American Horror Story: Roanoke “Chapter 7” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- We open on CCTV footage of a deer. There’s a little girl behind it. The camera flickers. The girl disappears.
- And then we see the deer from a different angle, grazing near the production trailers. Sidney is watching the feeds from the house and sees the Dominic/Marcus fight. Sid is OVERJOYED.
- And then we see Rory die on camera. Sid, eating his dinner, does not see it. He asks for the feed to be rewound.
- There’s a scream from outside.
- Sidney goes to check. Hears gasping, sees something. We follow the camera around as Alyssa lies on the ground blood gusshing from a throat wound.
- Then Agnes axes Sidney in the chest.
- And then the camera man.
- Agnes drags the camera to her, hisses, “I AM THE TREE AND THE LIGHTNING THAT STRIKES IT.”
- And we’re back in the house just in time for Audrey to search the house for Rory. No one believes Matt about the R being for Rory so, reluctantly, they continue searching for him.
- Audrey confronts Lee about filming and she explains that while she knows there are cameras in the house the one in her hand is HER story and no one can edit it. She IS going to prove her innocence.
- They find a pool of blood but no Rory. In denial, Audrey turns to the camera and explains that Rory must have taken the Brad Pitt offer and Sidney’s an arsehole for trying to scare them. We then see her, tearful, in the confession booth explaining that she was an idiot to think the marriage could have worked.
- In the root cellar, Agnes has set the camera up and is pacing back and forth, clearly agitated. And covered in three people’s blood. She shifts between the Butcher and Agnes, alternately horrified and proud, defiant and grief stricken. Agnes explains that she’s always been underestimated, and that even though she was only booked for three episodes she got five.
- The lights go out. When she relights the torches, she’s surrounded by stick figures.
- The following morning, Monet and Dominic tie one on despite Lee’s protestations. Dominic finds Shelby and makes it clear he wants to pick things up. Matt finds them, completely misinterprets things and tells Dominic that if he wants Shelby he can have her.
- Later, in a confessional, Dominic admits he’s been ordered by Sidney to shake things up and to play the bad guy. He puts on a bodycam disguised as a necklace and gloats about how much screen time he’s getting.
- Shelby goes to her bedroom and sobs. And then notices the blood-spattered camera on her bed…
- The Butcher/Agnes appears behind her. She rants about how the land belongs to her people, about just wanting to be on the show. The two sides of her battle for control, Shelby makes a run for it and takes a hatchet to the shoulder. Screaming in pain, she holds a camera on Agnes as the other woman raises the cleaver and…
- Dominic tackles her, disarms her and smashes her head into a mirror. He tends to Shelby, and when he looks back, Agnes has disappeared…
- Matt, Dominic and Audrey are binding Shelby’s wound. She’s in horrible shape. An hour later, Monet in the confessional booth is terrified that the ambulance hasn’t come and the production trailer isn’t answering.
- Matt argues with Dominic about who should go find the trailer. Lee reveals she has a gun and, just as they’re getting good and macho, Audrey reminds them of the secret tunnel out of the house. Audrey, Monet and Lee set off down the tunnel.
- They see a figure, dressed like Edward, down the tunnel. Audrey thinks it’s her husband, until it lets out an unearthly scream. Lee shoots it four times, and it keeps coming. They flee out of the tunnel and set off through the woods, Lee reassuring them that the thing in the tunnels prefers to stay there.
- At the house, Matt and Shelby have a heart-to-heart. Matt admits he hasn’t felt human for two years and still feels lost, stuck in the woods around the house. Shelby reassures him that they both lost something there but they can get it back.
- Out in the woods, the women are turned around. Audrey notices the Blood Moon and asks if they should go back. Lee is adamant that they need to keep going.
- They eventually find the trailer, as night falls. Everyone is very, very dead. Audrey loses it. Lee throws her the keys and tells her to find a phone. Monet searches the trailer and neither of them have any luck. The three start to panic as Agnes runs screaming out of the woods, cleaver in hand.
- Lee shoots her and the three women run for it to town. Then they see pilgrims carrying burning torches walking through the woods and hide.
