American Horror Story season 6: Roanoke Chapter 3 review

American Horror Story: Roanoke's strange elements are starting to pull together in this very tense episode directed by Jennifer Lynch...

This review contains spoilers.

Flora is missing. The hunt for a missing girl, after three days or so, becomes more of a hunt to recover a body. A body is discovered, just… the wrong body. Mason, Lee’s ex-husband, becomes the latest victim of the malevolent spirits and/or murderous hillbillies who have been menacing the Miller family since they moved into the big white farmhouse. However, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a diminutive psychic with a big ego and a bigger gift in the form of Cricket Marlowe. He’s expensive, but he’s the best, and he might be the only person who can help the Millers square off with the many forces that want them off of their land.

On the podcast I contribute to, my friend and I are going through the Friday The 13th series for Halloween month. It’s been interesting, to say the least, but one of the more interesting moments is in the otherwise crazy Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. Among the many weirdos who live in Crystal Lake is a short order cook at a diner named Shelby, played by none other than Leslie Jordan. He’s a weird character in the film, but that seems to be by design. I’m not sure Leslie Jordan plays any “normal” characters—he was great as one of the three witches in the council on Coven—and Cricket Marlowe is another wonderfully eccentric character in the pantheon of the award-winning playwright and actor Jordan.

From his first appearance in Shelby and Matt’s house, Cricket is a constant eye-catcher. Maybe it’s the silver-handled cane clacking loudly on the floor. Maybe it’s the crazy Andy Warhol wig. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s playing the Zelda Rubenstein role and we all know how important he’ll end up being to the show. Either way, he’s one of the more interesting and memorable characters from his first appearance, and as he guides Lee in her search for Flora, he only gets more interesting since he’s able to see both the spirit realm and the physical world, acting as a necessary bridge between Shelby and one of the forces tormenting her, The Butcher, AKA Thomasin White (AKA Kathy Bates, with another interesting accent).

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Strangely, in an episode featuring masturbating hillbillies, feral children suckling from a pig (James Wong also wrote the awesome X-Files episode Home, speaking of ferals), a charred human sacrifice, and sex with a wood demon, Cricket remains the most interesting aspect, followed closely by The Butcher. Thomasin’s origin story is done very well, courtesy of director Jennifer Lynch, and it’s fitting that a strong female leader gets directed by a strong female director for the first time in AHS history. Lynch, David’s daughter, has horror cred, and Thomasin’s imprisonment is as unpleasant as her return is gratifying. She walks into a meeting of the men who cast her out, imbeds a cleaver into the skull of the main conspirator (amazing special effects, particularly the chunk taken out of the skull and the gusher of blood), cuts the throat of another (again, amazing blood spray), and retakes leadership of the colony by force. It’s a nice balance between the more charming light comedy of Cricket and the more terrifying moments involving the supernatural forces besieging Shelby, Matt, and Lee.

Lee’s story, particularly her interactions with Cricket and Shelby, are also appreciated. Adina Porter is particularly strong in the talking head segments, and James Wong’s script gives both Porter and Angela Bassett a lot to do on both sides of the fourth wall. Porter is particularly effective, especially when caught by surprise about the news of her dead first daughter, and Bassett is awesome when Cricket sneaks in that little bit of knowledge into her ear during the reenactment portion, too.

The show’s many strange elements seem to be pulling together. Chapter 3 feels more like what viewers expect from American Horror Story, without disregarding the atmosphere of unease that filled the first two episodes. Sure, there were some spectacularly horrifying moments—feral children shrieking Croatoan and suckling from what might be a dead mother pig—but Cricket’s seance was very much more about tension than about shock (even when Thomasin appears out of the shadows). The gory kills function more like tension-release jump-scares than boundary-pushing shocks.

Perhaps that’s because the memorable kills were funny ones, with lots of spurting blood and surprised expressions. Perhaps that’s because American Horror Story has given us pretty much every possible kill that can be depicted on basic cable. Either way, it’s clear that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk aren’t going to be abandoning the things people like—ridiculous violence and sassy one-liners—in the pursuit of a more serious tone. They’ve successfully found something of a middle ground between their conflicting urges, and the show is better for it.

Granted, it won’t keep on the middle path forever—I’m not sure Ryan Murphy can make his shows tonally balanced given his instincts—but for the moment, it’s fun to watch the balancing act. Roanoke will wobble this way or that, but thus far the show hasn’t fallen off its high wire.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Chapter Two, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is always surprised to find Leslie Jordan wandering around his house, clicking his tongue and smacking things with his cane. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi

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