Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s horror anthology “American Horror Story: Roanoke” took many risks for Season 6, juggling fear and gore with moments of satire, meta-commentary, and outright comedy. Those elements were lifted to new heights in Wednesday’s season finale that took aim at multiple reality genres while still being genuinely terrifying. And the episode provided another showcase for the stellar Adina Porter, whose performance once again cemented her place as the breakout star of the season.
The final episode begins with the entire cast of “My Roanoke Nightmare” assembled for a fan event at the Paley Center in Los Angeles, where the cast is peppered with noxious questions by adoring super fans. One of those fans takes to her YouTube channel to bemoan the exploitative nature and possible fakery of the follow-up series “Return to Roanoke,” though she points out that it exceeded the ratings of its predecessor.
The next segment is presented as an episode of a mystery series titled “Crack’d,” clearly modeled after true crime investigation shows like “48 Hours.” Lee is put on trial, first for the murders she committed during “Return to Roanoke,” then later for the murder of her ex-husband, Mason. She is acquitted in both cases, though her relationship with daughter Flora is permanently damaged, as the child testifies as an eyewitness to her mother killing her father.
Lee then sits down for a live interview with Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), the heroine of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” who has come out of retirement for this Barbara Walters-style interview. When Lana confronts Lee about her relationship with her daughter, Lee counters that Lana has her own troubled parent-child relationship, having murdered her own serial-killer son back in Season 2. Lana then tells Lee that Flora has been reported missing, and all but accuses Lee of kidnapping her daughter out of desperation. The testy exchange is interrupted by one of the surviving Polk boys, who guns down several people hoping to exact revenge on Lee for killing other members of the Polk family, but he is killed by police. We later find out that Lana survived the attack, so perhaps we’ll see her again in a future “AHS” installment?
In the next, more outright satirical segment, the cast of “Spirit Chasers” — a clear parody of shows like “Ghost Hunters — breaks in to the Roanoke house during the rising of the blood moon, accompanied by Ashley Gilbert (Leslie Jordan), the actor who played the eccentric and ultimately disemboweled medium Cricket Marlowe on “My Roanoke Nightmare.” The crew is shocked to discover Lee at the house searching for Flora, whom Lee believes has run off with her ghostly companion Priscilla. The satire turns deadly as the crew, as well as Ashley, are violently dispatched by the Butcher and her deadly spirits.
In the haunting final act, Lee tries unsuccessfully to reconcile with her daughter, who would prefer to stay at the Roanoke house to protect Priscilla from the Butcher rather than go anywhere with her mother. Lee decides to sacrifice her own life, not only to protect Priscilla’s spirit, but also to allow Flora to go on to have a normal life. Flora leaves as Lee sets the house and herself ablaze, but Lee finds comfort in the fact that Flora has escaped while Lee has a chance to be a mother to Priscilla.
While both Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson have done some of their best work this season, “Roanoke” truly belongs to Adina Porter, who despite being credited as a “guest star” has been the true lead of the series. This episode is an absolute showcase for Porter, who has scenes of despair and regret during the trial, balanced with genuine fear and desperation when she realizes that her daughter has gone missing. Some of her most nuanced work comes in her final scenes with Flora, as she shows motherly tenderness while trying to hide her grief at letting her daughter go.
There are still some questions that “AHS” left unanswered, perhaps deliberately so. What became of the forest witch Scathach (Lady Gaga)? How will Lee protect Priscilla from the bloodthirsty Butcher? And just who was that shadowy figure marching toward the Roanoke house in that final shot? Most importantly, how will the seventh installment of the series top what has been the most unexpected and awesome season to date?
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