- Later, Audrey delivers a tearful final message of love to Rory. Halfway through it, blood begins dripping down her face. Monet notices and they look up to find Rory’s disembowelled corpse strung up in the tree above them.
- Audrey loses it. Lee films EVERYTHING and when Monet yells at her for it she points out that they need evidence. Monet does so, sees lights nearby and the three women flee into the woods. But it’s too late: the rednecks find them.
- Back in the root cellar, a tearful, terrified Agnes heats a pair of pliers and pulls the bullet from her shoulder on camera. She rants about how the house and everything in it will be consumed by fire.
- In the house, Matt wakes up. He seems to be sleepwalking and we follow him downstairs. He wakes Dominic as he passes by who, realising something is off, follows him into the cellar.
- We get bodycam footage from Dominic of Matt being dragged into a corner by Scáthach. Dominic wakes Shelby up and takes her downstairs. The screams and animal noises coming from the cellar are inhuman and we follow Dominic and Shelby down there to find Scáthach. Shelby takes a crowbar to Scáthach to scare her off. Matt admits he came back for Scáthach and…
- Shelby, screaming with rage, beats him to death with the crowbar.
- The rednecks have a pot farm. They tie Lee to a chair in there and Mama cuts her trousers off and massages oil into her leg. She salts her leg, stabs her in the thigh, Lee screams and…
- Back at the house, still holding the crowbar, Shelby is catatonic. Dominic finally gets the crowbar from her as she breaks down, sobbing as she realises what she did. Dominic carefully and honestly tells her she has to turn herself in because the cameras have caught it all. He’s pretty clearly being self-serving as well but he’s doing at least a little good. Shelby’s in pieces as he hears someone approach the house and, thinking it’s them, goes to the window. He sees Agnes outside dousing the house in gasoline.
- Back at the rednecks, Audrey and Monet are forced to eat pieces of Lee’s leg.
- At the house, Dominic and Shelby watch the pilgrims emerge from the woods as Agnes welcomes her brethren. She turns and drops her cleaver, realising that the true Butcher is with them. Agnes drops to her knees, begs for forgiveness and the Butcher cleaves her head in two.
You get a sneaking suspicion with this episode that AHS is done behaving. The careful constraints placed on the first six episodes (gore, but cheerfully over the top! Not too much nudity! A slight hint of faux!) have fallen away. We know what happens. We know almost all these people are going to die and die badly very soon.
And so the show’s decided to have a little fun. The murder of Sidney in the first few minutes is a shocker precisely because we just got to know him. The attack on Shelby is even more shocking because it’s an expertly placed escalation. We know Agnes isn’t well, we know she’s capable of murder and all we see of her are two or three locked off camera angles. When that cleaver sinks into Shelby’s shoulder you can’t help but wince. The hit looks and feels very real. Because when the cameras are on there’s nowhere to hide.
And that’s where this episode excels. There’s been a lot written about how it addresses the weakness of found footage as a storytelling medium and that’s absolutely right – it does. However, what we liked about it was how it made those weaknesses strengths. By locking the cameras off, by keeping us in close, intimate angles that we can’t control the episode robs us of the comfort of distance. We’re in the house. We’re in the room and we’re passive observers. That’s why Sidney’s death is so shocking because we, like he, do not see it coming. That idea echoes up and down the episode too with moments like the pilgrims sighted at a distance, Rory’s body and the closing scene.
That scene is where the show’s two formats, reality and “reality”, collide in a moment that may be an all-time high point for AHS. Dominic simultaneously reassuring Shelby and playing to the camera is great, as is Agnes’s cosplay of the Butcher as the pilgrims approach. Agnes, career best work from the always astounding Kathy Bates, is as tragic as she is monstrous. The apparent revelation that she really has had a psychotic break and isn’t being possessed by the Butcher only throws that into sharper relief. She’s a nice, talented woman with no manner of luck at all and, when faced with her idol, discovers that for the last time. “Reality” is just an actress hiding inside a role. Reality is an undead pilgrim driving a cleaver through her head. The comforting distance of the re-enactment is gone and there is absolutely nowhere to hide.
