We’re only two episodes into this season of American Horror Story: Cult and I already know it’s going to be a chore. There’s a lot going on as always, but unlike previous seasons, very little of it is working.
Ally is still seeing clowns everywhere, and no one else (save her young son, Ozzy) has seen them. A nervous breakdown is imminent and this week seems to be the tipping point: she goes to her and Ivy’s restaurant one night to check on an alarm, and finds one of their employees hanging from a meat hook. (Side note: why does this restaurant have its own meat locker? Most places don’t do their own butchering on site. But I digress).
Ally’s fears are getting worse, so she decides to get a gun for the home courtesy of her and Ivy’s new neighbours, Harrison (Billy Eichner) and Meadow (Leslie Grossman). Harrison and Meadow are unambiguously part of the cult that must show up somewhere in this season: they’re the ones who filmed Kai being attacked by immigrants last week, and they eagerly moved into the house where Ally’s neighbours had been killed days earlier, bloodstains still on the floor. Other quirks of the new couple? They’re big Nicole Kidman fans, they’re married even though Harrison is gay, and they’re serious about beekeeping. Harrison waxes poetic about bees all working together for the benefit of the hive, another clear allusion to the cult.
They’ve also been stockpiling guns since Obama came into office, fearing he’d take gun ownership away from Americans, and eagerly allow Ally to borrow one and “feel safe.” Giving a loaded handgun to a mentally unstable woman who thinks she’s seeing clowns everywhere is probably not a good move for a ‘responsible gun owner.’ Aside from the gun, Ally also barricades their home with bars on the windows and a new security system.
The bars lead to the best scene of the episode – Kai and Ally meet face to face, kind of. Kai is running for city council, taking the spot of Ally’s murdered neighbour. He’s going door to door with his Trump rhetoric and Ally fires back with her liberal talking points, including “I’m interested in building bridges, not walls” — all while hiding behind the literal walls she’s built around her home. Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters are the best actors of the show (especially now that Jessica Lange is gone), so it’s always a highlight when they get to work together. Peters does especially well here as Kai, who takes a turn for the menacing when he starts trying to manipulate his way into Ally’s home: I’m injured, I’m thirsty, can I use your phone? If Ryan Murphy ever ends up doing that oft-rumoured American Crime Story: Manson Family series, Peters is the obvious choice.
While Ally and Kai’s tense confrontation was the best scene of the episode, the best line goes to Eichner’s Harrison: “Lesbians, we’re under attack!” The power has gone out on the block and, according to Harrison, the country. He says it’s a terrorist attack, caused by either the Russians or the North Koreans. This causes Winter to panic (well, panic as much as her deadpan delivery can allow), and leave Ally alone in the house with Ozzy. Ivy’s at the restaurant and sends Pedro, a Hispanic cook, over to check on Ally. Anyone can see where this is going: Ally opens the door and sees a man approaching, thinks it’s a killer clown coming to attack her and shoots him.
Ally’s turning into her biggest fear. In the course of one episode, the left-wing Rachel Maddow lover who cried when Trump won has bought a gun, decried “knee-jerk liberals,” and enacted violence on a minority. Is this the whole point Murphy is trying to make with this season? That fear turns us into something awful? It was Kai’s monologue last week, that the fear brought on by Trump’s election could be used to sow chaos. But why Ally? Everything so far has been targeting her specifically, what part is she meant to play?
And when will we even see the titular cult? Kai is obviously working towards a larger goal, and Winter along with him. Harrison and Meadow must be in on it, as are the shady police who lied to Ally. Ivy’s possibly involved: she claims to never see the clowns, and must have known sending Pedro over was risky. But what on earth are they doing, and what does it have to do with clowns?
Two episodes down and I’m still not impressed with this season. The political theme is sometimes heavy handed and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is and the clowns are just strange. There’s still a chance things could pick up, but so far Cult feels like a missed opportunity.
American Horror Story: Cult airs every Thursday on FOX (UK).