American Horror Story: Cult
“Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag”
October 17, 2017
June 3, 1968; New York City
Valerie Solanas, radical feminist, writer and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol, endures a quick fucking in the backseat of a car in a New York City alley somewhere, earning herself a measly $5. However, this is enough money to buy a handful of bullets, per her aforementioned Andy Warhol project.
As for why she wanted to assassinate Andy Warhol, according to this telling in the American Horror Story universe: 24 hours earlier, Valerie had swung by The Factory to demand Andy Warhol return the script to her play, Up Your Ass. Andy Warhol, in that bitchy dismissive way of his, explained that he lost the script, and that, in fact, it was so obscene he thought for sure she was an undercover cop trying to entrap him. Valerie ranted at him about how he just doesn’t want her to succeed because she’s a woman, and he shrugged that women can’t be serious artists before suggesting that she become a model … or, er, an actress.
1:30 p.m., June 3, 1968
The next day Valerie arrived at The Factory armed with a cute little handgun, only to be told by Andy Warhol’s assistant that Andy Warhol wouldn’t be in for at least a week, please go away now, please.
But instead of going home, Valerie hung out in the lift until, whaddya know, Andy Warhol showed up. She rode back upstairs with him, where he complimented her on her makeup and she proceeded to shoot at him, missing twice before hitting him squarely in the chest.
Before she was busy trying to murder pop art geniuses, Valerie Solanas, after a difficult life in which, according to this telling in the American Horror Story universe, she had given birth twice by the time she was 15 after having been raped by her step-father, had published a radical feminist manifesto: SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men). To spread the message that men had ruined the world and it was up to women to overthrow and eliminate them, Valerie hosted readings that the Chelsea Hotel, where she recruited a band of loyal followers, including our narrator who ultimately became Valerie’s girlfriend.
SCUM, which also included a pair of homosexual men, Bruce and Maurice, followed Valerie to San Francisco to start their revolution, which would involve “couple busting” — killing heterosexual couples to teach women that if they shouldn’t fuck men to “gain value,” even if fucking men is a lot of fun. Sorry, hetero ladies!
Meanwhile, Valerie returned to New York, ordering SCUM to await her signal.
July 1968; Vallejo
Shooting Andy Warhol was the signal.
SCUM, donning green hooded robes, leaped to action, shooting to death their first couple making out at Lover’s Lane: David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, otherwise known as the first victims of the Zodiac Killer.
September 1969; Lake Berryessa
Another couple, Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22, were attacked by SCUM, according to this telling, this time stabbed multiple times, and this time with one member of SCUM wearing the famous Zodiac Killer costume. Oh, and they painted “Vallejo 12-20-68 ” on the victim’s car, just to make sure everyone understood the connection.
Meanwhile, someone began mailing barely literate letters to newspapers, taking credit for the murders and calling himself the “Zodiac Killer.” Valerie, who was actually orchestrating the whole thing from the mental hospital she was sent to after the Warhol shooting, was FURIOUS to learn of the Zodiac Killer letters being sent to the newspapers taking credit for SCUM’s crimes, but insisted that SCUM not take credit until they had killed 1,000 people, because of reasons.
1973; San Francisco
After serving her time, Valerie returned to San Francisco and to SCUM, where she ferreted out the actual author of the Zodiac Killer letters: Bruce, upon whom the members of SCUM set upon, stabbing to death in a Dionysian fury — stab stab stab — before arranging his dismembered body parts in the formation out in a field somewhere.
Valerie then tried to turn herself in so that the true Zodiac Killer could take credit, but the cops were like, “Pffft, whatever, little lady.”
This marked the beginning of the end of SCUM, as Valerie became more and more unhinged and gradually shed followers, even her girlfriend, our narrator. (Although once you convince a group of people that “LET’S MURDERIZE ALL THE MEN!” is a good idea, it’s difficult to imagine what she would have to do and say to lose those followers, and the show’s version — that she ate paper and railed against Hugh Hefner — is not particularly convincing.)
The point is, Valerie spent her last days crazy and alone, finally dying after an imagined visit from Andy Warhol, whom she realized would ultimately hijack her legacy.
And it’s true: even the biopic about her features his name in the title, not hers.
After Mary Cherry’s mass shooting at Kai’s rally, which ended with her being identified as the shooter, and Ally arrested as her accomplice, Kai won his election by a wide margin. Y … yay?
