‘American Horror Story’ Season 6 Theme Explained: Is It an Anthology Inside an Anthology?

     September 15, 2016


After stringing fans along for the past month, FX finally let them have their fix by revealing the theme for American Horror Story Season 6 on Wednesday night — but even that wasn’t as straightforward as we would’ve liked it to be.

As it turns out, TMZ was right. The Hollywood tabloid with a record of steel published a series of alleged set photos a while back that revealed the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree, which more than suggested the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Colony of North Carolina would play a part. Sure enough, a few scenes into the premiere episode revealed a title card reading, “My Roanoke Nightmare,” accompanied by a logo treatment of a tree with red-colored vines snaking under the earth.

It all harkens back to Season 1, when Sarah Paulson’s psychic character Billie Dean uttered:

ahs-logo-treatmentIt’s difficult to banish a spirit, but not impossible. The most successful attempt I know of happened when America was known as the new world. In 1590, on the coast of what we now know as North Carolina, the entire colony of Roanoke — all 117 men, women, and children — died inexplicably. It became known as the ghost colony because the spirits remained. They haunted the native tribes living in the surrounding areas. Killing indiscriminately. The elder knew he had to act. He cast a banishment curse. First he collected the personal belongings of all the dead colonists. Then they burned them. The ghosts appeared, summoned by their talismans. But before the spirits could cause them any more harm, the elder completed the curse that would banish the ghosts forever. By uttering a single word. The same word found carved on a post at the abandoned colony: ‘Croatoan.’

How does this factor into Season 6? The premiere episode revealed itself to be a documentary-style reenactment of one couple’s horrific experience living in a house built at Roanoke. Lily Rabe and Andre Holland portrayed Shelby (a yoga instructor) and Matt Miller (a traveling pharmaceutical salesman), an interracial couple chronicling their story for the cameras, while Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed the actors playing them in the reenactment.

And that should be that, right? We should know exactly what this season will entail? Wrong. The question mark logo for Season 6 wasn’t kidding around, there are still loads of questions to be asked. Perhaps, that’s even a good thing. AHS was seriously slacking in quality over the years, with each season seemingly getting worse and worse. But what remained consistent were the puzzling teasers. At best, they were more entertaining than the seasons themselves.

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. While we know what the general theme is, there’s still the question of which teaser is the real one? FX boss John Landgraf told press at the TCAs that most of the promos were misdirects to hide the truth of Season 6. The network even kickstarted a competition for fans to guess the theme, and a winner was announced as the new season commenced. But what if it was more complicated than that? What if the real truth was that all the teasers were somehow connected to Season 6, after all? It would certainly reflect the “It’s all connected” vibe of AHS. Let’s dive in:

The Movies

Image via FX

Image via FX

It all begins with the tale of Shelby and Matt, who are attacked while walking towards a movie theater. The Orpheum Theater’s “Now Playing” sign promotes a movie called “Crimson Harvest.” A quick Google search unearths a Murder, She Wrote episode about the killing of a winery merchant’s son and a rival vintner, which probably wouldn’t be screening at a theater. Nevertheless, most of the teasers were reflective of various horror movies. It’s under this theater sign where Matt is attacked by a group of boys following that deplorable “knockout” trend that was a thing for a bit.

The Crib


Image via FX

In the hospital, Shelby grips Matt’s unconscious hand in the hopes that he’ll wake again. He does, but her moment of joy is tainted as a line of blood trickles down her leg. Matt’s voiceover reveals she lost the baby she was carrying, which could possibly be a reference to one of the first teasers released for the season of a demon baby hand reaching up out of a crib.

Later in the episode, an actual crib is revealed. Angela Bassett plays the reenactor playing Matt’s sister, a cop whose career was destroyed after she became addicted to pain medication. It all stems from the moment she busted a drug house and after weaving through the passed-out users, she found a wailing infant in a crib in the basement. The scene lasted but a moment as she was shot in the arm.

The Teeth


Image via FX

Matt’s sister enters the tale because Shelby experienced unexplainable occurrences and she didn’t feel safe alone while Matt traveled. One of the first occurrences was some iffy weather pattern. Shelby goes outside when it seems like hail is pouring down on her house only to realize it’s not hail but teeth, which is what comprised the eerie wind chime of one particular promo. A nurse wielding sheers chopped the strings and showered the wooden floor of her porch with teeth.

When Shelby experienced another strange occurrence, a wind chime was seen and heard dangling in the distance.