For all this impressive work, the episode isn’t perfect. The Polks are still a terrible idea, just one played by different people now. Those scenes drag horribly and the thought of them taking up screen time and eating people for two more episodes doesn’t fill us with joy. Similarly, Matt’s murder also seems to come out of left field too although there’s still a chance we’ll get some context for it.
But for all that this is still an impressive entry in one of the best seasons in this show’s history. We’re three episodes from the end of the season, we have almost no idea what happens next and we can’t wait to find out.
See you next week.
- The direction. Elodie Keene stitches three environments, multiple characters, a slight and very effective time slip and footage from at least three types of camera together incredibly well. This is one of the most effective uses of found footage we’ve ever seen and will hopefully go a long way towards putting to rest the tedious myth about it being a bad format.
- The script. Crystal Liu pulls no punches and from the moment Sidney and his hapless friends are killed – pre credits no less – you know you’re in for a ride. There are moments of real tension and danger here that previous seasons have lacked and Liu gives the entire cast some really nice, meaty stuff.
- Cuba Gooding Jr Dominic’s compassionate and self-serving speech to Shelby – and to camera – at the end of the episode is great.
- Lily Rabe. Shelby’s pushed to extremes this episode and Rabe’s reaction, both times, is the most genuine one we’ve ever seen. Terror, horror, repulsion, rage and disgust all hit at the same time and that final scene with Dominic where the emotion is breaking over her in waves is flat out brilliant.
- We still think Shelby’s the survivor too.
- The real Edward is brilliantly handled and a world away from the charming take Rory/Evan Peters had on him.
- The Rednecks’ terrible, “we are inbred and evil” facial deformities turned out to just be the make-up department going a bit nuts. That’s a relief.
- Audrey’s to-camera moment is a very affectionate tip of the hat to The Blair Witch Project and we love it.
- “I’m sorry. I just wanted to be on TV.” Agnes’s final words are small and sad and desperate and perfect.
- Monet filming like Lee is a nice touch. In fact the way Monet subtly imprints on Lee is really interesting, subtle character work.
- “LEAVE ME ALONE! I’M NOT AMERICAN – I’M NOT USED TO ALL THIS CARNAGE!” This and the line below it are Audrey’s finest hours. Also top marks to the show for delivering a pair of cheap(ish) gags about the difference between Americans and Brits in a manner that’s good-naturedly self-deprecating to both.
- “Look, I know this goes against every fibre of your being but could you please try and avoid bloodshed?!” –Some times the cheap shots are the best ones.
- Matt’s murder adds shock value but takes one of the best cast members off the table with lots still to do. That’s a real shame.
- Hey the rednecks are back! And Finn Wittrock’s one of them! And Robin Weigert is Mama! And they’re still awful! And judging by Wittrock’s comments we’re going to be with them a while! Yaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy
- Shelby throws that crowbar around very enthusiastically given the hole she’s supposed to have in her shoulder.
And The Random:
- Just how raw is this footage? As has been pointed out elsewhere, how did none of Sidney’s cameras capture Agnes’ escape? This may be a feature not a bug so it’s filed under Random for now.
- Where did the cameras in the Redneck’s pot farm come from? Is that a hint that the show is MUCH wider than we think or just dramatic license?
- Elodie Keene is an incredibly experienced TV director whose work includes the most influential US TV dramas of the last three decades. Her work on the Dollhouse episode “Haunted” is especially great as is her multi-camera format style here. Shifting from security cameras to fixed cameras and cellphones and back again perfectly.
- Crystal Liu has been with AHS since the start as a script supervisor. She was promoted to staff writer at the start of season four and has written three episodes for the show so far including last season’s “Flicker”, a four-star episode.
- Robin Weigert, who appears as Mama Polk this week, is one of the best actresses working today. Also one of the busiest. She’s amazing as Calamity Jane in the criminally cut short Deadwood but is a vital part of dozens of great shows. We especially recommend her turn as Lt Karen Davis in season one of the also criminally cut short Life.