Beverly is confronted at her car by Frances Conroy who calls her a puppet of a male cult and says that she knows the whole “assassination” was a pantomime. Frances then urges Beverly to meet her at her hotel later so that they can talk, but Beverly is like, “LOL WHATEVER, CRAZY.”
The next day Beverly swings by Kai and Winter’s house which has been filled with a bunch of white dudes in uniforms who are not particularly interested in letting her inside.
Once inside, Kai explains that these dudebros have joined the cause from all over the country — and, again, I pause here to urge you to watch Bob Roberts if you haven’t already because the dudebros are Jack Black:
Anyway, Kia basically tells Beverly that the mission of the murder clown cult has changed: people are craving stability, and that’s what he’s going to give them, so she can run along now and do her lady things or whatever, the men are now in charge.
Beverly does run along — straight to Frances Conroy’s hotel room where she learns the Valerie Solanas story from the woman who loved her.
Beverly then brings Frances Conroy to The Butchery so that Ivy and Winter can hear her story, too, and so that they can absorb her ultimate message: BOYS ARE THE WORST, MURDERIZE ALL THE BOYS.
The next day, Winter finds Kai with the desiccated corpses of their parents where he whines about how hard responsibility is and wah wah wah, and he needs to know that he can count on her. He pulls out a copy of Valerie’s manifesto, SCUM, which he says he found in her room while looking for Adderall, adding that he found it inspiring — particularly the title. He’s thinking of coming up with a catchy acronym for their group, like F.I.T.: Fear is Truth, or maybe M.L.W.B.: Men Lead Women Bleed, which, for the record, was Billy Eichner’s suggestion. With that, Kai dismisses Winter, urging her to “say hi to the girls,” for him.
And that’s why Beverly, Ivy, and Winter lure Billy Eichner to The Butchery where they chop him up into pieces and deposit said pieces out in a dump somewhere.
But! TWIST! Kai is watching Beverly’s news report of the discovery of Billy Eichner’s remains with Frances Conroy …
… to whom he notes that “they are at their best when they are angry.” DAMN STRAIGHT, SON. WOMEN ARE AT OUR BEST WHEN WE ARE PISSED. ASK HARVEY WEINSTEIN.
Before I begin, let me just give Evan Peters a standing ovation for his portrayal of Andy Warhol in this episode, because it was perfect.
I’m not an Evan Peters fan, but I have to admit, this episode came as close as anything in changing my mind about that.
Also, too, Lena Dunham was perfect as radical feminist and looney toons, Valerie Solanas. Sure, her accent went in and out here and there, but her sheer lunacy in the role and the layers of pop culture irony in casting her! Genius. It might be the role she was born to play.
That out of the way: what the hell? What is this story? And, by story, I don’t mean the entirely too long remix of I Shot Andy Warhol and Zodiac. I mean, what on earth are Kai and Frances Conroy doing collaborating on turning Beverly, Winter, and Ivy into feminist enemies of his movement? At first, I assumed that now that he has all these new followers and holds elective office, Kai was going to pin the clown murders on the women to distance himself from crimes and give his political movement some legitimacy. It wouldn’t be a “culty” choice as much as a politically-savvy one, but narratively it would be logical.
Thing is, I’ve seen the next episode, and that’s … not where this is headed? I mean, shame on me for thinking that Murphy et al give value to “logic” and “narrative” and aren’t just — LIKE THEY DO EVERY SEASON — just throwing shit at the walls to see what sticks. Because even if my probably debunked theory was correct, that there was a reason Kai was setting the women against him and his new followers, there was still a problem: who is Frances Conroy and why is she involved? What does she have to gain from turning these women into killers for a radical feminist cause? What does she have to gain from aligning herself with Kai? Was she really Valerie Solanas’ lover? Did any of the events in her story even take place?
The short answer to that last one is, “well, yes, but not in the way they happened on the show.”
A very quick actual history lesson:
Valerie Solanas was a real person who really did write the SCUM Manifesto and who really did shoot Andy Warhol, but the timeline wasn’t quite as it was presented in the series. Solanas gave Warhol a copy of her play, “Up Your Ass,” and he did think it was an obscenity trap laid by the cops. However, he then offered Solanas an acting job and she proceeded to work with him at The Factory for about a year. Over time she became convinced that he and a publisher named Maurice Girodias were trying to steal her work, and she ultimately shot Warhol.