The Harvest


Image via FX

This “Wind Chime” teaser was screened just before FX announced the winner of the Season 6 theme challenge, seemingly indicating that this was the one true teaser to rule them all. Closer examination of that video revealed the wind chime to be bedecked with voodoo dolls made of straw a la True Detective. These same dolls made another appearance in a different teaser: “The Harvest” featured a small pack of straw men resembling these dolls marching along a corn field while a shadowed figure holding a sickle walked a few paces back.

In the premiere episode, Shelby and Matt’s sister escape from the basement and find the main staircase of their house decorated with these same dolls. Shelby sees them again at the very end of the episode when she’s lost in the woods.

The Mist


Image via FX

TV Guide fanned speculation about “The Mist” being the subtitle for Season 6 when the magazine had apparently leaked the title in its program schedule. Perhaps it could still be true. Before many of the happenings, a strange mist crept up around the house: Matt wandered out into it and saw a half-eaten and bloodied trash can thrown at him by something unseen, while it lingered around Shelby in the hot tub and later again in the woods

The Spiders


Image via FX

For all the arachnophobes out there, no spiders were present in the premiere, but their presence was felt. If you recall, a promo for Season 6 featured spiders crawling out of a woman’s eyes, their legs casting a spider-web pattern just beyond the lids of her pale skin.

Some of the most striking architectural anomalies in the house were windows bearing the same pattern: the window above Shelby and Matt’s bedroom when they were having sex, the window above the hallway when Shelby went to investigate a noise after chopping carrots, even the breast-shaped windows when Shelby was doing yoga. One could even consider the voodoo dolls as reiterations of this imagery, since they dangled like spiders in a web of string.

The Pool and The Pilgrims


Image via FX

Some of the other AHS alums returning include Kathy Bates and Wes Bentley, both playing some of the mysterious torch-wielding pilgrims that haunted Shelby. Bates’ apparition first appeared to strangle Shelby while she floated in her outdoor hot tub. While the Misery actress wasn’t the Creature From the Black Lagoon, she did channel that oddly Scream Queens-esque promo of a sorority girl drowning in a pool of water. Sure, she eventually fell in love with her attacker, but the general set up remains the same.

Another of these promos also featured a shadowy family — a mother, father, and daughter — with glowing green eyes walking towards the camera as the sun set on an open field. The family appeared to be wearing colonial garb, and that’s the case with Bates and Bentley.



Image via FX

This one is a stretch (for now) but in the scene in which Shelby and Matt’s sister find themselves locked in the basement, a mysterious white light is shown glowing through the window outside. This could arguably be the same light above the hot tub, but perhaps it could be mimicking the glowing light of the alien abduction promo, the one where a camper was violently pulled out of his sleep.

The House

Looking even further back to the beginning of the marketing blitz, one video among the very first featured a house in the middle of a field. Smoke poured out of the chimney, while the sound of a chainsaw revved and the caption in the video’s title read, “What’s Cooking?” Shelby mentioned multiple times how cooking helped her calm down, even though it seems to be a new habit.

Radiation Fallout


Image via FX


Image via FX

Some of the early Reddit theories on the Season 6 theme involved radiation fallout, and teasers for “The Mist,” “Tide,” and “Sunset Stroll” seemed to reinforce that. The presence of hillbillies, as Matt referred to them, in the premiere also raises some eyebrows with their Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn vibes.

As Shelby and Matt celebrate the purchase of their new house, the camera pans back behind a tree to reveal someone with blackened flesh staring at them. That coloring is reminiscent of the “Tide” promo in which a black substance spreads across someone’s leg.

The Stairs

Following the premiere, FX released a sneak peek of the next episode. But if you didn’t feel like staying up until 2 a.m. EST, here it is. The footage basically sees more of Bates’ pilgrim as she commands her fellow ghosts to seize Shelby. There’s also events involving some sort of medium and talk of human sacrifice and devil worship, but to shake things up is Matt’s sister bringing her daughter into the picture.

One interesting image is at the 28-second mark where Flora sees a creepy basement door and is staring down the darkened stairwell. Look familiar? Perhaps it’s a reference to the teaser video in which hands jut out from beneath the steps.

With Season 6, it seems like FX has found a way to keep that air of mystery going past the premiere. It feels as if AHS created an anthology series within an anthology series — as in, each episode or pair of episodes could hypothetically feature a different group chronicling their own Roanoke Nightmare. Or the whole season could stick with Shelby and Matt. We don’t really know except to say bravo, Ryan Murphy. Bravo!


Image via FOX