‘American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare’ Season Premiere Recap: Reality Frights

Warning: This recap for the “Chapter 1” episode of American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare contains spoilers.

The next time you see a raccoon dragging a human hand through a mall, ask no questions, for you need no answers. Life’s most beautiful mysteries should remain as such, just as life’s most delicious surprises need not be dampened by forewarning. So now, in its sixth lurid and disgusting and incredible season, American Horror Story makes official what we may have suspected all along: It simply does not give a damn about spoon-feeding us anything at all. Explanations, coherent storylines, even the PREMISE itself. This year if we want to know what’s going on with this show, it’s on US to figure it out. And that is just straight-up exciting.

Related: Ken Tucker Reviews ‘American Horror Story’ Season Premiere

No, really. When did we get so dead-set on knowing everything about a story before we’ve seen it? Hasn’t Ryan Murphy earned our trust by assembling and reassembling TV’s best cast and subjecting them to all manner of insane grotesqueries year after year? Yes, he has. Which was why it was borderline hilarious when all of American Horror Story: 6′s promos suggested that this season’s premise was nothing less than EVERYTHING. No longer would this series be hemmed in by themes as basic as “witches” or “ghosts” or “David Bowie covers.” We’re in uncharted territory now, and when there are no maps there are only opportunities for surprise. Surprise! We’re in Roanoke.

Folks, I’m going to level with you. Even after sitting through the entire first hour, I’m still not sure what the premise of this season is. The main things we need to know are: (1) This season appears to be a meta show-within-a-show type of thing, and (2) as far as the horror is concerned, it’s a back-to-basics situation. We’re talking empty, foreboding houses, countless homages to horror classics — Blair Witch, The Amityville Horror, The Wicker Man — and the usual overqualified menagerie of actors. But aside from those main things, there’s something unsettlingly strange about what exactly this season is trying to accomplish. Fully half of the advertised cast didn’t appear in this episode, and who even knows how the reality TV angle will play out over 13 episodes. Something tells me AHS has some tricks up its sleeve this season, and the fact that I have no idea what they could be is why I’m truly thrilled right now. So let’s get into this episode!

As with any epic horror tale, we were ushered into the macabre madness by a harbinger of evil… 

American Horror Story is a tricky show — just full of tricks and twists and jokes and japes — so it wasn’t immediately clear if this personalized introduction-slash-Mercedes ad was supposed to be satire or some kind of meta item, but apparently it wasn’t. It was just Ryan Murphy hawking a luxury vehicle, no big deal. “May your nightmares be forever burdened by what you are about to see, and also maybe consider trading in your jalopy for some fine German engineering?”

Anyway, the episode hadn’t even started yet. Then suddenly it started! 

Lily Rabe (Aileen Wuornos, Misty Day) appeared as Shelby, a talking head on some kind of paranormal reality show. She was here to tell a tale, a nightmare tale specific to the U.S.A. An American horror story, if you will.

Her husband was this guy. And, as the onscreen titles informed us, we were about to hear THEIR TRUE STORY. The truest story of all. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to… 

My Roanoke Nightmare was a lot like those “true” paranormal reality shows that you might watch at 4 a.m. when refreshing your ex’s Instagram feed gets too psychologically harrowing. But imagine if those crappy basic-cable fake-outs contained VERY EXPENSIVE-looking reenactments populated by Emmy- and Oscar-winning actors!

Because yep: The talking head duo were then portrayed by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the “reenactments.” Honestly these actors were so distractingly overqualified that it felt like an episode of Drunk History. To say nothing of the fact that this also kind of felt like Marcia Clark and O.J. Simpson had eloped after the trial.

OK, so the story was this: Shelby and Matt were living the dream and were pregnant and everything, but then a gang member ran up to them on the sidewalk and punched everybody until Matt was in a coma and Shelby’s unborn baby was like “Nope!” So they decided they needed a fresh start in an arguably MORE terrifying place than downtown Los Angeles: THE DEEP SOUTH. There they bought a giant repulsive mansion for $40,000, which made them instant enemies of Chaz Bono and his inbred besties.

