American Horror Story repeatedly ties itself up in so many ridiculous knots you would think the last thing Ryan Murphy would want to do is further expand its tangled web. And yet after much speculation the showrunner confirmed back in 2014 that each chapter of the horror anthology does indeed inhabit the same shared universe.
With the recent 30-second trailer for My Roanoke Nightmare interlinking all six seasons, Murphy still seems committed to this ambitious idea. But unless you’ve gone through each episode with a fine-toothed comb, it’s unlikely that you would have spotted all the connections teased so far. From characters jumping from one season to the next to the use of surnames and locations too frequent to be coincidental, here’s a look at 15 times that the FX show suggested that the events of Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, Hotel and Roanoke all occurred within the same twisted world.
15 The Roanoke colony reference
American Horror Story often appears as though Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk are simply making it up on the spot, so it seems unlikely that they would have ever planned five episodes ahead, let alone five entire seasons. And yet there’s an episode of 2011’s Murder House which does in fact foreshadow the entire theme of the 2016 season, Roanoke.
In "Birth", Paulson’s psychic Billie Dean Howard attempts to cast a spell that will banish Zachary Quinto’s rubber suit-wearing villain Chad. She mentions that the spell in question was first used by a native tribe to get rid of the ghosts of the Roanoke colony members that had been haunting them. Sadly, for Violet, the spell, which involves burning possessions and repeatedly chanting the word "Croatoan" doesn’t work, and Chad smugly argues that all banishment spells are in fact fake. There's no doubt that his theory will be tested once again in the near future.
14 The Piggy Man
The opening episode of Roanoke was arguably one of American Horror Story’s finest: a back-to-basics, yet hugely effective haunted house tale. The premiere wisely eschewed the series’ usual "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach, while also cleverly introducing a meta angle that perfectly captures the current demand for all things true crime. However, the genuinely creepy The Blair Witch Project-meets-The Amityville Horror story didn’t leave the past events of American Horror Story completely behind.
Indeed, in the scene in which Shelby (Sarah Paulson) and her warring sister-in-law Lee (Angela Bassett) are led down to the basement by the sounds of their apparent intruders, but instead find grainy disturbing video footage of a man wearing a pig’s head in the woods. Piggy Man was, of course, the urban legend that made Eric Stonestreet’s troubled Derrick deathly afraid of looking into mirrors in Murder House’s sixth episode, "Piggy Piggy".
13 Billie Dean Howard
Sarah Paulson has become such an integral part of American Horror Story that it’s easy to forget that she was only really a bit-part player in the very first series. The Emmy-winning actress first showed up in the aforementioned "Piggy Piggy" episode of Murder House as Billie Dean Howard, a psychic hired by Constance (Jessica Lange) to help her dead son Tate move on to the next world. Howard actually turned out to be the real deal, so it’s perhaps not too surprising when we find out in "Birth" that she’s landed her own reality show on the Lifetime network.
Howard’s TV show is obviously something of a hit, as it’s still going by the time we see her re-enter the fray in the season finale of Hotel. This time around, she’s speaking to the ghost of Wes Bentley’s serial killer John on a special Devil’s Night-themed episode, only to be threatened by him and a motley crew of real-life murderers if she ever speaks of the Hotel Cortez again.
12 The shows within a show
Of course, Billie Dean Howard’s reality show is hardly the only time we see character played by Paulson concluding her storyline with a of connection to the small screen. In Asylum, we see her Lana Winters, now an aging former television reporter, giving an in-depth interview about her horrific experiences at Briarcliff from her lavish New York apartment.
In the closing "Seven Wonders" episode of Coven, Paulson’s Supreme, Cordelia, also decides to reveal all about her witch academy in a public television interview. While during the flash-forward ending of Freak Show, we last see conjoined twins Bette and Dot watching Elsa’s sacrificial Halloween special as it airs live on TV. And with the central premise of Roanoke appearing to revolve around the "talking heads and dramatic reacreation" format of a true crime documentary, it seems pretty likely that TV will also play a significant part in Paulson’s character’s story for a sixth season running.
11 Pepper’s crossover
For all of Paulson’s dominance, she wasn’t the first cast member to play the same character in two different seasons. That honor went to Naomi Grossman, the Denver actress whose only previous TV experience had been single episodes of Father Dowling Mysteries and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. We first saw her playing the microcephalic Pepper in the first episode of Asylum, where she serves as a model inmate, has her intelligence upgraded to genius level during an alien abduction, and eventually dies of pulmonary fibrosis in 1966.
