Since its inception, American Horror Story: The Beautiful Mess has been lauded and brutally criticized. Let’s do a little of the lauding before we get into the meat of my main point, even if you already know how I feel.
‘Murder House’ was an extravaganza of haunted house characters with somewhere close to a thousand ghosts, almost as many live characters, and throwbacks to everything from The Amityville Horror and Rosemary’s Baby to the fucking Columbine shooting. And we LOVED that sick rapist whiteboy shooter–and felt sick about it, but our boners prevailed through the nausea.
‘Asylum’ put Jessica Lange in a nun’s habit and went everywhere from alien abduction to interracial marriage, and had a dramatic exit scene where a former-Nazi doctor live-cremated himself with the body of the nun he had been in love with, but who had been possessed by the Devil the second half of the season. ALSO SKIN LAMPSHADES.
‘Coven’–witches, bitches!! A human vodoo doll, witch hunters, Marie Laveau, Frankenstein-ing frat boys, spell competitions, talking heads in boxes, and we have this Happy Witch Academy ending, knowing they fucking LEFT MISTY DAY IN THE UNDERWORLD LOOPING IN HER WORST MEMORY FOR ETERNITY OH MY GOD SHE’S STILL THERE.
‘Freakshow’, I don’t know what happened. But for however shitty it played out, it was outrageous and produced not only a Killer Clown, but also Jessica Lange’s Dietrich ‘Life on Mars’ so it gets a pass for its shittiness.
‘Hotel’ was a blood and glitter orgy! It had Village of the Damned children, tried to make its own Hannibal and Se7en-esque elaborate crime scenes, gave us a Courtney Love to love all over again, Art Deco, a goddamned body chute, and Evan Peters simultaneously fucking and stabbing while wearing a goddamn gas mask.
But was that enough for you? Or for THEM, I mean? The critics? No. Always, no matter what new insanity and surprises and new ways to kill people or fantastic characters and costumes our precious Imaginary American Horror Story Writers’ Room inhabitants came up with, it always ended the same. Becky crying while wiping down the board and saying she was never doing it again, Randy bitching that there still weren’t enough aliens, and the rest of the group mumbling about how no one liked them and quietly pairing off to leave and shoplift plastic mini-bottles of SoCo from the gas station and pity-fuck in their moms’ basements or the back seats of Corsicas. You know, just like after every poorly received Highschool Drama Club Production.
The complaints were always the same: too messy, too many characters, they dropped a bunch of plot threads, the through lines were derivative and never quite made it through, it was over the top, cheesy, sometimes incomprehensible, it lacked resolution and believability, it’s wasn’t scary enough, it wasn’t scary at ALL, there were too many characters and too much material and things just got too muddled, the sets were bigger than the arcs, closure was too pat if there was closure at all, it lacked coherency …
Finally, American Horror Story caved. With cult shows like Hannibal classing up horror tv, and Penny Dreadful making “trashy” artsy again on one side, and mainstream horror like The Walking Dead supplying gore and supposedly heartsting-pulling on the other, American Horror Story was left in a wasteland of doubt, surrounded by alternate choices.
So they listened.
American Horror Story: Roanoke was back to basics. Simple sets, easily comprehensible premise, a well-organized double cast and a clearly defined Part One and Part Two. It explained itself every step of the way, used tried and true modern methods of popular horror storytelling by utilizing True Crime TV shows, reality tv, and found footage. It kept its promises to throw in previous-season tie-ins, tossed in a few old favorite characters, and chased down every goddamned kite string plot thread, stomping it into the ground with an explanation, even if it was slapdash or didn’t matter. Even Pigman was explained.
And you know what? It was kind of boring, for all that. Episodes 1, 5, 6, and 9 were good. That’s ALMOST half. Roanoke was so busy stumbling all over itself to be simple and scary and do all the things it’s been criticized for not doing, it forgot to have much fun. The performances were incredible and the cast was spectacular, but for all the effort to make Season 6 into a more “real” show, it lost some magic. I preferred Hotel, to be honest, and I didn’t even realize the season finale of Hotel was a finale. I tuned in the following week, surprised there were no more episodes.
I missed that excitement and urgency during Season 6. If there is a Season 7, I hope Becky and Randy toss out all the advice and get back to THEIR basics: being Rude Mechanicals with huge dreams, a trunk full of costumes, the ability to follow through with only half their ideas, and the unwillingness to give up on even one.