American Horror Story “Chapter 2” Review (Season 6 Episode 2)

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As expected, “American Horror Story” continued its “Reality TV”-style format in week two, much to some people’s chagrin, no doubt, in “Chapter Two.” I maintain that it’s not going to be a full season thing, and that they will switch gears after the initial story is told, likely to tell another story in the same locale or to fill in the blanks about the one we’re seeing now.

For instance, we could get the “real” story about what’s going on with the people in the woods sans the re-enactment, and probably a little more on what happened with the nurses and then Dr. Elias Cunningham (Denis O’Hare), as well as that family he mentioned that didn’t stay put before he lived there.

As I also mentioned in my initial review, it would be cool if they incorporated more from the various promos they put out there, despite claiming that only one would be used. Interestingly, one of them- the one with the creature in the lake grabbing a girl, which can be seen in my last review as well- was kind of referenced on “Scream Queens,” which featured a mention of a “swamp monster” called the “Green Meanie.”

In addition to my theory, which seems to be the one most are leaning towards in the wake of the premiere, some have a neat one that has the actors in the re-enactment being plagued by “real” horrors after/during the shoot of “My Roanoke Nightmare” because they opted to shoot in the “real” location in which the events happened.

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Another, perhaps too literal one, has the re-enactments being shot in L.A. as part of the show by Billie Dean Howard (also played by Sarah Paulson) that was referenced in “Hotel,” thus tying it into that season, as well as “Murder House,” which it already resembles in some ways, as a sort of haunted house story.

I say too literal, because the theory’s evidence in some ways rests upon the fact that it “doesn’t look like it was shot in North Carolina,” which, of course, it wasn’t, but I don’t necessarily think L.A. when I see it, either, so that may just be a coincidence that resulted from the show not being able to fake NC accurately enough for some eagle-eyed viewers. I myself have never been there, so I couldn’t say, so I’ll have to take those who have at their word when they say it doesn’t.

I don’t hate that theory, but as it rests on something that may not have been intended- that it’s not supposed to look like NC, but an L.A. version of it- I’m taking it with a grain of salt. Besides, it might be one meta too many to have Paulson playing an actress that’s actually a medium IRL playing a “real” person in a re-enactment! But then again, Paulson did double duty in “Hotel”- and technically in “Freak Show”- so you never know. (Congrats to Paulson on the well-deserved- and long overdue- Emmy, BTW!)

Either way, for the time being, we continued on as expected, with the faux documentary “My Roanoke Nightmare” for “Chapter 2,” and I expect we will for at least one more week as well, until the tale of Matt and Shelby comes to a close. While I don’t hate the “mockumentary”-style framing, one inherent problem with it is that we already know that Matt, Shelby and Lee survive, making it a bit hard to suspend one’s belief that something could happen.

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In other words, we already know they all survive, or the “real” people who went through the “actual” events wouldn’t be narrating their own story. As such, we know all concerned are going to make it out alive, so it’s hard to feign concern for their well-being in the moment, which is a problem.

That said, it is a neat conceit for the time being, especially if, as I’ve predicted, it’s only in the short-term. If not…well, then, that’s a real problem, isn’t it? But like I said, I really don’t think they’ll keep this up for a full season, so hopefully, it won’t be an issue for long. Until then, I don’t mind it, even if I find myself wanting more in the long run and worry if that will indeed be the case.

This week, they introduced a “new” character, in that of Flora (Saniyya Sidney, “Roots”), Lee’s daughter, who comes to stay with her at the “farmhouse.” (Like Flora, I was a bit confused by that terminology as well, as it doesn’t look like your typical farmhouse, to say the least.) Needless to say, no sooner has she arrived than things take a turn for the spooky.

Lee catches Flora talking to a seemingly imaginary friend named Priscilla, who dresses in old-school clothes and who wants her to help her make a “bonnet” to “stop the blood.” Shortly thereafter, Lee hears something break. It’s a vase, but besides it is- you guessed it- an old-school bonnet. Yeah, that’s not a cause for concern.

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Meanwhile, Shelby, who somehow managed to escape whatever was going on in the forest, comes home relatively unscathed, with her husband. Among the things she witnessed in her frenzied attempts to get away: a man with his scalp shorn off, looking like the guy who suffered a similar fate in the original “Dawn of the Dead,” while what appeared to be Lady Gaga, looking worse for the wear, held his scalp in her hand and was intoning some chant or another.

Later, Kathy Bates, who Shelby thought she’d run down in her car previously, held court over a group of ragged settler-looking types, as they decided the fate of a man that was tied to a large branch. We see that at least one of his hands has already been cut off, if not both, and then something was nailed to his back.

Bates’ character, speaking in a wacky accent, as per usual, determines that the man is guilty of stealing from them and trying to desert them, and places a pig’s head on his and then has him placed over a burning campfire, as in a spit roast.

