This season's theme is My Roanoke Nightmare, a throwback to the story told at the end of Season 1 (Haunted House): all the Europeans of the colony of Roanoke died and haunted the nearby Native American tribe, so an elder banished them with a ritual (which failed to exorcise the ghosts in Haunted House, and since we're seeing these colonial spirits now I think it's safe to say that it failed to exorcise these guys, too). To really go back to the good ol' days of Season 1, the story centers around a couple--Shelby and Matt--who have recently lost a baby and decide to move into a creepy old house.
The format is a little...weird. You know those ghost shows that use cheesy re-enactments to go with the real people's testimonials? It's basically the same thing here. Each major character has two actors playing them: the "real" person giving the testimony and the re-enactment actor. It's basically what would've happened if the survivors of a typical AHS season went to a TV station to share their story.
Which means that we're 98% sure that the three main characters--Matt, Shelby, and Lee--are going to survive. And while death isn't necessarily the end of a character on this show, it does suck some of the fun out of it.
While I don't necessarily like the format, I give full props to the actors. Especially the ones depicting the testimonies. They are very good at conveying pain, grief, anger. There's one scene where Matt (the real Matt) tells us that his wife lost the baby she was pregnant with, and it feels completely real as he does the tough-guy-who's-definitely-not-gonna-cry routine. There's another where Lee explains what happened with her divorce, and she's barely keeping herself together and asks the camera crew, "Can we stop for a moment, please?"
Right now my favorite character is probably Matt. He's such a dork, I love it. He's (usually) smart, protective, and has a lucky tie. What's not to love?
This does not bode well for us.
The opening is exactly like one of those real crime/ghost shows: snippets of later in the episode where we get teasers of what's going to happen (which always drives me nuts because it feels like the producers are trying too hard).
We're introduced to Matt and Shelby, a very-much-in-love interracial couple who are attacked on the street by a gang initiation. Physically, they both heal, but Shelby miscarries. They decide to move out of LA and into the country, in North Carolina. They buy a gorgeous, 18th-Century house for dirt cheap (although it does wipe their savings), much to the chagrin of the locals.
(Shelby says that she immediately felt "a sense of danger" when they bought the house. But of course she doesn't say anything, because it's not as if she's going to be living there for the rest of her life, right?)
Immediately things start going wrong. Pigs start screaming and showing up dead. Teeth rain from the sky. Ghost women are creeping around the house. Shelby is attacked in her hot tub.
I get that there's always teething troubles with moving into a new house, with trying to get used to the weather and meeting new neighbors and all that. But this is a little extreme.
Matt assumes it's the locals, trying to scare them off. It's North Carolina and they're an interracial couple, so it's an easy assumption to make.
The police are no help. They assume Shelby is crazy/drunk when she explains what's happening ("crazy woman who's overreacting to everything" stereotype). When Matt asks for protection he's given the Southern solution to all of life's problems: "get a gun."
Enter Matt's sister, Lee, an ex-cop, recovering addict who agrees to look after Shelby in the house while Matt's away on a business trip. Lee is no-nonsense and tough as nails. She was shot in the line of duty and got addicted to the pain meds, thus getting fired. Her husband divorced her in the mess and was awarded full custody of their daughter (which, being related to a few recovering addicts, I can understand why the court did that; but at the same time I felt really bad for Lee who was clearly crushed by only being allowed to be in "twenty-one percent" of her daughter's life).
Lee also does not like Shelby, and Shelby doesn't like Lee. According to Lee, Shelby doesn't have a real job (she's a yoga instructor) and only has two years of college (compared to Lee's criminal psych degree from UNC, plus police academy). Lee does not appreciate Shelby's behavior in this situation ("My brother married one jumpy bitch") and thinks Shelby's making everything up, trying to scare Matt so they'll move back to LA.
It doesn't help that Shelby's recently rediscovered wine, which does not mix well with recovering addicts. Lee asks her not to drink in the house.
So of course the still unseen bad guy rolls a bottle of wine into Lee's room that night. It incites an argument (cue stereotypical cat fight between the two main women who of course cannot get along because estrogen), which drowns out the noise of the phone vibrating from Matt's frantic calls.
Matt had set up security cameras and an alert on his phone, so he knew the second somebody/something stepped foot on the property. People in pioneer clothes holding torches and cleavers start circling the house and he's the first to know. He sums up the situation rather well: "When a mob shows up on your front door with torches, they are not there to welcome you to the neighborhood!"
When Lee finally realizes that someone's in the house, the women end up trapped in the basement. Shelby starts acting completely useless: making loud noises, clinging to Lee, and questioning everything the trained police officer says and does in this crisis situation. (At this point my sympathy for Shelby drops like a rock. If you're not going to help, then the ghost/witch/monster needs to kill you off ASAP.)
A movie starts playing in the basement, a home video of perhaps a previous homeowner or someone of the sort, capturing the image of what looks like a human with a pig's head.
The real horror is the shitty quality of this video.
When they finally manage to get back upstairs, someone's redecorated the house to a Blair Witch theme. Dozens of little straw-people are hanging from the ceiling. Police label it as vandalism, furthering their uselessness.
Matt comes home and sees the new decor and the video. He thinks it furthers his theory of the bitchy neighbors. Cue the "we should leave"/"no, we shouldn't leave" argument between Shelby, Matt and Lee. Shelby pushes to leave. Matt and Lee stand firm, saying that A) they don't have any savings left, and B) they're not going to let some hillbilly jerks chase them out of their house. (Considering the fact that both Matt and Lee are Black, they're probably a lot more psychologically equipped to deal with this kind of bullshit than Shelby.)
So Shelby grabs the car and drives away.
She also demonstrates very bad driving techniques. Distracted by her phone, she runs over a blood-drenched pioneer woman, who wanders off into the woods. Shelby goes after her and ends up lost. (I can't tell whether it's because of more Blair Witch-themed magic or another example of Shelby's uselessness. It could be both.)
Hearing some noises, she runs toward them and finds a whole spiderweb of stick-people. When she stumbles and falls, she notices that the ground is...well, it's breathing. And growling. And up ahead it looks like the ocean with trees. Someone, either Shelby or the special effects guy, is having a 'shrooms episode.
Pioneer people with torches find her, as well as one of the redneck neighbors. Except the top of his head is cut off, in a truly stellar imitation of O-Ren from Kill Bill. And then we're given the typical AHS ending: woman character screams at the horror, cut to credits.
Now just imagine her as ugly, male, and White, and you've got the ending of the pilot episode.
This season has the potential to be really good and really bad. As I've mentioned before, AHS has swung both ways. But if the pilot is any indication, we're in for at least a halfway decent season.
Gaga has yet to make an appearance, but it looks like we're going to be seeing a lot more of Kathy Bates next week, which is never a bad thing (well, it's usually bad for some of the other characters, but it's rarely bad for the audience).
Good or bad, I'm planting myself in front of the TV and hiding behind my knitting next week. Hope to see you there!
Thanks for reading! :)