As a long-time fan of American Horror Story, it’s become quite difficult not to set my standards for an upcoming season incredibly high. Each chapter in Murphy and Falchuk’s anthology is a chance to start fresh, bringing along essential cast members for a new story in innumerable combinations of times and places. Messy conclusions are forgiven due to a sense of hope instilled within viewers that the next season can only top its predecessors and can provide more connections as to how all of these seasons are connected.
After last year’s increasingly confusing and mysterious marketing campaign consisting of endless trailers alluding to what the season could be, it was a relief for Ryan Murphy to announce in early February that season seven would be centered around the notorious Election of 2016. For many voters, this was a real American Horror Story. Although Murphy only leaked the general premise of the theme, when he later announced that this season would be entitled Cult, I was intrigued to see in which direction this season would go…
Director: Bradley Buecker
Writers: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
The episode opens with a montage of various clips from the election, quickly jogging our memories and placing us back into our mindsets of last year’s election. The montage includes speeches from candidates Clinton and Trump, clashes between their respective supporters, and various new footage. Accompanied with a dark and leering instrumental, this invokes an ominous tone that prepares us for the season to come. A black screen appears with the iconic Willow font letting everyone know that it is “November 8th, 2016 - Election Night”, and now the story has truly begun.
Two main perspectives are magnified and satirized, switching from one to another as the election results are announced. As Trump’s win is announced, Kai Anderson (portrayed by the wonderful Evan Peters) excitedly chants to an empty living room, “Fuck you world!” and begins humping his television set. Conversely, Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) is screaming at the announcement of Hillary’s concession, wailing incessantly as her wife, Ivy, attempts to calm her down and reassure her and their confused son Oz that everything will be okay. Amongst these two grandiose reactions, it is revealed that our story takes place in Michigan, but no specific city was given as of right now. As Kai begins putting Cheetos in a blender, another character is introduced.
Winter, portrayed by Billie Lourd, is an English Lit/Women’s Studies major turned dropout and full supporter/campaigner for Hillary Clinton. Instead of screaming as the results are announced, she subtly cries until being startled by Kai whose face is covered in Cheeto powder and whose hair is positioned exactly like Trump’s. Besides the blue hair, the resemblance was truly uncanny. Kai and Winter lock pinkies in a gesture that will later be vaguely referenced to as she whispers, “I’m just so scared right now.” Kai responds bleakly, “Everyone is.”, and the title sequence begins.
Seemingly unrelated to our narrative thus far, a couple is shown having “a picnic”, or rather having sex, in the woods as the terrifying Twisty eerily walks up to them. He begins to pull out some of his toys from his trusty sack when the boyfriend starts shooting him. However, the immortal that he is, Twisty is unfazed and goes on to murder both of them. The camera pans out to Oz, reading a Twisty comic book under the covers of his bed. Ally comes into his room, suspecting him of looking at porn, but is incredibly horrified by the comic book, breaking down completely at the sight of it. Ivy, the trusty rock that she is, comes in to console Ally and Oz once again.
In the next scene, we are able to recognize Ally’s neighbor, Tom, who was with her when the results were announced, on the city council, listening to Kai’s speech that was completely unrelated to the topic at hand. Kai brings up the importance and value of fear within American society, citing examples of parents allowing their (somewhat irrational) fear of losing their children affecting the lives that their kids lead. He brings up that fear is chosen over freedom when it comes to Americans, and an outline of his master plan is revealed. On the outside, his plans seem to be one of an anarchist nature. However, through further explanation, he would like chaos to ensue until the extent that Americans are so afraid of the current state of the nation that they will fully entrust in the government for protection. His plan is made a mockery of by the city council, and he responds sordidly, “There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man.”
Presumably some time has passed, as Ally is meeting with her psychiatrist Dr. Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson). She divulges to him how much the election is affecting her, namely triggering all of her old phobias. Her fears of clowns, tight spaces, the dark, air particles, and most interestingly, her fear of Dr. Vincent’s coral decoration in his office. Something about the holes in are really getting to Ally? In addition to this, Ally reminisces how much better her life was when Obama was president, and how meeting Ivy helped her get over her phobias. Logically, Dr. Vincent prescribes her anti-anxiety medication, which she resists. However, after realizing how much her life is being affected and controlled by her phobias, she reluctantly agrees to take them.
It is now nighttime, and Ally is at the grocery store. However, she is so wrapped up in the fact that the cashier (Chaz Bono) is a Trump supporter that she doesn’t recognize how sketchy it is that literally nobody is in this store beside her. The real nightmare in this situation for her is the cashier sporting his “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. On her way to the dairy section, she witnesses two clowns fornicating in front of the fresh produce. There is another man with a haunting mask riding an electric scooter up and down the aisle ways. Instead of leaving the store, Ally decides to retaliate at these clowns/demons by attacking them with her weapon of choice: poorly thrown bottles of rosé. She bolts for the car and contacts Ivy only to find someone in her backseat. Unsurprisingly, the security footage only caught her throwing her rosé and nothing of what she was explaining. This begs the question, “Are these clowns figments of her imagination, or are they ghosts terrorizing her?”
