Something very strange is afoot over at FX’s American Horror Story. Stranger than usual, I mean. Normally, by this time, we’d already know this year’s theme (revealed in February last year), have a confirmed cast and character descriptions (revealed last May for Hotel), and be well into shooting. But so far, Ryan Murphy and FX have revealed none of that. All they’ve announced about the anthology’s upcoming season is a mysterious logo and a premiere date: September 14.
That’s almost a full month earlier than the show’s usual premiere date, which means the lack of information is even more surprising. How has American Horror Story kept such a tight lid on Season 6 when plot leaks are such a problem for other popular shows? The answer is actually pretty complicated.
If you’ve ever seen a Marvel cast member interviewed, you know the power of threats when it comes to keeping a lid on spoilers. When confirming that she was returning for Season 6 earlier this year, Lady Gaga was completely mum on the nature of her role. “Ryan will kill me if I tease anything,” she claimed. But an unconfirmed rumor implies that Gaga wouldn’t have much to spoil. With her busy schedule recording a new album, the actress has allegedly only shot two days so far this season. And you won’t get any early hints from Murphy himself, either: the show-runner mysteriously deleted everything from his Twitter account back in April and has been mum ever since.
A SMALLER CAST
Even if Gaga were completely joking about the threats, a smaller group is always easier to contain. According to Season 4 and 5 star Finn Wittrock, the cast this year is “a little tighter—there were so many story lines in the last one [‘Hotel’] and it was so big and epic, I have a feeling it might be a little more claustrophobic. A smaller cast.” So far, we know for certain that cast includes returning stars like Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Denis O’Hare, Angela Bassett, Leslie Jordan, and Matt Bomer.
Emma Roberts is not confirmed to return, though she said she wanted to take on a “devilish” role, and Taissa Farmiga was recently spotted with American Horror Story writer John J. Gray.
American Horror Story has had a pretty steady rotating stable of directors over the past five seasons, but the show is shaking things up this year by adding at least two women to its previously all-male roster. Potentially fulfilling his promise to hire a directing staff that is at least 50 percent women, people of color, and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community on all his shows, Murphy has tapped both Angela Bassett and Jennifer Lynch to direct Season 6. Bassett proudly boasted that she was the first female director in the show’s history. Do new directors guarantee secrecy? Of course not (and more on that in a bit)—but it certainly helps if one of the directors is also a member of the cast, and well versed in the ways of keeping show secrets.
Director Jennifer Lynch—daughter of David—has actually been providing some of the most helpful information when it comes to American Horror Story Season 6. Fans have noted via her Instagram account that Lynch seems to be working largely in a woodland area. That’s in line with other location reports, which include the outskirts of Calabasas, California, a rural North Country California ranch, woodsy Griffith Park, and Big Bear Lake. In other words, don’t expect a lot of big city scenes this season. That should help Murphy avoid things like having Gaga’s Season 5 look leak online thanks to a paparazzi photographer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
A HARD-TO-DEFINE THEME
While we may not know what the theme of American Horror Story is this year, it may not be something that can be easily defined in one or two words. Murphy said at Paleyfest last March, “The interesting thing about the next season is that we’ve been working on two ideas at once, which we’ve never done.” And FX president John Landgraf said at the Television Critics Association winter press tour that Season 6 will be set “in the present” with “echoes of the past” mixed in. “It’s set in two time periods,” he said. “But principally in the present.” So, no matter what, we have some kind of duality on our hands.
But Ryan Murphy has given fans one more concrete clue. Both ideas, he said, “have elements of children.” So, creepy woodland location and children? Are we dealing with American Horror Story: Sleepaway Camp? Well, likely no. There was a rumor that this season might focus on Slender Man, but that was quickly debunked. In fact, based on contextual clues from last year, most die-hard fans believe this season will deal with a cult. Given the red “6” used in the promotional image, some wonder if we might be dealing with a satanic cult specifically—666 for Season 6? Not a bad idea.
But the easiest way to keep a secret is if it’s a small one. Rumor has it American Horror Story will only be 10 episodes this year, as opposed to its usual 12. Between a shortened season and an early premiere date, the whole thing could be wrapped up before Thanksgiving, avoiding the always awkward holiday gap American Horror Story has had to grapple with in years past. Fewer episodes, a tighter cast, a trickier theme, and a remote location? Looks like next season will be something very different indeed.