ghosts of two nurses who used it as a staging ground for murdering the elderly, some sort of unseen evil that killed them, a human sacrifice being burned alive while being forced to wear a pig head over his face, a group of malicious colonial ghosts, another unseen ghost child named Priscilla who is threatening to kill everybody, literal raining teeth, and a bunch of bloody pig tails that are pinned to walls and trees.
Even if all of these questions get answered later on in the season, it makes for a messy, unfocused early run of episodes. It’s tough to get truly invested in anything when literally nothing makes sense, and there’s no real semblance of narrative logic to drive our own conception of the story forward.
2. The questionable decision-making of our main characters
Nothing takes you out of the moment in horror more than watching the main characters constantly make decisions that defy all logic and reason. The season starts out with a middle-aged couple spending their life savings on a remote farm house, which incidentally doesn’t begin things with a logical choice. Directly following their purchase of the house, they suffer through what appears to be a home invasion, a near-drowning in a hot tub, witnessing firsthand the aforementioned pig-faced human sacrifice, and a creepy video straight up telling them that they really should head for the hills.
After about half of that, any smart person would probably pack up and head back to the city. Instead, AHS tries to justify the couple’s refusal to move by making it so the bank won’t refund the price of the home. But honestly, if you felt your life was threatened on a nightly basis, would you really care about recouping the entire $40,000 cost?
This is all compounded when one of our main character’s sister brings her goddamn child to stay with her at the house. What’s more, is that she does this directly following the terrifying home invasion that she herself suffered through. To no one’s shock, the kid wanders off into the woods and immediately gets kidnapped by the weird pig-obsessed colonial ghosts.
3. Lest we forget, we’ve been here before
You can’t entirely blame AHS for returning to a concept that worked so well for them in Season 1’s “Murder House” story. At the same time, it’s tough not to feel like this is a massive retread. We once again have an unsuspecting couple moving into a home plagued by death and despair, while playing host to a scattered cadre of angry murder ghosts. We will credit Season 6 for trying to make it feel new with the whole “dramatic reenactment” narrative device, but even that doesn’t entirely cover up the fact that AHS is clearly trying to slap a new coat of paint on the same idea.
4. We already know how this ends
The reenactment device is a blade that cuts both ways. While a uniquely effective mode of delivering the story, it also tells us that all three of our main characters survive their ordeal. That takes away a fair share of the suspense in the midst of all the action, making it so each time anyone’s in peril, we know that at least no one will die. Short of the final episode panning out on the three talking heads to show us that they’re all in wheelchairs, there’s not a whole lot that can happen to make us worry for their long-term safety. Of course this probably explains why the kid was brought in, but when you need to potentially kill a child to create stakes and tension, then things are already going poorly.
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