As you’ve likely heard by now, the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult opens with a mass shooting that’s been vastly re-edited in the wake of the tragic events in Las Vegas.
Airing a mass shooting episode the week after the biggest shooting in modern U.S. history seems like poor timing, but considering there’s a new ‘biggest shooting in modern U.S. history’ every year, it almost seems inevitable. Even if Las Vegas hadn’t happened, there would be comparisons between this scene, where Kai is gunned down at a rally, with the June shooting of Republican lawmaker Steve Scalise. Mass shootings are a part of America’s DNA at this point, which is partially why AHS included one in the first place.
But the scene was cut and is distractingly watered down by American Horror Story standards. It’s a bloodless shooting, especially in comparison to the graphic violence in the last two episodes.
After the shooting, where Kai is taken down and Ally is arrested, we flash back to the events leading up to it. Meadow has warned Ally that there is a cult, so Ally breaks into her home to find out more. She finds Meadow tied up in the garage and escapes with her (Harrison and Detective Samuels were too distracted to notice) and Meadow tells all: she thought she was in love with Kai, and he made her feel special. She was a willing and often gleeful participant in the clown killings until she saw Kai put the same moves on Ivy. Meadow flipped out and called Kai out as a fraud, and he, Harrison and Detective Samuels tied her up and put her in the garage.
This is an interesting revelation about Kai. For the first time, we see his manipulations laid bare in a way that makes them look obvious and amateurish. His recruitment of previous members, like Beverly and Harrison, was tailored to them specifically. He knew Meadow was sad and lonely and wanted a man to pay attention to her, and that’s what he did. Repeating that same speech word for word to Ivy is almost a rookie mistake — Ivy doesn’t need a man to tell her she’s special, and at the very least he could have found a different analogy than “the brightest shining light in this dark world.”
Speaking of Ivy, this episode also sheds light onto how she joined the cult. She shows up on Winter’s front porch the day after the election, upset over what they did to Gary and convinced the police were going to come for them. Winter takes her to Kai, who makes her do the pinky promise and reveal her deepest, darkest secret: that she hates her wife. Ivy admits that she resents Ally for being the one to give birth to their son, Ozzy, and thinks she breastfed for years to spite her. Kai offers to murder Ally, but Ivy says that’s too far — instead, they’ll just make her look crazy so she’ll lose custody of Ozzy and Ivy ‘wins.’
Out of all the motivations for joining the cult, this one is the absolute worst. It’s so selfish and petty it could have easily come from Ally herself. It’s similar in a way to how Harrison said he resented his wife and wanted her gone: is this what Ryan Murphy thinks of marriage? People just get so bitter they resort to these insane, hateful means? Ivy could easily just divorce her wife, like any sane person would do, instead of joining a murderous clown cult to try and gaslight Ally into thinking she’s crazy so they can steal her son away.
And again, I’m back to my biggest problem with this season’s American Horror Story: who am I supposed to root for? What outcome do I want from any of this? They’re all sad, small people filled with misplaced rage, lashing out at the world and refusing to take accountability for themselves. Is this America?
The only character who took responsibility this week was Meadow: her being seen and rescued by Ally was, of course, a setup. Kai convinced her to tell Ally everything so she’d look even crazier, and then help elevate him to the national stage by faking a shooting. Meadow’s the one who opened fire at the rally, injuring Kai and killing others before turning the gun on herself. Ally tried to wrestle the gun away and is the one left holding it when the cops arrive.
More and more of the cult’s plans are being revealed, but the end game is still murky. Meadow reveals they were behind the bird killings just to freak people out, that Kai paid protestors to attack Ally’s restaurant a few weeks back, and finally confirms they’ve been targeting Ally. This is all to get Kai elected on city council, which Meadow rightfully calls a ridiculous plan for world domination. How is convincing a small town they’re under attack from clowns going to get Kai in charge? Now he wants the national stage — but what is he going to do with it? Other than using fear to control people, what does Kai want? What is AHS even trying to say about power, fear and politics in America right now, other than “it’s all bad”?
This season continues to frustrate. I wish I could figure out what Cult is trying to be, but more importantly, I wish Cult could figure out what it’s trying to be.
American Horror Story airs on Sky in the UK every Thursday. What did you think of this episode?