The Talented Mr Replay
Is it a surprise that the 6th episode of AHS 6th season is such a game changer? Probably not, we all had our doubts about where My Roanoke Nightmare was going to begin – and end – with, so let’s rewind and try again. The audacity of such a volte-face is a delight which will surely alienates some of the casual viewers; but what a pleasure it is to feel the finely oiled clogs of such a perverse machinery switching to second gear. Falchuk & Murphy’s series, for its inherent camp and taste for provocation, understands that admitting its fakeness is the only way to appear genuine in the 21st century. This was already at the heart of Nip/Tuck, or lack thereof.
So: after My Roanoke Nightmare was a smash hit in 2015, its conceptor Sidney James (Cheyenne Jackson playing the Big Bad Wolf for an audience of little red riding hoods) aims higher by switching from documentary to reality TV for the sequel, Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell. The concept: a reunion of the original protagonists and their re-enactors in the house on Sappony Road, equipped for the occasion with myriads of cameras and practical jump scares. The objective, apart from turning on the heat under a pressurised cooker filled to the brim with traumatised egos, seems to have Lee finally admitting that she killed her husband. Well, that’s the self-righteous excuse sold by the production anyway.
In the best tradition of reality TV, success was not kind to the show stars. Matt and Shelby are separated since she had an affair with Dominic Banks, the actor playing her husband, while Audrey Tindall, the actress playing her, comforts this season’s dedication to improbable accents when she’s revealed to be British (Sarah Paulson, for all her talent, is no Meryl Streep). She’s now wed to Rory Monahan, the gay ghost (Evan Peters) and they are quite the love birds.
Agnes Mary Winstead, the actress playing The Butcher, has pushed Method a bit too far and is under a restraining order from the show after threatening to kill them all, in character. Kathy Bates, either foaming at the lips or fake-smiling her way through an over-rehearsed “I am a real person”, is the season’s crowning achievement. She is quite a piece of work, this woman. Also Monet Tumusiime (Angela Bassett, Where did they find that name?) has developped the same drinking problem than the original Lee, which is quite unfortunate as alcohol is – legitimately – presented as “the secret sauce for reality TV”.
To proof, Matt doesn’t take well Dominic’s appearance on set, even though he gloomily states after his outburst that he’s not sure they will survive this time. In fact, a sober title card informs us viewers that the programme was never aired because everyone involded died. But one. Two characters are duly dispatched in the course of the episode, leaving one expecting a four episode found footage slasher version of Ten Little Indians. What a treat.
Some things still feel off, though. Where’s Flora, Lee’s daughter, for instance? Are there more twists in store? Whatever happens next, mission accomplished for this season: having reality haunting fiction instead of the contrary is a deft move and a very smart idea. Plus they show a wedding video, a bloop reel and recording of 911 calls. Such debunking of trash TV and phoney marketing has to be commended.