This post contains spoilers for the ninth episode of American Horror Story: Roanoke.
On American Horror Story, the definition of "dead" is... loose. A haunted homeowner can have his neck slit and reappear fresh-faced and ethereal a few episodes later. A nurse can slam into a wall with lethal force only to resurface possessed by demonic forces. Or take Roanoke, where characters go missing in the cannibal hillbilly woods and swing by like it's no big thing; where an enchanted murderer can take a few stabs to the chest and pop up in the final 10 minutes to stalk her prey; an actress, cleavered in the shoulder, can fall 15 feet to the ground, climb up a 400-year-old ladder, and reenter the fray. They can also all die again, horribly. This the Ryan Murphy way -- and it's devilish fun.
As we've come to expect from seasons past, the penultimate episode of Roanoke played like a finale, with twists and turns and several yards of spilling small intestines. After rewiring itself in the sixth episode as the Big Brother-like reality series Return to Roanoke, a sequel series to the reenacted My Roanoke Nightmare, Murphy set a burning question in motion: what we were about to see was "found footage," recovered from a meltdown scenario on set where only one person survived. Who would stick it out until the end? We'd watch Evan Peters' budding A-lister Rory Monahan, Cheyenne Jackson's TV producer Sidney, André Holland's horny witch-lover Matt, Lily Rabe's struggling wife Shelby, Kathy Bates' unhinged thespian Agnes, and Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Hollywood hotshot Dominic all bleed out before we'd have room to guess.
Three remained going into "Chapter 9": Angela Basset's Monet, Sarah Paulson's Audrey, and Adina Porter's Lee. So, clearly, it was time for Murphy to add more characters and pile on the fake-outs.
Could the "lone survivor" be Dylan, the My Roanoke Nightmare reenactor played by Wes Bentley, who served two tours in Afghanistan and apparently Ubered his way to the Roanoke house? No. Not even close -- the Polks did him in, then the Butcher did him in a second time. But he did provide a splash of hilarity in a rather bleak episode.
Then there was the long-awaited appearance by show alum Taisa Farmiga, as Sophie, a proxy of every sharp-eyed fan digging for clues and posting to the AHS subreddit. Along with her destined-to-be-slaughtered cohorts Todd and Milo (Jacob Artist and Jon Bass), Sophie rummaged through the wilderness set of My Roanoke Nightmare looking for murderous evidence to feed her Instagram followers. She got it -- while we all thought one of the remaining Return to Roanoke cast members would die at the hands of the Butcher, the three kids became the targets, dropped in to the series like goats into a velociraptor pen. They never stood a chance (but their iCloud livestream tipped off the cops -- thanks, millennials!).
Last week, we (and many other Sophie-like American Horror Story viewers) predicted Lee would be the holdout among the group, the only character with enough of a story arc to deserve a payoff in the finale. Murphy was one step ahead of us, turning her character into a swinging pendulum of dead/not dead. Her first "demise" comes as Audrey and Monet discover her confessional tape. Maybe this is it for Lee. She did kill her husband, after all. The Witch has other plans. One pig heart later, Lee is a servant of the supernatural, hunting down Sophie and the kids as a ramp-up to her real targets.
We see Lee compromised a second time. After hurling Monet over the rails, Lee turns her attention to Audrey, who stakes her through the chest without hesitation. The beauty of Roanoke's found-footage format is that no one dies ceremoniously. In "Chapter 8," Dominic died in a close-up shaking in and out of frame. The mayhem was pixelated enough that you could theorize he was alive. The blurred reality gave us plenty of reason to think Audrey was the survivor. Unfortunately, she only makes it so far. Just as she reaches the Witch's cellar, Lee bolts in from behind, slicing her arm and pushing her to the floor. We have a victor!
Or not. There's always a twist with Murphy, and it comes after we watch Sophie and Todd staked up the butt and set on fire. How does a found-footage show cut to a God's-eye view of the ritualistic killing? Murphy doesn't linger, but don't fret: Reddit's on the case (groupthink says it's a Coven callback).
Murphy toys with our emotions once more, as cops speed to the scene to find Lee, who doesn't seem injured or able to recall the events of the prior night. Audrey also emerges from the cellar -- the competition isn't over yet. Until it is: Audrey grabs a policeman's gun to try and take out Lee once and for all. The rest of the squad takes her down in a barrage of bullets. As Sophie waxed poetic on My Roanoke Nightmare's exploration of interracial dynamics in a post-racial world, there's something to be said that the white main character in Roanoke died in a don't-think-just-shoot scenario protecting a black woman, the inverse of everything we witness in real life, but Murphy isn't about to unpack that in the text of his episode. This is a climax, and a brutal one, declaring confirmed murderer Lee as the ultimate victor. So what's next?
As promised, American Horror Story: Asylum character Lana Winters, also played by Sarah Paulson, returns to the show next week, interviewing Lee in a live television event. The preview for the episode looks, and we have to imagine purposefully, like scenes out of Murphy's recent American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. Lee's on trial. The evidence is there. The media's all over it. And knowing Murphy, there will be twists aplenty. Maybe she'll even die for real.
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