We are now in Ally and Ivy’s business they co-own, called The Butchery on Main. Apparently, Ally has not shown up for work since the election, which messes with their agreement of Ally being Front of House and Ivy being in the kitchen. Ally, in a panicked state, escalates this into a fight about their marriage and sex life. Within this sequence, it is disclosed to us that Ally actually voted for Jill Stein, because she felt as though she couldn’t trust Hillary. This makes her reactions to the election seem even more unjustified and over the top than they already were. If she really hated Trump that much, did she really believe voting for The Green Party would’ve held more power than voting for Hillary? Out in the street, Kai spills coffee on them, causing a fight between him and Ally, who are strangers as far as we know. The scene concludes with Kai’s memorable line, “Enjoy your latte, bitch.”
We now see Winter applying for a job to be Oz’s nanny and meeting Ally and Ivy. This is juxtaposed with a conversation with Winter and Kai that also includes their locking of pinkies. This conversation was a flashback, as her and Kai are in cahoots now. Winter explains to her prospective employers that her proudest moment was being retweeted by Lena Dunham, which I found to be interesting, as she is set to be on this season. Moments after, we see Winter explaining her most humiliating moment to Kai. We watch her spout off bullshit about “loving children” to Ally and Ivy at virtually the same time as we see her telling Kai that children are what fill her heart with dread most. This was a very nice touch in my opinion, as it displayed the veneer that Winter is putting on for Ivy and Ally, and exposing her rotten core right off the bat to us.
Cut to Kai provoking a group of Hispanic men. He uses derogatory terms to refer to them and says that because Trump’s president, they’re no longer welcome here. To top it all of, he pulls out a condom from his backpack, urinates in it, and proceeds to throw it at these group of innocent men. He understood that this would be the final straw, and he allows them to beat him up, as the camera pans out to an iPhone recording the fight. Hmm…
As Ally and Ivy are trying out new plates at the restaurant, Winter is babysitting Oz. Quite predictably, she’s behaving much differently towards Oz than she was in her interview. On top of probing him with questions about his home life, she sees him drawing a picture of Twisty. She then asks him if he’s ever seen a real dead body and things go awry very quickly from this point on. She begins showing him videos on “The Dark Web” of people being murdered. Oz doesn’t really want to partake in this, but Winter explains to him that this video and what she’s teaching him is like a vaccination for his brain - at first it may hurt, but in the end it will make him stronger. This part was easily the darkest part of the season premiere, and made me more interested in Winter’s character.
An ice cream truck pulls up across the street containing the clowns that Ally has continually claimed to have seen and Oz’s interest is piqued. This lets us know that these clowns aren’t merely a hallucination on Ally’s part...but you never truly know with American Horror Story. Across town, Ally is scrolling through Donald Trump’s tweets and getting super triggered. She continues to hallucinate, seeing blood in her food and a clown masturbating. This sends Ally on a clown hunt all around the restaurant, while Ivy is trying (and failing) to console her and reassure her of the truth.
Later that night, Ally and Ivy arrive home to find caution tape and several emergency vehicles on their street. Naturally, they’re concerned that something is wrong with Oz, but it is explained to her that something happened with her neighbors, Tom (from city council), and his wife Marilyn.
We see Winter’s account of everything that happened, including her and Oz going up to the house and watching the clowns mutilate their neighbors and leave their signature smiley mark in the Chang’s blood. However, Detective Samuels (Colton Haynes) tells Ally that this was most likely a murder-suicide. Ah, of course. The classic unreliable witnesses/inaccurate account of events that American Horror Story loves to throw at us.
The season premiere ends, rather anticlimactically, with Ally yet again being startled by the clowns.
Although there was a lot going on with this episode, I wasn’t particularly floored by it. Historically, American Horror Story season openers have been very captivating and immersive into the theme and vibe of the season. However, there are so many directions in which this season could go that I’m not particularly sure if I understand the theme of it just yet. This episode wasn’t the worst episode of American Horror Story, but I definitely think as far as season openers go, this one was probably the weakest.
However, just because this season started off weak (in my opinion), does not necessarily indicate that all hope is lost. Typically, seasons of American Horror Story start off incredibly strong and tend to lose quality and put a damper on the season as a whole by the very end of it. The mediocrity of this episode could very well mean that this season has much more in store for us yet, and could increase in quality as the season goes on rather than follow the typical trend.
All negativity aside, I did appreciate how this season hasn’t used the election as an entire concept to base the season around, but rather a starting off point for Ally’s mental deterioration and the subplots with Kai, Winter, and Oz. My favorite part of this episode by far was Twisty. I absolutely loved seeing him again, and am glad that he seems to have made his way into modern pop culture in the AHS realm. “Edward Mordrake: Part II” will always be one of my favorite episodes of AHS, as I loved seeing his background and learning that there was so much more depth and (above all) depravity to his character. I hope we see more of him in Cult! I’m hoping next week’s episode, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, starts to explain more to us and continues to remain filled with clowns!
Though much too modest to admit it himself, Jonah is perhaps the world's preeminent AHS expert. He loves talking film & television, building his fledgling vinyl and Blu-Ray collection, & having far too many coffee drinks. Jonah can often be found binge watching shows with his handsome one-eyed ocicat, Irving.