However, in Freak Show we discover the harrowing story of how Pepper ended up in Briarcliffe in the first place. It turns out that, after her performing partner Salty died, Pepper moved in with her disdainful sister and brother-in-law, the latter of whom then framed her for the murder of his disfigured and unwanted child, Lucas. Pepper is subsequently found guilty and sent to the asylum, and the rest is AHS history.
10 Sister Mary Eunice
Pepper appeared to open the floodgates for all sorts of American Horror Story characters to come crawling back out of the woodwork. In fact, Pepper’s tragic Freak Show storyline was entirely responsible for reintroducing Asylum’s Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) to the fold. Sister Eunice is shown affording Pepper some leniency during her early days in Briarcliffe after believing Pepper has shown remorse, albeit for a murder she didn’t commit.
Of course, by that point we all know that Sister Mary Eunice won't remain the asylum’s kindest employee, though admittedly through no fault of her own. In Asylum, the nun becomes possessed by a demon following the death of its previous host. She inevitably turns into a wicked manipulative entity who murders inmates without question, spearheads St. Jude’s downfall, and plots to take over the Vatican before falling to her death-- thanks to a little push from from the Monsignor.
9 Dr. Arden
One of the most disturbing elements of Asylum was watching the gentle giant from the family friendly movie Babe play a Nazi war criminal-turned-perverse and barbaric physician who had no qualms about deforming and disfiguring inmates in the name of both science and pleasure. It’s to James Cromwell’s credit that you soon forgot about his sheep-herding pig-friendly past and developed a deep sense of loathing every time his abhorrent character, Dr. Arden, shows up on screen.
Of course, having been responsible for the running of a concentration camp during World War II, Dr. Arden had a rich history of deplorable behaviour, which we later witnessed in Freak Show. Operating then under his real name of Hans Gruber, the doctor is the man who amputated circus master Elsa Mars’ legs with saws in the early 1930s, during the recording of a snuff film. He then captured and tortured her vengeful lover, Massimo Dolcefino.
8 Marcy the Realtor
Played by Christina Estabrook, Marcy became the next American Horror Story character to cross seasons when she showed up in the premiere of Hotel. Unfortunately, her experience at the Hotel Cortez wasn’t likely to result in a glowing review on TripAdvisor. After facilitating Will Drake’s new ownership of the premises the day that her beloved dog Hallie (adopted from the deceased Harmons) dies, the realtor is brutally murdered by ancient vampires Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova and subsequently becomes trapped in the hotel as a ghost.
Of course, you could argue that Marcy was partly responsible for the Harmons’ ghostly fate in Murder House. The LA Homes Realty employee fails to mention the multiple slayings that have taken place inside the creepy mansion during the family’s first viewing, and despite being railroaded into putting it back on the market once they discover its disturbing history, fails to learn her lesson when she withholds the same information from another poor unsuspecting buyer.
7 Dr. Charles Montgomery
Best-known for playing megalomaniacal tech boss Gavin Belson in the razor-sharp satire Silicon Valley, Matt Ross first embodied American Horror Story’s fascination with demented doctors as Murder House’s Charles Montgomery. The one-time surgeon to the stars appears in five episodes of the first season, most notably butchering fame-hungry Travis Wanderly’s ghost and helping to deliver Vivien’s twins with tragic consequences.
Of course, we find out in Hotel that Dr. Montgomery has something of a checkered history when it comes to children. Unable to keep up with payments on the (Murder) house he built for his demanding wife, he begins performing illegal abortions in its basement. An unsuccessful one results in The Countess’ murderous mutant spawn, Bartholomew. Then, in an obvious case of Frankenstein Complex, Dr. Montgomery then attempts to stitch his own slain son back together, only to watch him turn into a blood-sucking creature called the Infantata.
6 The names Goodman and Montgomery
The last name Montgomery also appears in Coven, as the surname of the bitchiest witch on the block, Madison. Played by American Horror Story regular (and current scream queen) Emma Roberts, Madison certainly isn’t averse to killing either. She dispatches an entire busload of football jocks in the first episode alone, though it’s never stated that she is in any way related to her mad doctor namesake from the 1930s.
