American Horror Story: Cult
September 5, 2017
Here’s a fun exercise: I want you to think back and remember Election Night, November 8, 2016, the exact moment you realized that Donald J. Trump was going to be the President of the United States of America. Presumably, like most of your fellow Americans, your reaction fell into one of two extremes:
Blue America (possibly actual footage from your trusty blogger’s home):
And that’s how we begin our story, in an America that is this divided. Our representatives of the two Americas are Ally, a nice lesbian restaurateur who is married to a nice lesbian chef, Ivy, with whom she is raising their nice 7-ish-year-old son, Oz; and Kai, the walking, breathing embodiment of a Pepe meme.
Upon learning that Trump has been elected, Ally releases a soul-deep, “FUCK YOU, NATE SILVER,” and begins hyperventilating while her Election Night viewing party guests exposit that Clinton lost their own Michigan district by some 10,000 votes — roughly the same number as that ruiner Dr. Jill Stein.
IT CAN NOT BE SAID ENOUGH TIMES: FUCK YOU, JILL STEIN.
Meanwhile, over in his basement, because obviously his basement, Kai blends up some cheesy poofs, smears them over his face and barges into his sister’s room to gloat. Winter, who had dropped out of Vassar to work on Clinton’s campaign, laments that she’s just so scared. As Kai offers his pinky to her for a pinky swear, he tells her, “Everyone is.”
AND THEY SHOULD BE.
Then there’s this little Twisty the Murder Clown interlude that is really a scene taken from a comic book that Oz is reading without his mothers’ permission. When Ally discovers the comic book, it triggers her coulrophobia and she proceeds to freeeeeak out, alarming Ivy and Oz, as if that’s not just a natural reaction TO FUCKING MURDER CLOWNS.
Meanwhile, Kai attends a city council meeting led by one of Ally’s Election Night guests, where up for debate is the motion to provide overtime for police protecting the JCC. As the only member of the public to speak, Kai suggests that instead of providing police, they provide no police and allow the JCC to be blown up by Trump’s Very Fine People. Hear him out! The public will be so terrified that they will happily surrender up their freedoms and power, and the strong can lead them to truth and real freedom.
The city council:
Ally’s Friend, City Council Guy, mocks Kai for being a part of Trump’s intifada and suggests that he leave his parents’ basement every once in a while. As he takes his leave, Kai warns the city council that, “there is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man.” Sadly, that is probably true and explains a solid 90% of all of the world’s problems.
As for Ally, she spends a little much-needed post-election quality time at her therapist’s office, explaining that since November 8, all of her old phobias have come roaring back: the coulrophobia, the haemophobia, the claustrophobia, the amathophobia, the nyctophobia, and the phobia your trusty blogger legitimately suffers from, the trypophobia. ALL Y’ALL NEED TO QUIT PUTTING THOSE DAMNED DRIED LOTUS PODS IN FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS.
Ally worries that her anxiety is going to put a strain on her marriage and that it feels like September 11 all over again, an event that left her unable to leave her apartment for months. Therapist Cheyenne Jackson gives her some happy pills and assures her that everything is going to be OK.
OH IS IT, DR. CHEYENNE JACKSON? WHEN?
Ally swings by the grocery store on her way home, where aside from cashier Chaz Bono in a MAGA hat, she appears to be the only one in the building.
Soon, Ally is being menaced by assholes in horrible clown masks rutting in the produce section, riding scooters through the aisles and waggling knives at her, which, to be completely honest, I still might take over the donkeyholes who park their carts in the middle of the aisle on a busy Sunday. Flinging bottles of innocent rosé at the clowns to make her escape, Ally hurries to her car, only, of course, to discover that another clown is lurking in her backseat. In her panic, she drives her Prius (OBVIOUSLY) into a light pole.
Once back home, Ivy informs Ally that the police claim there was nothing on the store’s security cameras, and Chaz Bono insists that the only thing he saw was Ally running around the store screaming and wasting perfectly good rosé like a crazy person.
Later, at their restaurant, Ivy bitches that Ally isn’t keeping up her end of the work either in the front of the house or in the downstairs of Ivy’s house if you know what I mean and what I mean is sex. Ally promises to do better, and she is going to begin by placing an ad for a replacement nanny for Oz, as the last one either just up and left or was deported by Trump’s jackbooted thugs (but was most likely murdered by murder clowns).
