Ahs Season 6: A Radical Reinvention

Taylor Malatesta

Last Wednesday, the long-awaited season six of FX’s hit anthology series “American Horror Story” premiered.

After being kept in the dark about the show’s theme, plot, characters and cast — all of which are typically revealed in the months leading up to each season’s premiere —  many fans found themselves in a state of shock and confusion following season 6’s debut. 

As promised by show runner Ryan Murphy, this season of AHS is shaping up to be a radical reinvention for the popular FX franchise.  This reinvention is especially evident in the dramatic new format of the show’s storytelling.

For the first time in the show’s history, AHS is being filmed in the style of a mockumentary in which actors, like AHS veteran Lily Rabe, recount their terrifying paranormal encounters in Roanoke in the style of shows like “My Ghost Story.” Meanwhile, other actors, like longtime cast member Sarah Paulson, serve to reenact the “true tales” being told by the paranormal witnesses on “My Roanoke Nightmare:” the show within a show in this season of AHS. 

Although this frame narrative approach to Season 6 may be totally unexpected and unique, much of the show’s content and even its tone, is incredibly reminiscent of past seasons.  AHS season 6 may be novel in form, but other than that, much of what we have seen of season 6’s premiere is more or less what we have seen in past seasons.

Much like the tree in the credit image of “My Roanoke Nightmare,” this season’s roots run deep.  As a part of the interconnected universe that Ryan Murphy has built with each season of Horror Story, this installment, naturally, has countless subtle and not-so-subtle traces of past seasons in it.  

In fact, much of the setting, conflict and character details presented in the season 6 premiere seem to have undeniable parallels to previous seasons, notably Murder House and Asylum.  

Like Murder House, the series’ first installment, season 6 is centered on a couple that moves across the country in the hopes of starting a new life, only to find their dreams swiftly dashed. Like Murder House’s Vivian and Ben, AHS season 6’s Shelby and Matt move into a relatively cheap, clearly haunted house, to which the previous, deceased owners are eternally bound. 

The result is a terrifying haunting that leaves the wives in both Murder House and season 6 ready to flee, only to be halted in their quest for escape by a lack of money and stubborn husbands. Let’s just say that if this season ends anything like Murder House did, things are surely not looking good for Matt and Shelby. 

Furthermore, the discrimination Matt and Shelby face as an interracial couple, as well as subtle hints at Shelby’s potential mental instability, are reminiscent of Asylum’s major plot points and conflicts surrounding issues of racism and insanity. 

These striking similarities between AHS season 6 and previous seasons are only a few among the many classic AHS tropes and storylines present in the new season.  

So, why, then, do these familiar archetypes seem so fresh and original?  Undoubtedly the show’s new format makes this season seem like nothing we have ever seen before.  However, it is strangely the remarkable tonal similarities to AHS’s early seasons that make such common archetypes seem so novel. 

The past few seasons, particularly Coven, Freak Show and Hotel, seem to have diverged, tonally, more into the realm of camp than of the primal, dark, claustrophobic horror of the series’ earliest installments. 

Coven, for example, featured more camp and glamour than it did the true horror of its predecessors.  Freak Show and Hotel featured large, over extended casts. 

As a result, these seasons focused a bit too widely on too many unfocused storylines, leaving many loose ends untied by the seasons’ finale. More than just an oversized cast, Hotel, also it seems, concentrated more greatly, and at times unnecessarily, on gore and grandeur for the sake of shock and aesthetic pleasure. 

Without the tone of the show’s original, pure and simplistic horror stories, nor and without the complex, rich and deeply developed characters and storylines of initial seasons, it seems that the more recent seasons of AHS have lost touch with the true essence of Horror Story.

But AHS season 6 feels different, or more so the same, if you will.  Ultimately, it seems as though with season 6 we are now returning to something unsettlingly familiar, disguised by new techniques in storytelling and highlighted by reminiscences of the series’ first two seasons.  

The result is truly AHS in all its rogue, dark, disturbingly brilliant glory;  back, it seems, to the early days of the Horror Story viewers knew and loved. 

Yes, AHS is finally back and perhaps stronger than ever. That being said, this is still AHS, after all, the show where anything can, and usually does, happen, so I suppose only time will tell.  Either way, this season promises to be something truly unforgettable.