American Horror Story, never one for being subtle, just wrapped its most ludicrous season yet. As a whole, Roanoke was ultimately more interested in whipping out format changes (while, at the same time, feeling oddly repetitive) than developing many themes beyond “We’re gonna dieeee!” and “The media are vultures!” But as with any gruesome trainwreck, it was hard to turn away.
Lana Winters was one of three Sarah Paulson characters this season… two if you count Audrey and TV Shelby as one.
Though the finale tied up a decent number of loose ends, it left a few big ones dangling. (“How can so many blood moons happen within such a short time period?” immediately springs to mind.) The episode was mainly concerned with trying to jam Roanoke‘s ongoing format changes together into a single, hour-long jigsaw puzzle. The best parts were Crack’d, a cheesy true-crime show complete with “actual trial footage” and reenactments that showed us how Lee beat multiple murder raps, and Lee’s absurd interview with veteran journalist and American Horror Story: Asylum character Lana Winters. It was a fast-paced but clunky way to bring the show — which sometimes seemed more interested in misdirecting its viewers with hype and twists than actually crafting a compelling story — to its conclusion.
It also highlighted one of the season’s biggest problems, which was that any time the action left the Roanoke house, it became a lot less interesting, which is why Roanoke had to keep inventing reasons for people to go back there. First, it was for the re-enactments on My Roanoke Nightmare. Then, the Big Brother-style reunion for Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell, which bled (literally) into the show’s Blair Witch homage. In the finale, it’s a ghost-hunting show called Spirit Chasers, whose cocky hosts fall victim to the resident spirits so quickly it’s both anticlimactic and a relief.
And about those spirits. Roanoke‘s underlying message eventually drifts into “humans are the worst monsters” territory, a classic horror trope that’s something American Horror Story has explored before. It would have been interesting to spend more time with the “real” Butcher ghost and her minions, but they’re framed at a distance or through the lens of a shaky-cam every time they appear. That was the one story I was hoping we’d explore beyond the Kathy Bates-anchored re-enactments — and it’s not like American Horror Story hasn’t had fascinating undead characters in the past — but it never happened. Instead, there was plenty of time for weed-farming inbred redneck cannibals, whose clichéd schtick wore thin very quickly.
The Roanoke finale’s last act led to the only scene in the entire season of Roanoke that isn’t winking at the audience or filled with horrific gore — and, notably, is filmed like a conventional TV show. At last, Lee gets to face her preteen daughter, Flora, a character we know almost nothing about, aside from the fictional version we saw on My Roanoke Nightmare. (Even then, she spends most of the show MIA, hanging out in the spirit world.) We get that she’s angry and resentful, though. Lee murdered her father, and she’s not in the mood to make amends.
At this point, Roanoke busts out the twist it’s been saving for the very end, and it’s not nearly shocking enough to cap a series that’s been all about making people shriek “What the hell?” at their TVs. Lee volunteers to stay behind and commit suicide-by-ghost so that Flora can be free, because that’s what passes for logic here, and Flora agrees. Practically everyone else who came into contact with Lee, including her brother and sister-in-law, whose impulsive purchase of the house is what set the whole reality-show terror train in motion, is dead. Even the house, which goes up in flames as Flora emerges, is toast.
In the nutballs context of this show, it makes total sense — and to be honest, I sort of appreciated how incredibly conventional it was. Ending Roanoke on such a corny, sincere note was maybe the most subversive thing the show did all season.