American Horror Story: Cult
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”
September 12, 2017
Somewhat surprisingly — as I just thought it was supposed to be a nightmare and nothing more — we begin this episode where we left off the last: with Ally in bed with a murder clown, screaming her fool head off. Ally rushes downstairs where she finds Ivy in the kitchen and reports this bit of murder clown news, but by the time Ivy and Ally go back upstairs to investigate: no murder clown.
Ivy tells Ally she doesn’t know how much more of this crazy she can take, and Ally sobs that she doesn’t know what is real anymore instead of being like, “BITCH, THE MURDER CLOWN WAS REAL AND WE ONLY SEARCHED ONE ROOM IN THIS HOUSE AND YOU NEED TO BELIEVE ME OR I AM GOING TO BE THE ONE TO LEAVE YOUR ASS.”
Anyway, this somehow leads to sexytimes between the two, because what’s hotter than your wife sobbing that she’s losing grasp on reality? But they are interrupted by Oz having a night terror in the next room that Twisty and that Dick-Faced Murder Clown have him trapped in his bathtub. When the moms go check on him, Ally tries to comfort him, but he reaches for “Mom,” Ivy.
The next day, the local news breathlessly reports on Kai’s well-deserved beating, and Kai himself uses the coverage to announce that he will be running for the city council seat recently made vacant by City Council Guy’s death, vowing to make their community safe again. Vote Kai Anderson: The Man to Take Your Fear Away. Because “they’re out there.”
While this news report is running, Ally notices that someone is moving into Mr. and Mrs. City Council Guy’s house and they have a lot of … barrels? Giant, body-sized barrels? Ally goes full Gladys Kravitz, and heads across the street to snoop, only to be discovered by one of the new neighbors, a bee-keeping Billy Eichner. Instead of introducing herself, Ally scurries away like a damned weirdo.
Over at the restaurant, the manager? chef junior? Scut Farkus yells at the kitchen staff to get their shit together: Ivy is planning on leaving early and so they need to get all the prep done early and have their stations clean. One of the Hispanic workers, Pedro, invites Scut Farkus to chupa his pija, which leads to a little scrap between the two men that Ally interrupts. Scut Farkus demands that Ally fire Pedro, but she refuses to fire “an immigrant in this environment.”
Back at the house, Winter notices that Oz hasn’t been speaking to her all day, and after she offers him a Twisty doll, he explains that his moms don’t believe him about what he saw at City Council Guy’s house thanks to whatever it was she told them. Winter sighs that people are going to believe what they are going to believe, and offers to show him a trick: they lock pinkies, and he tells her what he’s feeling. She will take his fear and keep it for him, and they’ll both be stronger as a result.
Later, when Ally and Ivy come home, Winter informs them that Oz is with the new neighbors, so these two light their hair on fire and go running across the street, full scream. But when they arrive, all they find is Billy Eichner showing Oz his beehives and Mary Cherry hiding from the sun.
The new neighbors joke about how lesbians bring up property values and Billy Eichner wonders what was up earlier with Ally. She explains that she ran away because she didn’t want to get Quizzed in the Face as she doesn’t have any opinions on Rooney Mara or Tara Reid, and also, too, isn’t it a little weird they moved in so soon after Mr. and Mrs. City Council Guys’ “murder-suicide”?
Thus begins Billy Eichner and Mary Cherry’s Mountain of Exposition:
Billy Eichner reveals that Mr. and Mrs. City Council Guy were only renting the house. Then Billy Eichner says two conflicting things which is either a clue or the writers exposing that they are bad at continuity (~cough~): that they knew the owner of the house would be motivated to sell after the murders, and that the owner signed over the lease to them. So are they renting or did they buy? Either way, it was a good deal for the two of them who are recovering from a recent bankruptcy.
Ryan Murphy Billy Eichner makes some big statement about social media and complete honesty being the “way of the world now,” before burbling about bees and community and devotion to a singular task and yadda yadda cult yadda.
Billy Eichner and Mary Cherry invite the family inside for some Crystal Light, where Mary Cherry explains that she is a skin cancer survivor, but now with all the global warming, we’re all going to get skin cancer, amirite? Also, Billy Eichner is gay, they were college best friends who made a pact to get married, he spends one night a week in Detroit getting his gay on, Mary Cherry doesn’t like to be touched, they love all of the Real Housewives, even Miami, I presume.
Ally and Ivy are like, “Welp, that’s enough exposition for one scene, so we’re going to take our son home now.” But on the way out, they notice the hastily painted over smiley face still on the door and the blood stain on the floor, and Ally is like, “JUST SO WE’RE CLEAR, IT IS REALLY WEIRD THAT Y’ALL ARE COOL WITH LIVING IN THIS MURDER HOUSE.”
That night, Oz announces that he wants to sleep in his mothers’ bed with them.
But before they can all pile into bed, Ivy receives a notice that the alarm at the restaurant is going off. When Ivy starts to make noises about leaving to check on it, Oz makes a worried, so Ally offers to go instead? For some reason?