The couple then bickers about the fact that, actually, Ally voted for Dr. Jill Stein …
… a spat that only ends when Kai walks by and throws his latte at them. Just because. To be fair to Kai, I might be inspired to throw my coffee at a Dr. Jill Stein voter, too. WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN RUSSIA, DR. JILL STEIN? THAT MORON GARY JOHNSON MAY HAVE NOT KNOWN WHAT ALEPPO WAS, BUT HE NEVER HAD DINNER WITH PUTIN.
So, obviously, Ally and Ivy interview Winter (Winnie) for Oz’s nanny position, who is hired when she drops the Vassar-Women’s Studies-worked on Clinton’s campaign-loves Lena Dunham bomb on them.
Meanwhile, we learn this is all somehow a part of Winnie and Kai’s pinky swear, where he makes her confess all sorts of craziness to him. After forcing her to tell him about her most embarrassing and painful moments, Kai ends confession time by asking her who was the last person she wanted she wanted to kill. When she insists she has never wanted to kill anyone before, he corrects her: she wants to kill the salt of the Earth Americans who elected Donald Trump.
Sometime later, Kai amuses himself by harassing some Mexican day laborers by singing “La Cucaracha,” filling a condom full of pee and hurling it at them. The Mexicans jump him and beat the everliving shit out of him because “La Cucaracha?” That’s just lazy, puto. Meanwhile, someone records the beating on a cell phone for use later presumably.
Over at their restaurant, Ivy prepares a special tasting menu for Ally, partially for work purposes, mostly to get her in the mood. However, while Ally checks her phone (“STOP TWEETING!” she and all of America yells at President Donny Johnny), Ivy leaves the room. So when Ally lifts her plate cover to reveal a hideous cake oozing blood from its many holes (shiver) while a murder clown furiously masturbates nearby (a phobia trifecta!), Ivy isn’t in the room to confirm that any of this actually happened. And, in fact, Ivy is pretty sure that Ally is just being cuckoo bananas again.
Meanwhile, back at their house, the new nanny is asking Oz some pointed questions about which of his mommies is his “real” mom (don’t know); who his dad is (every family is special in its own way) and introducing him to the not-appropriate-for-anyone corners of the dark web, explaining that looking at things that scare him, like pictures of dead bodies, makes his brain stronger. Great nanny! Would recommend!
Later, Oz hears something outside. But don’t worry, little guy! It’s just an old timey ice cream truck full of murder clowns here to murderize your neighbor, City Council Guy, and Wife That Couldn’t Be Bothered to Vote! Winnie and Oz head outside to investigate, Winter lifts Oz up so that he can witness for himself the murder clowns slitting Mr. and Mrs. City Council Guys’ throats, and then painting a big smiley face on the wall.
Meanwhile, Ally and Ivy return from their dinner to find their block turned into a crime scene. When Oz tries to tell his mothers what he saw, Winter claims none of it is true, that Oz is just imaginative, and ohbytheway, look at the murder clown porn comic I found in his room. NICE PARENTING, LADIES.
As the police take the bodies away, Ally and Ivy demand answers from Detective Abercrombie & Fitch Model, who claims they have nothing to worry about: it was a murder-suicide.
And then because Ryan Murphy doesn’t have a better way to end the episode, Ally wakes up in the middle of the night and a murder clown is in her bed. Eek, etc.
Because Ryan Murphy framed it with politics, and because his two lead characters appear to be caricatures of our country’s binary politics, people are already SUPER MAD about this season after only one episode, which might break Murphy’s previous record of at least three episodes before people started shrieking that he is a hack and that they are never watching another episode of American Horror Story again. Seriously, really angry.
And I understand the anger: Ryan Murphy does seem to seem to be playing a game of false equivalencies here. While he’s a monster who abuses minorities, Kai also gets to make philosophical speeches about the PC culture getting out of hand, while meanwhile, all we’ve of Ally so far is her being a conservative’s fever dream of what the typical liberal is: a wound-tight lesbian lunatic, afraid of her own shadow and everyone else’s, screaming that CNN should have trigger warnings. Murphy’s bigger point seems to be that contrary to the narrative that a lot of liberals — including myself — would like to cling to, it’s not just conservatives who motivated by fear. Just look at the nice liberal lady who is consumed with phobias simply because her side didn’t win an election! Who’s voting out of fear and disgust now, you cuck snowflakes?
So, yes, I am sympathetic to the complaints that Murphy is being ham-fisted with politics. But 1. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A RYAN MURPHY PROJECT BEFORE? and 2. maybe I am being a hopeful idiot here, but it seems to me the whole political thing was merely being used as a jumping off point, that Murphy is looking to explore how people can completely give themselves up to a belief system when their amygdala is massaged just right.