The man catches on fire, becoming a human kabob in the process, and Bates’ character spots Shelby and everyone gives chase, including a character played by Wes Bentley, and possibly one played by Evan Peters, who crops up in the credits. (Peters could also possibly be the man that terrorizes Dr. Cunningham in his video, as a leaked on-set photo reveals that he has a long, scraggly beard, which the person who comes after the doctor has as well.)

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After nearly being run down by Lee as she emerges from the woods, which seemed to come alive themselves at one point (in the first episode, it seemed as if the ground itself was breathing and moving as well), Shelby is temporarily hospitalized, but let go the next day, as her injuries are minor at best.

Deciding it was the hillbilly-types after all, she opts to stay and “fight,” even after Matt offers to understandably move elsewhere. Be that as it may, you have to wonder why Lee would have her kid brought there, given that, even if one didn’t believe that there were ghosts about, which none of them seem to just yet, they do know for a fact that people are messing with them, to the point of coming inside the house with pitchforks and torches and hanging up freaky stick people everywhere.

Things don’t improve when, after hearing that pig squeal noise, Matt and Shelby go to investigate things in the woods that night, finding a massive stick figure effigy with a pig’s head on top set on fire, which Matt turns over in anger. There’s also various “meats” hung up all over the campsite, that may not be animal meat, though a pig does run out of the woods at one point.

This finally gets the local cops’ attention, who station a police guard on site in the driveway until they can track down the Polks, aka the hillbilly-types that Matt outbid for the house. Later that night, Matt hears a phone ring and answers it, hearing a voice that sound like his wife’s begging him to help because “they’re hurting me.” One problem: the phone is unplugged.

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Then Matt sees the same two nurses Shelby saw in the previous episode. There’s a bed in the dining room, with an old lady named Margaret (Irene Roseen, “Star Trek”) in it, who is refusing to take her medicine. One of the nurses pulls out a gun and promptly shoots her and the two nurses laugh, then one spray paints the letter “M” on the wall. Neither respond to Matt’s pleas.

Matt hastily retrieves the cop from outside, but naturally, nothing is there when they return, so Matt is forced to chalk it up as a nightmare. Or worse, the after-effect of his injury back in L.A. Either way, he’s left shaken, knowing that something crazy is going on in the house, hallucination or not.

The next day, Mason (Charles Malik Whitfield, “Empire”) comes to retrieve his daughter, who is nowhere to be found. As she used to play impromptu games of hide-and-seek with the two, they don’t think too much of it, and proceed to look for her within the house. They find her in a small enclosure with a tiny door that reminded me of where Harry Potter lived with the Dursleys.

Flora informs them that she was in the process of making a deal with Priscilla- her doll in exchange for not killing them all, with Flora saved for last- but that they interrupted her before she could finish. Needless to say, Mason is horrified and pulls Flora out of there and tells Lee that she will never set foot in the house again.

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This sets Lee off, who falls off the wagon and gets drunk. Her brother finds her and puts her to bed, while Shelby laments the fact that she seemingly threw a bunch of cutlery into the ceiling, which, of course, Lee insists she didn’t do. So, how much you want to bet at least one of those knives comes down at an inopportune moment, “Paranormal Activity”-style?

Upon returning downstairs at his wife’s behest, Matt joins her at the window, where he confirms seeing a little girl in the yard, standing there, beckoning them to come outside. They do, and though the girl is gone, they find the door to a root cellar, where it appears someone has been living. Turning on a TV there, they watch another videotape, obviously left behind by the same guy as the one from before.

It’s Dr. Elias Cunningham, who is in fear for his life, convinced someone- or something- is out to get him. Scared to go back to the house, he’s been living there in the cellar in the meantime. He says that the video will serve as what might be his last testament, and that he is a writer there to do a book on two accused killers, sisters by the name of Miranda and Bridget Jane.

It’s currently, at the time of filming, October 11, 1997, and he’s been there two months doing the research on his subjects. The sisters formerly worked at a assisted living facility before being suspected of killing two elderly patients and hightailing it out of there. They then moved to the farmhouse, where they opened a facility of their own, with some weird qualifiers to be accepted into it.

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It seems they were specifically looking for patients whose families were clearly looking for a place to “store” their respective parents until they died. Even weirder, the patients in question were only accepted if their names started with a particular letter. It seems that they were spelling out their favorite word: Murder. With each death, they would spray paint a letter of the word on the dining room wall, and they thought that each murder would add one lifetime to their own.

However, something had happened to cause them to stop before completing their quest, leaving the word incomplete as “murde.” On October 29th, 1989, cops were called in to investigate, as no one at the facility had answered the phones in several weeks and some of the families were concerned. The sisters were gone, with no personal items that could be used to track them down left behind- just the bodies of their victims.

