– by Joseph Jammer Medina

FX certainly had American Horror Story fans good and annoyed over the course of the past few months, when they decided to throw a bunch of teasers at us — most of which had absolutely nothing to do with the theme of this season. Last week — with the premiere of the season — it was revealed that not only would the theme be Roanoke, but it would also be presented in a TV special manner, wherein there are interviews, re-enactments, and the like.

As a fan of such shows as Unsolved Mysteries, this piqued my interest quite a bit, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the inaugural episode of the season last week. Well, it’s one week later, and now that special “new theme sheen” has worn off. How did this episode fare?

It did…it did okay. But before I go into the episode proper, I’d like to take a moment to address the format again.

About partway through this episode, it became very clear that the filmmakers were having a hard time maintaining the whole “re-enactment” aspect of the show, and we went pretty long stretches of strict standard film narrative, which is disappointing. More than anything, after re-watching the first episode, I realized one big part that was missing: Robert Stack. That’s right, this show would’ve benefitted from a Robert Stack-like narrator to help push the show along. Currently, as cool as the format is, it definitely feels as though they have fully committed to it.

If you’ve never seen Unsolved Mysteries before, check out the opening below, and you’ll know what I mean by a missing narrator. 

Now let’s get into the actual content of the show.

When we left off, Shelby was in the woods, where she bore witness to some pretty horrific ritual-like things, including a scalped man running around with his brain hanging out — that’d be enough to scare just about anyone. After this event, however, Shelby becomes more determined than ever not to leave, convinced that this was nothing but an elaborate prank to get her and her husband to leave. But throughout the course of this episode, the actual truth behind their property slowly begins to unravel in an interesting fashion.

On the flip side of things, we have the whole subplot regarding Lee and her daughter. Last episode, it was made clear that Lee isn’t exactly the most stable of women. She was a cop who was fired from the force due to her pill addiction, and while she’s oh-so-quick to judge others for their shortcomings, she’s unable to recognize her own. This comes together later on in the show when she ends up kidnapping her own daughter, Flora — but not before we go through a few scenes of obligatory creepy imaginary friends shenanigans. It’s made clear from theget-go that this little girl sees someone no one else is seeing.

Of course, we end the episode with Flora going missing in the woods, leaving us hanging until next week.

The mystery behind the house begins to unravel...

The mystery behind the house begins to unravel…

As expected in an American Horror Story season, there were long stretches of nothing. In pretty much every season thus far, the first half of the show, while intriguing, genuinely falls into the problem of going slower than it needs to, and Roanoke was no exception. I definitely understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to establish the family’s plight. They’ve called the cops when they should’ve, and despite a couple stupid moments, they’ve actually managed to do most of the right things in most of these scary situations. 

None of this is bad, by any means, but it’s all very predictable. Couple moves into house. Couple experiences problem. Couple learns more information about house. Couple tries to leave said house. Couple can’t leave said house. Horror escalates.

More than anything, all of this seems to be done to do one thing: isolate our heroes. Show (repeatedly) that the cops can’t help, that no one will believe them no matter what happens, and that they’re stuck with the purchase of some haunted-ass land. Structurally, it all makes sense to put them through these motions so that when the real stuff starts hitting, they’re left with no choice but to handle it on their own. And on the whole, this was about as well done as one could expect, but I’m ready to move on into new territory.

Given that it’s only Episode 2 of the season so far, I have high hopes that the show will go off in some relatively unexpected directions. I’m hoping that now we’ve made our way through the recycled tropes, we can now move forward with whatever the true story will be here.

It’s well-made TV, but the territory it’s covering is all too familiar, especially since American Horror Story has already done a haunted house before. So have I given up on this show? No way. But it is a bit of a slow start, and I expect it’s laying the foundation for better things to come.

Grade: C+

What did you think of Season 2, Episode 2 of American Horror Story: Roanoke? Was this sophomore outing able to hold your interest and meet any expectations you may have had? Let us know in the comments down below!

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.