This review contains spoilers.
There’s one question that will derail any found footage movie, television show, or radio programme (if such a thing exists). That question is one that nay-sayers bring up to deflate the fun of those who can suspend disbelief: why are they still filming if they’re running from (insert villain here)? Valiantly, rather than avoid this question, Crystal Liu’s script faces it head on and gives every character motivation to be present back at the scene of the nightmare.
Some of the characters are motivated by simple greed. Audrey and Rory probably want a working honeymoon. Dominic, as we find out this week, is there deliberately to cause trouble and be the bad guy of the production. Shelby’s presence is stated repeatedly; Lee’s is also obvious, and informs every decision she makes as far as filming goes. The only one who doesn’t have an obvious motivation is Matt, and his answer is revealed this week in a very chilling manner. On a show with blood and guts, murder ghosts, nightmare monsters, and cannibal hillbillies, one of the scariest things might be Andre Holland wandering around as if in a somnambulist trance.
Matt’s reason for returning to Roanoke is actually a pretty clever one, all things considered. As he tells Shelby as she recovers from a hatchet attack (courtesy of Agnes, who is back and slaying her way across the entirety of the set), he hasn’t felt like a person since fleeing Roanoke with his wife and sister. Hence, their family fell apart and she was easy prey for Dominic, who is back to find his way into Shelby’s arms again. In the middle of the night, Matt gets out of bed and walks, trance-like, into the basement and the waiting arms of the shachath, who is a lot less glamorous than Lady Gaga’s TV-friendly version and a lot more like a horrible monster, as seen by Shelby after Dominic wakes her up and takes her downstairs to catch the two in the act.
That Shelby immediately snaps and bashes Matt to death with a crowbar—the third head-smashing of the week for this humble reviewer—is kind of a surprise. We haven’t seen Shelby be violent, or even really confrontational. Agnes being violent, well… that makes a lot more sense. She rampages from scene to scene, killing Sidney, attacking Shelby, getting ready to bury the Roanoke house down, and vacillating wildly between herself and the role that made her famous, The Butcher. The fact that she meets the actual Butcher is only icing on the crazy cake. Only someone really delusional would be thrilled to meet a murderous ghost, and Agnes is ecstatic until the cleaver splits her head in two.
Kathy Bates is simply incredible. She lapses back and forth between Agnes and The Butcher in the same scene, sometimes in the same sentence. She veers between Agnes’s voice and Thomasin’s voice, and voices in between as she really struggles with the role that both made her famous and drove her mad. All she wants is to be on television, and she’ll get her wish, if only because there is lots of footage of her chasing people with cleavers captured on various smart phones and hidden cameras. Unsurprisingly, Bates is quality, and it makes the Butcher as a killer both pathetic and deadly at the same time.
However, with the way the show is burning through regular characters, it’s kind of surprising that there are still three episodes left in the season. It seems like they’re starting their drive to kill everyone off earlier than usual, which might be a good thing. After all, American Horror Story is never really focused from a story-telling standpoint, and this season seems like it’s following some kind of master plan. Having a master plan might be refreshing, since the show has seemed to be unfocused over the past few seasons.
Rather than deaths being an afterthought, these deaths seem to be going somewhere, rather than simply killing off characters when the writing staff doesn’t know how to wrap up their stories. The brutality seems to have a point (except for perhaps the cannibal redneck Polk family, but I’m not going to complain about Robin Weigert being back on television). How it’s going to tie back into the rest of the series I have no idea, but for the moment, I’m just glad to see that the show seems to be staying on track and heading towards a logical ending point.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Chapter 6, here.