Since its first episode, American Horror Story has existed in the strangest realm of critical confusion. Because it’s a mess. An absolute mess at all times. But that mess has layers as rich and varied as Sarah Paulson’s facial expressions, which is the exact opposite as rich and varied Ryan Murphy’s taste in actors.
There’s Good Mess, which can range from campy and delightful to campy and ridiculous but still watchable to so bad it’s glorious.
Then there’s Bad Mess, which can range from trying way too hard to a confusing juxtaposition between what it thinks is camp and what is just bad writing to generally unwatchable.
And the show has lived on both sides throughout its entire run, sometimes within the same season. This makes any sort of critical thought difficult. This isn’t a show that can be defined by good or bad or any letter rating that exists in our human brains. Forget it, Jake. It’s Ryan Murphytown.
So, to aid me in my journey as your recapper this season, I’ve devised what I thought was a Murphyproof rating system: the Mess scale.
Every episode will be rated on a scale of Good Mess or Bad Mess. Good Mess will be represented in only way it truly can: a crying-while-masturbating Dylan McDermott.
Bad Mess will be represented by Franken-Evan Peters.
Now here’s the thing about this show: in the first episode of season six, it managed to stump my fucking rating system. Right off the goddamn bat.
After much speculation and a lot of accurate guesses, the story of season six is the Roanoke Colony, a group of 115 people who disappeared in 1587, leaving only one clue: the word “CROATOAN” carved into a fencepost.
In theory, the season is about a couple who moves into a house in what today is North Carolina and gets haunted by 1580s settler-types with torches and Blair Witch dolls. Great. Super good. On board.
Except. Oh Ryan Murphy. There’s always an “except” with you.
Except they’ve made the mind-boggling choice to do it as a Discovery Channel’s A Haunting-type reality show called “My Roanoke Nightmare.” So the “real” couple, played by Andre Holland and Lily Rabe, along with Adina Porter as the husband’s sister, is portrayed in “reenactments” by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Sarah Paulson and Angela Bassett.
Guys. Guys, I don’t understand.
Holland, Rabe and Porter appear in sit-down interviews facing the camera telling their story while their dramatic reenactment counterparts live their story. Which I suppose wouldn’t be a terrible idea if they were actually doing it in dramatic reenactment style, but they’re not. Paulson, Gooding and Bassett are doing a wholly separate show from this interview portion, which is a fine show on its own, despite some tremendously Murphy moments, such as Sarah Paulson miscarrying via blood pouring down her shin while sitting down, meaning the blood poured horizontally across her thigh, then took a sharp turn past knee-town. Also, these “reality show dramatic reenactments,” which are very obviously well-shot and well-acted, also have naked asses in them, which is not a thing in these shows.
Yes. We have a ghost time-travel murder house reality show with butts.
Also, we have TEETH HAIL. Hail of teeth. Which was only made ridiculous by Lily Rabe having to explain to us in her interview segment, “I felt pretty foolish. I mean, teeth don’t fall from the sky.”
Rabe and Holland are fantastic, but the only person making these interviews worth it is Porter. Specifically Porter saying, “My brother married one jumpy bitch.” Bassett as reenactment version is also glorious with lines like, “I may not have my badge, but mama’s still packin’.”
Anyway, there’s also a security system that only alerts the cellphone, not the house, so only Gooding knows robed old-timey people are in his house, not the two women actually in the house fighting over a wine bottle. There’s a weird person-pig snuff film thing. There’s Sarah Paulson hitting Kathy Bates with her car. There’s trees full of Blair Witch dolls. There’s the ground breathing. There’s Wes Bentley with a beard. It’s standard AHS stuff, totally great and watchable. Until they come back in with an interview and it’s like, oh wait, this is the other kind of standard AHS stuff which is completely brain-meltingly confusing in its WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS?-ness.
This is a cool plot. An interesting storyline. This concept and execution? Is dumb. So dumb. And so Ryan Murphy.
So, this first episode of AHS season six, already breaking my goddamn rating system, gets:
3 out of 5 crysterbaiting Dylan McDermotts
And 4/5 Franken-Peters.
See you next week.