I think there’s a reason why American Horror Story has always been really hit-or-miss with me in the past: It’s very difficult to make a compelling and scary story over the course of an entire season of television. Long form storytelling and horror aren’t really an easy pairing. Yes, you can look at some books that Stephen King books as evidence that it can work, as well as previous seasons of American Horror Story, but it’s a very tough thing to do.
The reason? Half of the scares come from mystery. When you’re spending an entire season trying to squeeze scares out of the audience, you’re essentially forced to reveal a good number of secrets over time. In a way, information is the mortal enemy of horror. The more you know about something, the less scary that something is.
That’s probably my biggest issue with this season of American Horror Story: Roanoke so far — especially with this episode. Episode 4 was, for all intents and purposes, an information dump. We met up with the professor, who we’d seen on the tapes last episode, and he gave us a lot of the backstory surrounding the mystery. We delved further into this history with Cricket Marlowe, and we went yet even further with Matt’s explanation of his vision while doing the deed with Lady Gaga’s character.
It was too much too soon. I understand that a show like this doesn’t want to spin its wheels for too long, but it was almost ridiculous. Now that we have all this backstory for these characters, it’s now a bit more difficult to actually be scared. We know exactly what they are. We may not know what they want or how the leads will escape, but we know where they come from.
There’s one more problem with this season thus far: distance. They’ve done too much to distance us from the characters. Now, what do I mean by that? There are far too many instances where a character is doing something for an unknown reason. Shelby running around the forest for some unknown reason and Matt getting seduced by the creepy unnamed master are only two instances of a repeated pattern. There are far too many things happening against our leads’ will — so much that the plot is growing increasingly annoying and contrived. In addition, it makes it harder to sympathize with the characters, because they’re not being themselves enough for us to actually latch on to them as people.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any strong points for the episode. The past three episodes leading up to this certainly put the professor and Cricket in the position of authorities. In a way, they were safe havens for our characters. Nothing could go wrong so long as those characters were there to help save the day, right? Episode 4 threw a couple of fast ones at us when they unceremoniously killed both of our “authorities” on the house haunting. With these men out of the way, the plight of Matt and Shelby seems all the more hopeless. Despite my constant misgivings thus far, I have to say, those simple acts left me hanging enough to justify watching next week.
On the whole, this season has a lot to make up for. We’re about a third of the way through the season, and it’s around this point that I’m usually able to decide whether or not a season will be a dud. The ultimate litmus test is whether or not it’s a chore for me to watch the episode. As much as I hate to say it, thus far American Horror Story: Roanoke has been a chore.
Between the over-revealing, silly character decisions, and drawn-out story, it’s hard to stay enthusiastic about this, even while I started off watching this with nothing but positive feelings. I’m still hopeful, though I hope the next few episodes start to pick things up more. Enough with the explaining, and enough with the characters running around in circles without realizing it.
I’m ready for some genuine scares.
What did you think of Episode 4 of American Horror Story: Roanoke? Is the story moving along at a reasonable pace for you, or are you — like me — growing tired of the tropes and dragging plot? Let us know in the comments below!