Before American Horror Story Season 6 became Roanoke, there were plans to revolve it around an American Civil War theme, which would have been better.
Before American Horror Story Season 6 became Roanoke, there were plans to revolve it around an American Civil War theme, which would have been better. Roanoke, after all, is a bit of a hit or miss season, with a strong beginning that quickly erodes into hillbilly nonsense. Given that, there are a number of interesting things that could have been done with the Civil War theme that fit into Murphy's series perfectly.
American Horror Story: Roanoke followed what some believe is the series' worst season, Hotel. American Horror Story season 5 is a bit of a mixed bag that can't help but show how the series was beginning to lose steam and focus. Critics had already flagged season 4, Freak Show, as a notable drop in quality, and Hotel, with its meandering storyline and Lady Gaga orgies, did little to persuade otherwise. For this reason, season 6 had to be strong and take the series in a different direction. Showrunner Ryan Murphy settled on Roanoke, a theme based on the mysterious disappearance of American colonists on the island of Roanoke. It's not a bad idea to base a season around, but Roanoke's show within a show format turns the entire thing into a found footage mess that could have been so much more.
In a recent interview with Gay Times, Cheyenne Jackson revealed that the original theme for American Horror Story season 6 was going to be the American Civil War before it became Roanoke. The idea was to base the season around the surreal and dreamy quality of Nicola Kidman's The Others, which also takes place during the Civil War. There are so many things that could have been done with this. Rather than falling into a cliche and tiresome found-footage disaster, the season could have elevated the scares by following a more creepy, surreal theme. The Civil War theme could have taken the series in the different direction it needed, without bashing audience members over the head with gore and over-the-top, torture-porn scares.
Part of what made American Horror Story so popular in the first place was the subtle and creepy quality of early seasons. From the beginning, it was obvious that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck knew their horror movies, including some of the filming techniques that make the horror genre unique. The first two seasons (Murder House and Asylum) used surreal storytelling techniques and ambiguities to leave audiences truly freaked out. The Civil War theme could have been done in much the same way. Following the horror classic The Others, soldiers could have returned from the war confused and displaying strange behavior, not knowing that they were ghosts who had already died. Similarly, the fog could have been used as a sort of living essence where audience members never knew what was real and what wasn't when it came along.
There are also a number of horrific accounts from the Civil War that could have made for great episodes of American Horror Story. For instance, common medical practices at the time involved bloodletting and amputation, which would have added realistic gore without having to go over the top. Also, many soldiers suffered from PTSD symptoms that led them to do irrational things, such as Owen Flaherty, who was driven insane by his experiences and was known to shout that the enemy was coming when no hostile force was anywhere near.
What's more, there are several ghost stories based around the Civil War that could have been drawn upon for inspiration, such as Dangerfield Newby, the first person to die in the Raid of Harper's Ferry, his ghost seen wandering the streets aimlessly with a large gash in his throat. There's also Devil's Rock, a formation located on the field of battle in Gettysburg, where ghosts bare-footed and wearing floppy hats have been witnessed. Accounts claim an apparition says, "What you're looking for is over there," before vanishing into thin air. Even the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, that many claim to have seen around the spot of his assassination, could have been used in the season. If American Horror Story had stuck to its roots and focused on producing a season of creepy and surreal scares, the Civil War theme for season 6 could have been the best yet.