Two episodes in, and we may be ready to proclaim that “American Horror Story: Roanoke” is a better season of the show than “Hotel” all of last year. It’s smaller, more emotional, and you get a precise sense of what the threat is, even if it is one that is fairly hard for these characters to conquer.
Through Wednesday night’s “Chapter 2,” what Shelby and Matt ended up realizing is that the threats that lay within their home were present long before their arrival — and potentially also the neighbors they felt were trying to scare them away. The creepy hospital-of-sorts that used to lie there was effective in its imagery, and also exceptionally creepy to watch. Having this lead to “murder” being etched into the wall of the home was powerful in its own way. Understandably, these two would want to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible after that, but the bank seems more than content to screw them over.
While the appearances from the other notable cast members at present are limited, they are effective for what we’ve seen of them. Kathy Bates in particular is fantastic as these out-there / terrifying characters, and certainly was over the course of the hour here. Even Lady Gaga’s small appearance worked because she was playing an extremely different character than The Countless last year. So much for all of that glamour, right?
Let’s go ahead now and get the biggest issue with the season out of the way: We understand that Shelby and Matt would be financially destitute if they abandon this out, but at the same exact time they’d be alive. Isn’t that better than sticking around? The longer these two stick around in this hellhole without a legitimate reason to do so, the dumber they look. Maybe their stupidity is meant to be a conceit of the show-within-a-show format we’re seeing, given that people not running from danger is a common trope there.
Now, the positive: The performances from the leads are great, and Lee may be the best character Angela Bassett has played in her time on the show. She’s gone more subtle and heartbroken, and that’s a better test of her extraordinary skill. The best thing we can say in the end about “Roanoke” is that it’s captivating, it’s succinct, and it’s just creepy enough to keep our interest. It’s not revolutionizing anything, but at this point in the show’s run, we’re content with something that is very good, even if it doesn’t always try too hard to be great. Grade: B-.
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