And when she arrives the alarm is blaring and the freezer light isn’t working and that’s when she finds Scut Farkus hanging from one of the meat hooks.
And then the best part of the entire episode happens: this promo for Baskets, season three:
Right, so, a week later Ally has burglar bars installed because HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO DIE BEFORE PEOPLE START TAKING HER SERIOUSLY ABOUT MURDER CLOWNS ALREADY? And that’s when Ivy is like, “Oh hey, Dr. Cheyenne Jackson just happened to be walking by and I invited him in to do a drive-by therapy session, OK I GO OUTSIDE NOW BYE.”
Dr. Cheyenne Jackson asks about Scut Farkus’ murder, and Ally claims that she was the one who killed him: she tried to pull his body off of the hook and ended up delivering the death blow. But Dr. Cheyenne Jackson is like, “Yeah, that’s not how murder works.”
Ally then flashes back to talking to Detective Abercrombie the night of the murder and all his sneering asides about them being lesbians and then asking about Pedro’s immigration status because Detective MAGA here is a big racist, homophobic jerk, see?
Ally then admits to Dr. Cheyenne Jackson that in a way she feels vindicated: her phobias have been reasonable after all because she instinctively knew that this election was going to fuck things up. And by God, she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her family safe: like accepting a handgun from Billy Eichner who has a weirdly large collection of guns and a willingness to just pass them out to his new neighbors.
Dr. Cheyenne Jackson tells Ally she should take the gun back and she asks him if he’s saying that “as [her] therapist or as a knee-jerk liberal.”
Oh lord, Ryan Murphy, what the fuck are you doing?
Ally then swears Dr. Cheyenne Jackson to secrecy because of the whole doctor-patient confidentiality thing. So when Ivy asks him on his way out what he thinks, Dr. Cheyenne Jackson is like, “All good. Totally good. Nothing bad. Just good.”
As he leaves, Ally yells at Ivy that she can’t believe she surprised her like that and Ivy protests that she’s worried about Ally. “YOU SHOULD BE,” Ally responds.
She should be.
And then Kai shows up at their front door ostensibly to introduce himself as a City Council candidate, but really to harass her, pointing out that the knife she’s holding behind her back suggests that his “What Do You Have to Be Afraid Of? Everything!” platform might actually hold some appeal to her in particular. He then demands to be let inside, but Ally declines.
Later, at the restaurant, Ivy stresses out about the expensive replacement order of meat she had to put in thanks to the whole dead guy in the freezer thing, and Pedro is like, “You do know I didn’t kill that pendejo, right?” And Ivy is like, “Yes, yes, of course.”
Meanwhile, back at the house, Winter puts Oz to bed and he asks to do the pinky thing again, he’s worried about the clowns coming back in his dreams. But instead of doing the pinky thing with him, Winter suggests that if he can’t tell if the clowns are real or not he should just ask them. GOODNIGHT, SUCKER.
Winter then heads downstairs where she finds Ally stressing over the meds Ivy and Dr. Cheyenne Jackson wants her to take. “Instead, how about I pour you a glass of wine, draw you a bath and then fingerbang you?”
And that’s when the home alarm system begins blaring and the lights go out. As a murder clown passes through Oz’s room, Oz asks him if he’s real, or if he’s asleep, and the murder clown tells him he’s asleep, and Oz is all, “Cool, cool, cool.”
Meanwhile, Ally is in a full-blown panic which is not helped when Billy Eichner comes banging on the door to give Ally some candles and scream that he’s heard the blackout is terrorist-related — either the Russians or the Koreans or the Somalians. NO ONE KNOWS. And that little terror nugget delivered, Billy Eichner runs back across the street as if Ally just told him that she doesn’t know any Meryl Streep movies.
It’s at this point that Winter is like, “I’M OUT. PEACE.” Ally calls Ivy at the restaurant to beg her to come home only to have her cell battery die mid-conversation. Ivy is like, “My phobic and paranoid wife just called me in a total panicked meltdown so what I should obviously do is send a man to our house to deliver a cell phone charger which I guess runs on batteries — you know, those super-common battery-operated cell phone chargers. Hey, Pedro, go take this cell phone charger over to my hysterical wife, I’m sure everything will turn out great.”
Back at the house, the murder clown truck pulls up. PANIC PANIC PANIC.
Ally goes down to the basement to check on the alarm, only to find the wires in the fuse box have been cut, presumably by the murder clown who she meets in there. As she flees the basement, she finds another murder clown on the staircase waiting for her, who promptly falls face first over the banister from a slight push from Ally. Ally grabs her secret gun, and when she comes back to the staircase, the murder clown’s body is gone.
Ally drags Oz out of bed and down to the back door where she explains The Plan: She is going to open the door and they are going to run across the street to the neighbor’s house and he is to not let go of her hand.
Except, The Plan is derailed when she opens the door, sees Pedro there and without thinking, shoots him in the chest.
Oof. I don’t know, guys, it’s not improving. I’m not writing off this season just yet — we are only two episodes in — but lines like “are you saying that as a therapist or as a knee-jerk liberal” do make me want to turn off the television and never turn it back on again.
