This episode is a departure from the rest of American Horror Story: Cult so far, trading in the post-election anxiety and stories of Kai and Ally to focus on the past. We also get a special guest star! Lena Dunham plays Valerie Solanas, a New Jersey writer and radical feminist who tried to kill Andy Warhol.
Dunham’s casting might have been a bit on the nose, but she actually turned in a good performance, give or take the accent. Her nemesis, Warhol, is played by Evan Peters who does a lot with a little – his flippant, bored “Hi, Valerie” and “I like your makeup” moments before getting shot are both pitch perfect.
Through flashback, we see the true story of Valerie Solanas interspersed with some creative, AHS-style fiction. She writers her SCUM manifesto about how men are inferior and deserve to die, and then actually makes it happen. She gets a devoted group of women (a few gay men, who she calls “turds”) to start killing couples in lovers lane across California in the 70s — that’s right, they’re the Zodiac Killer.
The episode spends way too much time trying to convince us that this is true: re-enacting the murders (or scenes from David Fincher’s Zodiac), explaining why they targeted couples (women who coupled with a man were complicit in the patriarchy) and even going into the cyphers and letters to the newspaper: one of the “turds” was trying to take credit for their work, as men tend to do, so they killed him, cut off his penis and stuffed it in his mouth.
I have no idea how I’m supposed to take any of what’s happening here. It’s like Ryan Murphy decided to bring a men’s rights activists worst nightmare into reality: rabid feminist Lena Dunham literally hunting down and killing men. Using Solanas in the story is one thing, but turning the feminist group into a rabid murderous cult feels like a weird choice, and almost like he’s leaning into that “the left is just as bad as the right” mentality.
And that’s not even addressing the Zodiac Killer bit! This theory, that the Zodiac was a group of feminists, goes against American Horror Story’s own history. The show may be an anthology but each season is supposed to exist in the same universe: that’s how we got Freak Show’s Twisty the Clown at the top of this season, Coven’s Queenie checking into the Hotel, and Roanoke’s Edward Mott name-dropped as the ancestor to Freak Show’s Dandy Mott. So now this Zodiac reveal directly opposes Hotel’s serial killer dinner party, hosted by James Patrick Marsh, where the Zodiac Killer appeared as a solitary man.
Of course, the story about Valerie organizing the Zodiac killings could be just that: a story. We see these flashbacks through the eyes of her former lover Bebe (Frances Connor) as she tries to convince Beverly, Ivy and Winter that Kai will abandon and betray them, as men always do. Kai has new, alt-right Fight Club recruits in the cult, no longer wants to share “equal power” with Beverly, and tells Winter that Harrison wants to name the cult “men lead, women bleed.” The ladies, inspired by Bebe’s story, take matters into their own hands and kill Harrison before the final reveal: Bebe and Kai were working together for this exact outcome.
Bebe’s whole story could have been fake, just enough to inspire the women’s rage, just as Kai’s story about Harrison was likely fake. Are they trying to incite a gender war? The alt-right dudebros against the feminists? Or maybe Kai is just looking to create destruction and chaos, and turning half his cult against the others is the way to do it.
Or maybe, now that he’s begun his accession to power (he did get that city council seat, after all), he needs to get rid of the people who know his secrets. Meadow’s dead, and now Harrison too. Whatever his plan is, the revelation that he’s working with Bebe lets us know he does have a bigger, larger plan — and we might finally get to find out what it is.
American Horror Story: Cult airs on Sky every Thursday. Let us know what you think of the season.