‘American Horror Story’ Season 6 Premiere: Theme Finally Revealed

Alex Stedman

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on unless you’re seen the premiere of “American Horror Story” Season 6. 

FX did not make it easy to figure out the theme of “American Horror Story” Season 6 even after releasing 24(!) teasers. But during Wednesday’s highly anticipated premiere, we finally learned the theme, and got a glimpse into the latest twisted world of “AHS.”

The theme of Season 6 is “My Roanoke Nightmare,” and will likely reference the Mystery of Roanoke aka the Lost Colony, which saw 117 people disappear in 1590. It became a popular fan theory after set photos leaked on TMZ, with one showing the word “Croatoan,” the name of a nearby Native tribe, carved into a tree. The premiere, simply titled “Chapter 1,” takes a true-crime documentary format, featuring interviews with a couple (“AHS” vet Lily Rabe returns!) that moves to a secluded North Carolina home to find — what else? — horror in their own home.

Rabe plays Shelby, who is portrayed by Sarah Paulson in the reenactment of the interview. Cuba Gooding Jr., who starred along with Paulson in “AHS” creator Ryan Murphy’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” also joins as her husband, Matt (played by Andre Holland in the interviews), in the reenactments. And yes, it is amusing to see Marcia Clarke and O.J. Simpson hold hands.

At the start of the episode, Shelby and Matt seem like the perfect couple with perfect lives. In fact, Shelby just recently got pregnant. But on one night, tragedy strikes: they’re attacked in a random gang hit, and Matt’s orbital socket is broken. He requires surgery and, whether it be because of the attack itself or the stress afterwards, Shelby loses the baby.

Traumatized, they decide to leave the city in favor of the country. They find an old, large house, and beat a, well, less-sophisticated group (which includes Chaz Bono) of people in an auction to buy it, blowing just about all of their savings in the process. Matt is thrilled with their find, but Shelby immediately feels… off.

(A creepy old house. In the middle of nowhere. And the wife already has a bad feeling about it, for no discernible reason. Horror tropes, here we come!)

Matt, ever rational, figures Shelby might just be shaken up from the loss of their child. Later, when the two are having sex, they hear guttural (dare I say demonic?) growling from outside. Matt braves the yard to find that someone’s torn it apart, and a piece of trash even flies toward his head. Again, logical, he assumes that it’s the act of racists, as “it is the south,” after all. He also guesses it’s likely retaliation on the part of the hillbillies they beat to win the house.

But later, when Matt’s away at work (which he often is), it begins to hail — or at least, so Shelby thinks. She goes outside to see teeth raining from the sky and, understandably, is a little freaked out. When Matt comes home, however, the evidence is gone. Matt convinces her that it was just ice, and Shelby “felt pretty full of s—.” Teeth don’t just fall from the sky, right?

When Matt goes away on business, though, it gets even spookier. Wandering the hallways of their house alone, Shelby sees two women walk past. She yells “Hello? Is anyone there?,” and when no one answers her calls, she heads to the yard and relaxes in their outdoor tub. That’s when several hands appear, pushing her head underwater and trying to drown her.

Matt rushes home, where the cops have already been. They’re not taking Shelby too seriously — she gave a wild story, and the officer asks Matt if Shelby drinks. Matt is offended by the officer’s implications, but when inside with his wife, admits that the story doesn’t exactly make sense. Shortly after, though, he finds a dead pig left at their home (a “Saw” homage, perhaps?), and he takes action.

He smartly rigs the place with cameras that he can check remotely, but that’s not enough. He brings in his sister, Lee, to stay with Shelby — and oh, is Lee fun. Played by “AHS” vet Angela Bassett in the reenactments, and by Adina Porter in the interviews, Lee is an ex-cop who always thought that yoga instructor Shelby was “too phony” for her brother, as Shelby puts it. But Lee seems to have a troubled past she’s running from herself.

After she was injured on the job, Lee became addicted to prescription painkillers. She was high on her shift when she got a call about a serial rapist, and chased him down. When she confronted him after an action-packed chase, he shot himself in the head, and as Lee sees it, justice is served. But a fellow officer discovered she was on drugs, and she was fired. If that’s not enough, her husband divorced her, and took custody of their daughter with him.

Right off the bat, Lee and Shelby don’t get along, and the strange occurrences don’t help matters. When Lee finds Shelby pouring a glass of wine, Lee asks her not to drink while she’s in the house, as she’s still struggling with her sobriety. And just a bit later, an empty bottle of wine rolls into Lee’s room as she tries to sleep — and she immediately accuses Shelby.

What better to distract the two bickering sisters-in-law than a strange noise in the basement? Lee heads down to investigate the weird development, with Shelby in tow. There, they find an eerie home video of a scared man in a forest who happened upon a shirtless man wearing a pig’s head.

Meanwhile, checking the security system remotely, Matt sees people with torches and knives heading into the house. He calls the police, but knows that, even 100 miles away, he’ll get there faster. As he drives back, Lee and Shelby spend a tortuous 20-30 minutes hiding in the basement, paralyzed by noises upstairs. When they emerge, it’s to a horrifying sight — the house is filled with childlike stick figures, hung throughout the air. It’s all very “Blair Witch Project.”

Later, Lee and Shelby show Matt the video. Matt, again, is convinced it’s the work of the hillbillies. Shelby showed the video to the police, and believes they won’t be much help — but Lee, formerly on the force herself, urges her to let authorities investigate.

That’s not enough for Shelby. She shocks Matt by fleeing, driving away without explanation. “There’s no shame in getting the hell out of the way,” she rationalizes. In her hurry, she hits a woman (“AHS” regular Kathy Bates) on the road. Panicked, she runs out of her car to help, but is unable to find the old woman.

And now it’s really “Blair Witch.” Searching for the woman, she finds herself lost in the woods, where she comes across the same stick figures that were erected in her home. The episode ends as a man, whose head is bloodied and disfigured, walks toward her as she screams in horror. And that’s when Wes Bentley, an “AHS” regular as well, emerges from the shadows.

In its sixth season, many worried about “AHS,” even in its anthology format, staying fresh. But this new documentary take is a new, exciting spin, and one thing’s for certain: the premiere of Season 6 looked nothing like other seasons.

But there’s still plenty left to wait for. Fan favorite Evan Peters has yet to show up, and neither has Lady Gaga, who, despite confirming her return, wasn’t in the closing credits. We didn’t even get an opening credits sequence. It’s only the first episode, though. Will you be returning to Roanoke?

What did you think of the premiere? Let us know in the comments below. 

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