On the upside, Shelby could now use this dilapidated mansion for all manner of interesting things, including yoga, and also hot yoga.

But things started getting weird right away. For example, the first night they tried to do sex to each other, guess what interrupted them? PIG SCREAMS.

Matt went outside to investigate, but all he found were torn-apart trashcans much like the ones the unseen bully threw at Arnold on Diff’rent Strokes. This was not a good sign.

Another bad sign was when Shelby was trying to enjoy a nice bowl of Greek yogurt and a hailstorm started rattling the skylight. Except it wasn’t ice or sleet, it was HUMAN TEETH. But because this was a horror story, the instant she tried to tell Matt about it, all the teeth disappeared. Ugh, disappearing jump scares are the worst. These ladies know what I’m talking about:

They were chilling in the hallway at one point. Who were they? Didn’t matter. Because Shelby was ready to instantly forget about their presence and instead take a dip in the haunted hot tub! 

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but this is not a great idea on Shelby’s part. Within seconds of moistening her bathing suit region, a team of unseen yokels attempted to drown her in the water! They too disappeared, and as rattled as Shelby was about the whole thing, all the local sheriff could do about it was make that “glug-glug” motion with his hand and point at her knowingly.  

To his credit, Matt believed his wife, which was only fair considering he too kept encountering what is known in the business as f***ed-up s***. Look at this eviscerated pig corpse he found on the welcome mat! Just look at it. Rude, right? Who would do such a thing? Paula Deen? It was a mean thing to do and that’s a fact.

So at this point we met our third interviewee: Matt’s sister! And yes, she was Tara’s mom from True Blood, obviously. But guess who plays her in the reenactments?

ANGELA BASSETT. Oh, thank God. By which I mean thank ANGELA BASSETT. This season Bassett plays Cuba Gooding Jr.’s sister, and she is a former prescription pill addict who lost her badge when she popped too many pills while a dude committed suicide. Or something.

Honestly it doesn’t matter. She is Angela Bassett and she is here to help! 

Which is necessary, because the exact same night Angela Bassett arrived, not only was she set upon by a hater (Shelby), but the house itself was invaded by rednecks with pitchforks! As Shelby and Angela Bassett cowered in the basement watching a mysterious videotape that was playing on a weird old TV for some reason, the rednecks were upstairs TP’ing the entryway with Blair Witch twig boys!  

A lot was going on here and Angela Bassett didn’t have time for ANY of it. Not the pigman in the video, not the twig boys, not the empty wine bottles rolling around in her bedroom when she was just trying to get some damn sleep. Yet to Shelby’s credit it was SHE who took the initiative to swiftly get the f*** out of there.

Shelby just hopped in her Mercedes (I’m guessing) and hit the highway! Where she then hit Kathy Bates! 

Yep, Shelby straight-up ran over Kathy Bates with her Mercedes, but Kathy Bates being Kathy Bates, she simply got up off the ground, picked up her bloody butcher knife, and disappeared into the dark woods. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen this happen, I’d have at least seven dollars. 

At this point Shelby had no choice but to follow Kathy Bates into the dark woods, where she immediately found ANOTHER set of twig boys hanging from the trees. Another issue was the fact that the forest floor was undulating like crazy. We’re talking acres of woodlands just lazily rising and falling and rolling around like me on a waterbed. This was Shelby’s cue to stand up and investigate.

At this point she discovered none other than Wes Bentley roaming around with a torch looking all creepy-sexy. But before she could compliment his wig and beard, some guy ran out of the woods with his scalp missing! 

And it was at this point the credits began to roll. What on earth was this episode?!

It was just the beginning, that’s what. Either this season promises to continue in this vein, or things will get very shaken up by twists and meta-surprises. Either way, My Roanoke Nightmare is a reminder that AHS remains one of TV’s most audacious and impressive surprises. Much like the Roanoke colony itself, I can’t wait to disappear into it. 

What did YOU think about “Chapter 1”?

American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.