But while I understand it, I resist the anger that so many have towards this episode because the simple truth is, I think the characters are ultimately going to be a little more nuanced than just cutouts of Trump and Clinton (or Stein) voters. Kai, for instance, is not just a typical MAGA voter, but rather he’s a budding cult leader. He is for Trump winning not because he wants to build a wall, but because he knows that Trump is a destabilizing force and that the fear that Trump’s policies will inspire will leave people vulnerable to Kai’s manipulations. I won’t be surprised if Murphy even goes out of his way to explain that Kai isn’t actually a racist, but rather that he is using the racial anxiety that Trump stokes towards his own master plan.
And then there is Ally: I identified with Ally. I felt a lot like Ally after the election. She is a broadly-drawn version of my own anxiety, anxiety that I wrestled with for months (and sometimes still do). I didn’t go to a therapist (although some close to me might have argued at the time that I should have) and I didn’t have comic book-triggered panic attacks, but I understand the underlying psychological condition that Ally is experiencing — hers is just written more broadly than my own because she is a character on a broadly written horror series.
And — and this is important! — because she is clearly really being menaced by murder clowns. I didn’t think I had to point out the obvious, but then I was surprised to see so many complaints about Ally being a cartoon of a hysteric, melting down over nothing. Y’ALL, IT’S NOT NOTHING! SHE IS BEING ATTACKED BY A GROCERY STORE FULL OF MURDER CLOWNS. HER KID IS BEING TAUNTED BY A SHUDDER OF MURDER CLOWNS. OF COURSE SHE IS HYSTERICAL. The show does try to suggest that maybe Ally is just being crazy — what with her panic attack over the comic book, and her obvious nightmare at the end of the episode. But the rest of it obviously happened, right?
Yes, of course the cops say that the security footage didn’t show anything in the grocery store — because clearly Chaz Bono is a murder clown who erased it. And no, Ivy didn’t see anything in the restaurant, but if you watch the scene, Ally sees the blood cake and clown, leaves the table to go into the kitchen and have a good meltdown, leaving the murder clown plenty of time to replace the plate and go into hiding. And that’s just how it played out if Ivy ISN’T also a murder clown. Which she might be! WHO KNOWS WITH RYAN MURPHY?
This is a long way to go in saying that I think in the long run the questions will not be, “WHY IS RYAN MURPHY SAYING THAT ALL LIBERALS ARE DELICATE SNOWFLAKES WHO LOST THEIR DAMN MINDS AFTER THE ELECTION AND SEE IMAGINARY MURDER CLOWNS EVERYWHERE I AM NEVER WATCHING THIS SHOW AGAIN ZOMG!” but instead “Why is Ally clearly being harassed by murder clowns? Why are she and her son being targeted?”
And that, my friends, is how we know this is another season of American Horror Story because ultimately it’s not really going to be about the politics of fear or cults or phobias, it’s going to be about mommy issues. Again. In the end, the reason Ally is being targeted will be tied to who Oz’s biological father is or perhaps who Kai and Winter’s parents are, but it will — without a question — come back to Mommy Issues. Because IT ALWAYS DOES. This is from my last Roanoke entry:
Instead, what we received was another season where the major theme was motherhood:
Season one: Vivien has twins — one fathered by her husband, the other by her ghost rapist; Constance has issues with her children.
Season two: Something about alien babies; tons of heavy-handed Virgin Mary imagery; Lana Winters has issues with her son, Bloody Face.
Season three: Fiona Goode is replaced by her daughter Cordelia; Madame Lalaurie has issues with her daughters.
Season four: Elsa is a complicated mommy to the freaks in her freak show; Dandy’s mom has issues with her son.
Season five: Lady Gaga has a monster baby named Bartholomew; she abducts other people’s kids because; Chloë has issues with her daughter.
Season six: FLORA!
Never mind all those pieces on the internet explaining how all the seasons tie together. The secret to American Horror Story isn’t that the Motts are connected to Roanoke, or that The Countess didn’t have an abortion in Murder House, the secret is that all the seasons are about motherhood. And while it is kind of interesting to note that this is a recurring theme in each season, it’s also growing tired. WE’VE ALL JUST ABOUT HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR MOMMY ISSUES, RYAN MURPHY.
So don’t be mad at Ryan Murphy for being politically tone-deaf and treating this election as if there are Very Fine People on Both Sides; be mad at Ryan Murphy for using this series to work out his mommy issues once again instead of just going to a god damned therapist for fuck’s sake.
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 9/10 p.m. on FX.