Oddly, when realtors painted over the red letters in the dining room, they kept reappearing. Eventually, they gave up and simply wallpapered over them. This strikes a chord with Matt, given what he saw, so he rushed back to the house and tears off the wallpaper, and sure enough, the incomplete word is still there, right where he thought he saw the nurses before.

Returning to the videotape, Dr. Cunningham says that he thinks something even more evil than the nurses stopped them, and that it’s likely in the house, or in the woods surrounding them. He goes to look for it in the house, only to find what appears to be a bearded man jumping out at him, possibly from the dumbwaiter, from the looks of things. The camera then goes dead and that’s all for that footage.

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Of course, this begs the question: how did the tape and camera get back to the cellar? And who- or what- attacked Dr. Cunningham? The other tape Lee and Shelby found in the basement might have been made after that, so it could have been Dr. C. himself who put the things back, but if he was scared to go back to the house, how did THAT tape get there?

Lots of questions there, which is why I think the show will go back and fill-in-the-blanks later, once Matt, Shelby and Lee’s story is done. There’s also that family Dr. C. mentioned, who lived there 15 years before him and who left on the fly, leaving all their belongings behind after only living there a brief period of time, a la “The Amityville Horror.” Might they have also taped some of their experiences, with the footage to be found later on?

While all this is going on, Lee feels like someone is watching her, but when she looks, no one is there. (We see the nurses hovering over her, however.) She gets up and goes into the hallway, where she sees- or thinks she does- a bunch of what looks to be pig-tails nailed on the wall, which are still moving. One of them looks strangely like a baby’s arm, which was certainly disturbing.

Lee turns to run, only to come face-to-face with the Pig Man in the mirror, who also disappears when she turns to face him. Similarly, Matt and Shelby hear a noise after they finish the tape and look around to see a bloody butcher knife embedded in the door.

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The next day, Shelby and Matt go to the bank to try and get their money back, saying that it was a dupe because they never told them that murders had occurred there, but the banker says that they’re not realtors, and that they need to take it up with their own, advising them to sell if they can.

Even worse, Lee kindaps Flora and brings her back to the house, which was a stupid move. I can see where she’d want to do something like that in her grief, but why in the world would you take that child back to a house in which she said someone was trying to kill her and everyone else? The stupid behavior of people in the horror genre never ceases to amaze me.

Shelby talks to Mason and tells him Flora is fine, and pleads with him to go easy on Lee, given the circumstances. Lee apologizes for putting her brother in this position and goes to say goodbye to Flora, only to- naturally- find her missing. Flora has followed her “friend” Priscilla off into the woods, which is where all concerned end up to look for her.

As we see more pig-tails nailed to a tree nearby, we hear Lee scream and when Matt and Shelby rush to her side, they see what she sees: Flora’s sweater impossibly high up, resting at the top of a lofty tree. This is where we leave things, so count on at least one more week of “My Roanoke Nightmare.”

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This was another decent enough episode, albeit with some dubious moves made by all concerned. Sure, one could say if they didn’t do those things, we wouldn’t have the horror that follows, but still…way to be idiots, Matt, Shelby and Lee. That said, there was some undeniably nightmarish imagery, from the disembodied, wriggling pig parts to the hanging meat of unknown origin to the disquieting scene in the woods with Kathy Bates and company.

Yes, the latter bordered on cartoonish- I found myself thinking of one of those Looney Tunes cartoons where someone is being spit-roasted by cannibals- but there was also something disturbing about it beyond the obvious context. I think it might have been Lady Gaga’s growling intonations, which I couldn’t quite understand, but creeped me out a bit, nonetheless.

Beyond that, it was standard horror stuff, equals parts “Amityville” and “Blair Witch,” with a healthy dose of “Hills Have Eyes” and maybe something like “Cannibal Holocaust” or the like. I’m quite sure I’ve seen the whole “words on the walls that will never quite disappear no matter how many times you paint over them” thing before in a horror movie as well, though I can’t quite recall which one. (I did see an amusing variation of it in the recent comedy “Sisters,” for sure, where it was a spray-painted penis that never quite went away!)

Still, like I said, in the short-term, the “Paranormal Witness”-style formatting is kind of neat, and even though I hope it ends sooner than later, it’s been fun while it’s lasted. I think it’s the sort of thing that will play better in retrospect, once you see where all this is headed, personally, but until then, I can understand some people’s frustrations with it.

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What did you think of the latest “American Horror Story”? Are you down with the format? Or are you already over it? If it is going to wrap up soon, what do you hope to see next? More “found footage”? Or flashbacks? Or something else entirely? Sound off down below, and let me know where you think this is all headed in the comments section, and I’ll see you next week!