In his effort to make some weird political statement about fear, the show is making some baffling character choices. Going out of the way to show liberal Ally assume that Pedro is an immigrant, or making gay Billy Eichner be an Obama-hating gun-humper does not make those characters complex. Instead of adding depth, these revelations just feel like unearned twists.
And it’s that kind of lazy, heavy-handed, all-sides-are-equally-bad writing that is grating on a lot of viewers. I hope that once we understand a little more about the cult and its members, some of these points will make more sense. But if I’ve learned one thing from recapping six previous seasons of these shows, they don’t trend towards making more sense the deeper into the season you go.
So let’s talk about a few other, more interesting points. Between Oz’s night terrors and the fact that no one sees these murder clowns but Ally and Oz, the show clearly wants us to question what is real and what is being conjured from our characters’ amygdalas. Which, yes, fine, I get it, except that we kinda know there is a real murder clown cult as the show is called American Horror Story: Cult and not American Horror Story: Nervous Breakdown.
Who is in the cult? At this point, literally everyone but Ally is a suspect — they all have unique opportunities to manipulate and torment Ally: Ivy; Dr. Cheyenne Jackson; Chaz Bono; Billy Eichner and Mary Cherry; Detective Abercrombie; any of the restaurant employees; and of course, Kai and Winter.
Which brings us to the next question: who is the leader of this cult? Based on his philosophical speeches and political aspirations, Kai seems the obvious choice. But there are three other possibilities: Winter, some third party — probably female — that we haven’t met yet, or there are multiple leaders.
The Winter theory (which was found on reddit) is based on the Hans Christen Andersen fairy tale, “The Snow Queen.” The tale begins with a mirror that the devil makes which fails to reflect anything good or beautiful about people, and distorts the image so that only the ugly and evil is magnified. The mirror ends up broken and shards and specks of it end up lodged in people’s hearts and eyes, freezing their hearts, and making them see only the bad in others.
Already, this is a pretty good allegory for our current political climate.
The story then focuses on two dear friends, Gerda and Kai — yes, Kai. Kai gets this mirror dust in his eyes and heart and soon he’s being a real asshole to everyone, including Gerda. One day, he runs off with the Snow Queen who is the ruler of the “snow bees” (I don’t know), and then the rest of the tale is about Gerda trying to find him. After a long (hero’s) journey, Gerda eventually locates him in the Snow Queen’s realm, and her tears of happiness and love melt the mirror fragments in his heart and eyes and they return home together.
There are some obvious connections between the season and the fairy tale: bees, roses, KAI ANDERSON for crying out loud, and some believe that it must mean Winter = Snow Queen = The Cult Leader. And hey, it’s possible. Literally anything is possible with American Horror Story as the writers don’t necessarily feel constrained by logic or consistency.
Another possibility is the queen bee theory: that the obvious comparisons between a beehive and a cult extend to this particular cult’s leadership structure and that the leader is someone we have not met yet, who, like a queen bee of a hive, is hidden away somewhere safe and protected by her followers. Yes, I said “her.” Maybe Kai and Winter’s mother, thus neatly tying American Horror Story: Cult to every single other American Horror Story season before it?
The third possibility is that it could be a triumvirate: Kai, Winter, and Queen Bee, as represented by that three-faced murder clown mask. It’s really not any deeper than that: there’s a clown who appears to be leading the other clowns, he wears a mask that has three faces on it: hence there are three leaders.
Ultimately, the fact that Evan Peters is going to play a number of other cult leaders in upcoming episodes suggests to me that he will, in fact, be the leader of this cult, too. But I mention these other possibilities because you never know with this series.
A couple of final points about this episode: We learn that Oz’s full name is Ozymandias, which you should remember from your 10th grade English class was a poem by Percy Blythe Shelley about Rameses II, hubris, particularly among leaders, and impermanence. So basically, it’s just another ham-fisted political statement that Murphy thinks is deeper than it is.
And the last point I wanted to make is that one of the recurring images in this episode was a bathtub. In this episode, Oz is chased into his bathtub by Twisty and a the dick-faced murder clown, and Ally is seduced by Winter in her bathtub. And in fact, the last scene of the previous episode lingered on Ivy and Ally’s bathtub before moving into the bedroom.
First of all, bathtubs are a place of vulnerability: when you are using a bathtub, you are usually naked and exposed, so it is interesting that Oz would retreat to a bathtub in his dream. But more importantly, bathtubs often represent baptisms, rebirth, a cleansing of the body and spirit. Winter bathing Ally is not merely a marital betrayal, it might also represent Ally being initiated into whatever this group is. It’s not insignificant that Ally shoots Pedro soon after being bathed by Winter (and after receiving Kai’s personal testimony at the front door): she is using violence to control her own fears. She is becoming One of Them.
Alright, my little murder clowns, we’re going to leave it at that, and see what nonsense Mr. Murphy is going to throw at us next.
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 9/10 p.m. on FX.