There are also question marks as to whether two different Goodmans from two different seasons are also from the same family tree. Played by Derek Richardson, Harry Goodman appears in Murder House as a lawyer appointed to represent Constance during the investigation into the murder of her boy-toy Travis Wanderly. One season later (but 49 years earlier), Asylum features another Goodman in the shape of Sam Goodman(Mark Margolis), a man hired to investigate the disturbing Nazi past of the gruesome Dr. Arden.
Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) also came to regret her decision to check into the Hotel Cortez when she traveled to Los Angeles to join the studio audience of The Price is Right. The self-proclaimed human voodoo doll immediately demands to change rooms because of the "bad juju" she senses, before being pounced on by former Blaxploitation star Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett) and then knifed to death by James March (a fabulously over-the-top Evan Peters).
It’s a brutal end for a character who had already survived numerous attempts on her life in Coven, thanks to her magical powers. Indeed, Queenie somehow managed to recover from a sexual encounter with a Minotaur (?), a random attack in the most desolate part of New Orleans, and a gunshot to the gut by Cordelia’s witch-hunting husband. Despite all this, she wasn’t chosen as the Supreme, but did make it onto the council alongside fellow young witch Violet.
4 Jack Colquitt
It still remains a mystery as to whether the case of Jack Colquitt is simply a red herring or whether there will be a connection explained further down the line. But for now, it’s the first and only instance in the series where there have been two different characters in two different seasons who share the same name.
Played by Geoffrey Rivas, Jack Colquitt first shows up in the 'Spooky Little Girl' episode of Murder House. Working for the Los Angeles Police Department's Missing Persons Division, Colquitt interviews Ben about the disappearance of one of his patients, Sally Freeman. In Freak Show, which of course, is set over half a century earlier, we see a younger cop with the same name (P.J. Marshall) who turns out to be far more villainous, arresting Meep for a murder she didn’t commit and taking a bribe from Dandy to overlook his heinous crimes, kill Regina Ross himself, and frame Jimmy for the Tupperware Party Massacre.
It’s not yet clear whether the state of Massachusetts will have any part to play in Roanoke, but for the majority of the previous five seasons, it has been a common thread. In Murder House, the Harmon family moved from the relative safety of Boston, Masschusetts to what would ultimately become their final resting place of Los Angeles, California. Massachusetts also served as the location of the Briarcliff facility in Asylum.
In Coven, we see flashbacks to the Salem witch trials, which, of course, took place in the same state. In Freak Show, we discover that Pepper briefly went to live with her sister in Massachusetts and that Elsa once worked in a Boston circus back in 1936. The Hotel connection is perhaps a little more tenuous, but due to his distinctive Boston Brahmin accent, the Hotel Cortez’s macabre designer James March is also believed to hail from the area.
2 The Motts
We’ll have to take Ryan Murphy’s word on this one, but according to the American Horror Story co-creator, Roanoke will feature at least one callback to Freak Show. Sadly, it’s not the adorable Mon Petite who has been confirmed so far, but the family of the season’s most spoiled and sadistic character, Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock).
A psychologically disturbed man child who initially dreams of joining Elsa Mars's traveling freak show, Dandy is later taken under the wing of murderous clown Twisty and, following his death, takes on the mantle of the show’s premier serial killer. We don’t know yet whether Dandy himself will return, but Murphy has revealed that viewers will soon discover the origins of the Mott family, while also promising that several other past favorites (“many, many, many that you have not seen in years that you have wanted to see”) will also make an unlikely comeback.
1 Thematic connections
The connections between the AHS seasons will no doubt continue to increase as we delve further into Roanoke. We already know that the Millers decided to relocate after Shelby suffered a miscarriage, a situation which echoes that of Ben and Vivien in Murder House. And in the second episode, two ghostly killer nurses enter the fray, reminiscent of the nursing students who occasionally popped up to haunt the Harmon family.
Mariticide also appears to be another recurring theme, with both Constance and Nora Montgomery fatally shooting their husbands in Murder House, and Joan filling her spouse’s car with his deadly allergy, bees, in Coven. As is matricide, with Kyle murdering his sexually abusive mother in Coven and Dandy adding his mom Gloria to his kill list in Freak Show. One particularly imaginative viewer has come up with a theory that each season represents one of the nine circles of hell featured in Dante’s Inferno, but we'll just have have to wait and watch.