Has American Horror Story: Cult finally found its footing? This week’s episode was its strongest so far: it has the sharpest political humour, the most disturbing and gruesome imagery, and has finally made these characters compelling.
Instead of picking up where we left off last week, this episode is done via flashback taking place right around the election itself. We see the characters we already know in line to vote: Ally and Ivy excited for Clinton (and Jill Stein), Winter with a group of girls chanting “this pussy grabs back,” and Harrison and Meadow lamenting the fact that you don’t need to take a test to vote — a test that would surely exclude Meadow, who thinks she could maybe vote for the Golden Globes, but not the president.
We also meet a few new characters: newscaster Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) and her rival Serena (Emma Roberts), who’s giving off major Taylor Swift vibes. “Women supporting women!” she shouts to get people to stop criticizing her, then sashays past her lessors to the front of the line and votes for Trump. Ivy, Winter, Beverly and Dr. Rudy go Clinton, Ally goes Stein, Harrison’s a Gary Johnson guy and Meadow writes in ‘Oprah.’ The only person who’s ballot we don’t actually get to see is Kai, interestingly enough.
But we do see a lot of Kai this week, as he uses his post-election victory to recruit members of his cult. First up is Harrison, who works as a personal trainer at a gym (before his career switch to beekeeping?). Kai tells Harrison he seems strong and starts selling him on being part of something bigger with someone who will take care of him harder than Harrison can sell him on a new gym membership. A homophobic co-worker interrupts to force Harrison into cleaning up jizz in the men’s room, degrading him in front of Kai.
Kai does two things: first, turns it into a bizarro powerplay where Harrison catches him masturbating in the men’s room but promises to clean it up himself, and then convincing Harrison to kill his co-worker. Naturally. Meadow joins the cult shortly thereafter, coming home to find Harrison hacking a body in the bathtub while Kai watches. Harrison introduces Kai as “someone to believe in,” which is an interesting choice of words. Didn’t many Americans says that’s what the election was lacking, someone to really believe in?
Kai’s main conquest this week was Beverly Hope. He recognized her on the news from a video where strangers shouting “grab her by the pussy” into the microphone (like the real-life FHRITP phenomenon) until she finally snaps and starts attacking her would-be pranker. This is what opens the door for Serena to swoop in and take on plum, cushy assignments on her way to the anchor desk while Beverly is stuck at swamps and dumps.
Emma Roberts is in her element as Serena – she’s essentially brought her Scream Queens character over to American Horror Story. It’s a shame we won’t see more of her! Serena is a one episode wonder, introduced only to be Kai’s next victim. To win over Beverly, he and his clown-masked friends take out Serena by attacking and brutally stabbing her and her cameraman, again harkening back to the real-life shooting of a news crew in the U.S. The use of these real incidents layer well into the election-themed season: you thought the horror started when Trump won, but things have actually been scary for a lot longer than that.
Interestingly, Kai’s next recruit comes through Winter. She’s at a pro-Clinton rally when she sees the grocery store clerk Gary (Chaz Bono) assault Ivy. Winter comes to Ivy’s rescue and the two go for coffee, meaning they definitely met before Winter became their babysitter. Was this part of the plan all along? When Winter says she wants to be the Huma Abedin to someone’s Hillary Clinton, the person behind the scenes helping the powerful, is that a hint she’s working for Kai? Winter taps into Ivy’s fear and anger, exactly how Kai had been doing to his cult members.
But instead of murder, Winter and Ivy kidnap Gary from his grocery store and chain him up in a basement. Winter tells Kai what she’s done, again bringing up questions about their relationship. They disagree politically and she said she feared him more than anything, but they seem close, familiar and even trusting. Are they siblings? Friends? Or was Winter the first recruit to Kai’s cult, now working alongside him in mysterious ways? We don’t know what Winter’s intentions are yet, but Kai’s are becoming more clear. He finds where Winter left Gary and convinces him to cut off his own arm to escape, and bring his bloody stump to the polling station to cast his vote. Another vote for Trump, another member of the cult.
This episode seems to have finally hit the right notes. There’s laugh out loud moments balancing out more gore than we’ve seen all season. Characters like Harrison and Meadow are beginning to get shaded in more as we understand their motivations, and thematic elements are starting to take shape as well: Kai isn’t just monologuing in city council about how to use fear to control people, he’s doing it. He tapped into the fear, rage and sense abandonment of regular people and got them to follow him, just like Donald Trump did.
American Horror Story: Cult airs on Thursdays in the UK on Sky.