'American Horror Story': Here's What the Theme of Season 6 Is

The sixth cycle of Ryan Murphy's FX anthology series finally revealed its theme and main cast with Wednesday's premiere.
Screengrab/FX
'American Horror Story' season 6

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the premiere episode of American Horror Story season six, "Chapter 1."]

The big mystery of American Horror Story has been solved, somewhat.

After weeks of "misdirect" teasers designed to turn the sixth season of the FX anthology series into a guessing game for viewers, Wednesday night's premiere finally revealed the theme and main cast for the hit Ryan Murphy show.

Murphy introduced the premiere with a pretaped message, saying, "Tonight we answer the question that's been haunting everybody. Think you've figured it out? Let's wait and see."

The episode then opened with a true crime-style docuseries centered on mixed-race couple Shelby (Lily Rabe), a gluten-free yogi, and her loving husband, Matt (Andre Holland). Titled "My Roanoke Nightmare," the TV special came with a warning — that the story was based on true events — and a dramatic reenactment. AHS regular Sarah Paulson and series newcomer Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed the couple in the flashback. 

The premiere episode continued to play in both the present and the past — something Murphy had previously teased about the super-secretive season. He also promised a narrative format unique to the series, which the show-within-a-show Roanoke treatment fulfills.

The story continues with Matt recalling a near-death experience and Shelby a subsequent miscarriage, prompting the pair to move out of Los Angeles and to a soon-to-be haunted mansion in Roanoke, N.C. — which horror fans will recognize as the site of the Lost Colony, where 117 people disappeared without explanation in 1590. 

It doesn't take long for the haunting to begin. The reenactment started as many haunting stories do, with Shelby and Matt in denial over unexplained attacks of vandalism and violence, Shining-like ghosts wandering the halls and even a bloody pig showing up on their doorstep.

Matt blames the events on hillbilly neighbors (one being Chaz Bono), but still calls his sister, Lee (Adina Porter), who is portrayed by returning castmember Angela Bassett in the reenactment, to stay with Shelby while he travels for work. Lee was a detective before she was kicked off the force over a prescription pill addiction.

Shelby and Lee have Matt return home after a disturbing break-in, and when Shelby leaves the house, she runs over a woman (Kathy Bates, also an AHS regular), who appears to be a Lost Colony ghost as she picks herself up off the road and displays colonial garb. Lost in the woods, Shelby is haunted by childlike Blair Witch-y figures that were similarly hung in her house, and the vision of the pig-headed man she saw earlier, before a man missing half of his head appears. Surrounded by figures bearing torches, Wes Bentley then emerges from the shadows. (Marti Matulis is credited as Piggy Man on IMDb.)

The episode abruptly ends there and the rolling credits reveal additional castmembers: Evan Peters, Denis O'Hare and Cheyenne Jackson. There were no previews for the second episode.

Though Lady Gaga had confirmed her return, her name was conspicuously missing from the credits, possibly indicating a smaller role for the "Perfect Illusion" singer.

Paulson and Bassett had vaguely confirmed their returns ahead of the premiere, but Gooding Jr. was the only one to offer up any tangible details about what to expect from his role. Bates had remained quiet.

“It’s really been a treat to finally engage with her on camera," he said about reuniting with People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story co-star Paulson. "When we did The People v. O.J., it was more about my scenes and then her scenes and us being in the courtroom but separate — but we’re not separate no more!”

The premiere featured a moment of intimacy between the pair, before they were interrupted by mysterious sounds in the house.

In a bid to switch things up after five seasons — which include Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show and Hotel — Murphy, who co-created the series with Brad Falchuk, and FX put AHS on lockdown, revealing only the premiere date and leaving all other details about season six under wraps. "Everything had to be hermetically sealed," Stephanie Gibbons, FX head of marketing, told The Hollywood Reporter about spearheading the unique campaign. The cable network stayed mum on the cast and, in a rare move, didn't even screen the premiere for the press.

Twenty-six trailers were released ahead of time and, after an apparent leak by both TV Guide and Rotten Tomatoes, the AHS fan base collectively eyed "The Mist" as the season six subtitle. One of the teasers, titled "The Mist," showed a creature crawling on a misty railroad track in a nod to the 1984 Stephen King classic.

But speculation also landed on the Lost Colony theme after photos, claiming to be of the AHS set, showed the word "Croatoan" carved into a tree, a reference to Roanoke.

Though the initial mystery has been solved, many question marks remain for the upcoming season, including the series' subtitle. AHS is always filled with surprises, and this season promises to be extra "twisty-turny."

It remains to be seen whether the format and story of Shelby and Matt will continue through the remainder of the season, as well as which of the other members from the AHS universe will pop up.

"You’ve read the first chapter, but it’s far from the end of the book," said Gibbons, adding that the promotion for the season will continue to be less explicit than in seasons past, so as to not spoil any upcoming plot points. "This season is very different — and I mean that in the most thrilling and awesome way — than anything that’s come before it."

Indeed, Murphy and FX are continuing to keep things shrouded in secrecy, as the cast won't be doing any interviews until the season ends.

Given Murphy's confirmation that the season will finally begin to tie together the mythology of the entire series — something long theorized and awaited by viewers — it's safe to say there is a lot riding on this sixth cycle. (Murphy has spoken about plans for a seventh and eighth cycle, but the series has yet to be renewed.)

"I won’t disagree with the fact that we are wondering, along with you, if this does increase live [viewership]," said Gibbons about expectations for premiere ratings. Regarding delayed viewing, she added, "Long ago, we adjusted to the fact that a view is a view. … However, I do think that when you create anticipation for an event, it might, for a portion of the audience, create a bigger degree of urgency."

AHS released the preview for next week on social media after the West Coast airing. The minutelong teaser shows more of Bates and introduces O'Hare as My Roanoke Nightmare continues — and gets more nightmare-ish. Watch below.

American Horror Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Keep up with THR's coverage for a weekly analysis on the latest AHS revelations and share your theories with THR in the comments.

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