This review contains spoilers.
Every time American Horror Story delves into a different genre of show, they’ve hit it dead on the nose every time. My Roanoke Nightmare was perfect; the reunion reality show was completely accurate even as it went off the rails. Chapter 10 bypasses both conceits by throwing a mixed bag of genres at the screen. The show’s segments are, in no particular order, a true crime show, a series of YouTube videos, a confessional prime-time celebrity interview, and best of all, a ridiculous ghost-hunting show with a dead accurate presentation.
It’s not just that the three shows (Crack’d, The Lana Winters Special, and Ghost Chasers) look right, they breathe right and director Bradley Buecker shows a real depth of knowledge across multiple genres. The music is perfect, straight out of whatever central musical database all these shows rip tracks from. The Lana Winters opening credits gave me instant flashbacks to prime time celebrity interviews like Barbara Walters used to do. Ghost Chasers is perfect; they have a goofy opening credit, they speak directly to camera with a serious bro persona, and they wear cheap plastic windbreakers as their TV uniform. Lana’s cuts are the exact cuts you’d see in that show; Ghost Chasers stretches for celebrity guests by bringing Ashley Gilbert (Leslie Jordan) in to guide them in the house (and it sounds like they use the real voice-over guy from certain other ghost shows); Crack’d uses the same photo montage that I’ve seen in a dozen other true crime TV shows.
The fact that all three shows use the same clips from the same videos from the original TV show only cements the real feel of the thing; on a famous murder (like the OJ Simpson murders that Ryan Murphy featured on The People Versus OJ Simpson), you see the same clips over and over again. There’s a limited amount of material that every show can choose from, and there are only so many talking heads you can feature before you run out of people. See also the fact that, by the end of the show, the only available talking head is the actor who played Dr. Cunningham, because all the other actors and stars have been killed off during the filming of the Roanoke reunion show and Ashley is pulled in by Ghost Chasers and subsequently killed.
The three shows, plus a couple of really well-done YouTube videos and some television news footage, tell the story of the last survivor of Roanoke, Lee, and her daughter Flora. Lee is acquitted of the Roanoke murders, then she’s acquitted of her husband Mason’s murder thanks to undermining her daughter’s story by using Priscilla against her. A story about a mother murdering a father is one thing, but when that story comes with a tale of ghostly friends, it’s a lot less believable. Lee, tough but sympathetic, escapes again, only to discover that Roanoke won’t let her go. Not only does Lana tell her that Flora’s been kidnapped—accusing her of taking the girl again—the last surviving Polk shows up with an assault rifle and tries to kill her. Lee knows the only way to close out the story, and save her little girl’s life, is to go back to Roanoke a third time.
One of the things that makes the episode hang together so well is Adina Porter, who once again puts on a great performance, guiding Lee through pretty much every possible emotion in a very short segment on the Lana Winters show. She’s gracious and pleased by the beginning of the interview, then steely as Lana starts digging into her life. Rather than being disarmed by Lana, who does this for a living, Lee turns it—and Bloody Face—right back on her, bringing up how she murdered her own son. Watching Adina Porter and Sarah Paulson battle it out as these two indomitable characters is a real treat, and the segment is strong enough that it could have carried the whole episode, but we had to go back to Roanoke and have one last police stand-off.
Everything Lee has done has been for Flora, ultimately. After recovering from her addiction, she worked overtime to do the right thing by her daughter, and in a situation where sacrificing herself means Flora might live in peace for a few more years, Lee’s going to do it even if it means that the only time she’ll be able to see Flora on non-Blood Moon weeks. It’s a bit on the nose, but Porter is able to sell it like no one’s business; it’s great stuff and she’s a great performer who deserves all the praise she’s been getting.
American Horror Story has been a really fun ride all year, and it’s a credit to renewed focus on story. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk must have sat down with the show’s creative team and planned things out from the very beginning, because it’s the most satisfying story arc since Murder House and the best season of the show since Asylum, and I say that as someone who can forgive a lot of the show’s faults due to it being consistently entertaining. This was a very well-crafted season of TV, and there were very few dropped plot lines, which doesn’t happen in American Horror Story.
It’s a trend I’d like to see when the show comes back for its inevitable seventh season.