She turned herself in to the police and served a three-year prison sentence. After her release, she continued to stalk Warhol and was arrested again. She was also repeatedly institutionalized and spent the mid-70s mostly homeless in New York. Somehow, she ended up in San Francisco, where she died of pneumonia at the Bristol Hotel in 1988. In fact, the most notable thing about her death is that the room where she died was the same one that Robert Ramirez, the Night Stalker, stayed when he committed his killing spree in 1985.
But there was no cult, and she was not the Zodiac Killer, as she was not in California at that time. More interestingly, we’ve seen the Zodiac Killer on this show once before: in the “Hotel” season during the “Devil’s Night” dinner. So how in the American Horror Story universe — a universe that we’ve established connects all of the disparate seasons — can the Zodiac Killer both be one person and many?
The probable answer is that Frances Conroy’s story is mostly a lie designed to enflame the women, but to what end and what’s in it for Frances Conroy? Unless we see a return of Frances Conroy’s character — which, spoiler alert, we do not in the next episode — it may just turn out to be another pesky plot hole in the trypophobic nightmare that is the AHS oeuvre. I’m not going to hold my breath.
Valerie Solanas writes the SCUM Manifesto and creates the SCUM cult
Valerie Solanas shoots Andy Warhol; she is arrested and sent to a psychiatric hospital
The first Zodiac murders are committed by SCUM
The Zodiac murders continue, someone takes credit for the killings in letters to the police and newspapers
Solanas, reunited with her cult, discovers it was a male member who sent the letters, kills him. She eventually becomes increasingly insane and loses her followers
Valerie Solanas dies
Kai, Winter and Dr. Vincent’s’ parents die in a murder-suicide; the children stash their parents’ bodies
Winter works on the Clinton campaign in Florida
Ally and Ivy have financial and relationship issues
November 7, 2016:
Ivy meets Winter at a pro-Clinton rally
Gary assaults Ivy
Ivy and Winter kidnap Gary
November 8, 2016:
Kai frees Gary
Everyone votes for President
Trump wins; Ally melts down
November 9, 2016:
Kai meets Harrison at the gym
Winter introduces Ivy to Kai
Sometime in November after the Election:
Beverly is harassed by on-camera assholes, goes to a 30-day inpatient facility
Sometime in December 2016:
Beverly is released from treatment
Harrison and Meadow lose their home in foreclosure
Kai and Harrison kill the trainer dude
Kai meets Meadow
Beverly reports on the discovery of the body of the trainer in a landfill
Kai introduces himself to Beverly
Kai, Harrison and Meadow kill Serena; this is the first appearance of the clowns
Beverly joins Kai as an equal power
Sometime in Early 2017:
Ally tells Dr. Vincent about her increasing phobias
Ally is menaced by clowns in the grocery store
Ally and Ivy hire Winter
The Changs are murdered
Kai provokes the beating from the Hispanic workers
Kai announces he is running for City Council
Meadow and Harrison move into the Chang’s house
Robert is murdered at the restaurant
Winter makes a move on Ally
Pedro is murdered by Ally
The cult perform the coffin murders
April 3, 2017:
Sally Keffler announces her intention to run against Kai
Sometime After April 3, 2017:
The cult drives fogging trucks down Ally’s street
The smiley faces appear on both Ally and Ivy’s house and Meadow and Harrison’s
Meadow threatens to leave the cult
Oz discovers the tape of Ally and Winter, and Ivy leaves Ally
Meadow goes “missing”
Bob tries to fire Beverly
The cult murders Bob
Kai’s polling numbers improve
Ally finds Meadow in a shallow grave and tells Ivy that Harrison is trying to kill Meadow
Meadow briefly escapes and tells Ally about the cult, including that Ivy is a member
The cult murders R.J.
Kai reveals his story to Beverly
Ally rescues Meadow and learns the truth about the cult
The cult murders Sally Keffler
Meadow shoots Kai and several other people at a political rally before killing herself
Kai is taken to the hospital for his leg wound
Ally is arrested for the mass shooting
Kai wins a seat on city council and amasses a following of young men
Beverly meets Bebe Babbitt and has her share her story about Valerie Solanas with the other women
Beverly, Winter and Ivy kill Harrison
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 9/10 p.m. on FX.