I remember the first time I had heard that the seventh season of one of the very few shows I actually watch on TV, American Horror Story, was going to be centered around the 2016 election: I cringed and said out loud to myself, Oh no, Ryan Murphy, baby! What are you doing?! I just could not imagine reliving the truly horrifying real-life nightmare that was last year’s presidential election again- but alas, here I am, reflecting on last night’s season finale, feeling super depressed that it’s all over, yet satisfied at the outcome of what has become my favorite season of AHS to date. Ironically, this season, Cult- that I originally thought would be an annoying replay of one of the worst times of modern American history- actually became an entertaining escape from the bullshit of the things that are happening right now. Who would have thought? This is my thorough review of American Horror Story: Cult.
So first and foremost, Evan goddamn Peters absolutely killed it this season. 👨🏻🎤😍👏🏼🙌🏼😩 The radical, sexist, sometimes alt-right cult leader Kai Anderson represents everything I normally would despise in this world, but Evan portrays Kai with such complexity, that at times you a) respect him because he’s vastly more intelligent than half the other dummies who mindlessly follow him (I’ve always loved the smart psycho guys), and b) feel sympathy for him at his most vulnerable moments (his emotional retelling of his parents dying scene; when he apologizes after slapping Winter’s friend; his tears of joy as Ally tells him he is Oz’s father; his heartbreaking tears as he strangles Winter to death for believing she betrayed him). His manipulative, psychotic, charming, heart wrenching, sometimes humorous, but mostly horrifying performance as Kai deserves all the Emmy nominations possible. Kai is most definitely the “lowly, abject turd” who took his ideals too far and became a radical, insecure, Adderall-popping, murderous, modern day Manson-like monster, but Evan still convinced me to root for him (wtf!) in some messed up, twisted way. Not to mention, Evan’s flashback roles as Andy Warhol, Jesus Christ, and cult leaders Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson were so dead-on for a guy who apparently wasn’t even aware he’d be playing other characters until halfway through filming. I could not be more impressed with Evan this season. Bravo. Here’s hoping for more big things for him, as well as even more big roles on future AHS seasons…Plus, we got to witness him have sex three different times, and jerk off in the shower…🤤
Of course, there were many other standout performances this season, aside from Evan’s. Ms. Sarah Paulson was right up there with Evan at proving herself as the Queen of AHS, once again. The way she portrayed (at-first) annoying, phobia-probed, liberal elitist Ally to the dark, badass final girl that we grew to love later on, was impeccable. I was also super impressed by AHS newcomer Billie Lourd, who made blasé Winter Anderson an evil, yet sometimes relatable queen. I also loved both these ladies’ chemistry with Evan- especially how Evan and Billie handled the complicated (aka twisted) sibling relationship angle. Adina Porter as Beverly Hope, Leslie Grossman as Meadow Wilton, and Frances Conroy as Bebe Babbitt also shined this season.
One thing I admired about Cult is Ryan Murphy’s use of excellent artful foreshadowing throughout the season. 1) I didn’t think much of it during my initial viewing of the previous episodes, but since I’ve re-watched the season, I’ve noticed how important gender roles are to the plot, as what we ultimately find out is the real reason behind Kai’s “unleash female rage” cult beginnings. In the premiere episode, we are introduced to the clowns, and particularly, Kai, in his multiple-face dick-nose clown mask. Yes, Kai is literally a dickhead, but Ryan Murphy & Co. carefully constructed the phallic, penis-nose clown mask for Kai, because he is a man who thinks that, because he has a dick, he is more powerful over everyone, especially women (can you say insecure.) Also, in episode 5, as Kai is explaining his parents’ murder-suicide to Beverly, he carefully describes his father as “the man in the house”- Kai clearly learned his sexist views straight from his old man. 2) In episode 10, having Billie Lourd portray Linda Kasabian, the traitor of the Manson Family, in the Manson murders flashback scene foreshadowed Winter (seemingly) betraying Kai (which she ends up paying the ultimate price for in Kai’s hands). 3) In episode 7, as Valeria Solanas tells her lover Bebe- who, as we know, would later play a major factor in Kai’s modern day radical cult- that the SCUM cult will only reveal themselves when they kill 1,000 people, which Kai mirrors in episode 10 as he reveals his plan of “the Night of 1,000 (Sharon) Tates”. 4) Also in episode 7, Valeria Solanas has delusions of Andy Warhol, just like Kai has delusions of Charles Manson in episode 10. 5) In episode 9, the sign “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is impossible not to notice, as they frame Evan Peters’s portrayal of Jim Jones in every shot, signifying that Kai (and our country, for that matter) is not learning from the mistakes of the past, so he will be doomed to repeat them. 6) In episode 10, as Beverly reports on Gary’s sacrificial death, and Kai gives the bullshit story to the cameras that the leftist “Woke Warriors” committed the crime, he also says, “Who’s next? Pregnant women who recognize the sanctity of life growing inside of them?” Of course, in the season finale, we watch Kai plan the “Night of 1,000 (Sharon) Tate’s” (which he ends up changing to just 100 Tate’s because 1,000 was too ambitious). 7) In episode 1, we saw two clowns (which we later find out are Harrison and Detective Samuels) having sex in the produce section in Gary’s market- of course, the watermelons show up again in the finale as Kai is teaching his men how to properly stab pregnant women. *Cringe* 8) In episode 10, we see Ally kill Bebe to prevent Bebe from killing Kai, to which Kai’s Charles Manson delusion appears and says to Kai, “Far out, man. That one ain’t no mole.” And then in the final episode, we learn that Ally really was the mole all along. I had a feeling…
Themes: Cult, with all its twists, turns, betrayals, (and history lessons about past cults for that matter) contained many themes and taught us quite a few lessons: what happens when an insecure man’s hyper-masculinity is threatened by strong women; how pseudo cult-of-personalities/leaders like Donald Trump (as well as literal cult leaders) reel people in, brainwash them, manipulate them, and break them down; fear-mongering politics, and most importantly, the atrocities that occur when we stop communicating and listening to each other, and instead, choose to bash each other and fight each other for our different beliefs. History will always repeat itself if not learned from. I love when killer clowns and social commentary go hand-in-hand.
AHS: Cult has been an equal-opportunity offender- moreso taking jabs at the alt-right (literal and figurative) clowns who support the Trump administration, as well as poking fun at the easily offended, elitist liberals who took the Hillary loss a little too personally. Each character had varying political beliefs and agendas, and this season hit a little too close to home with all its allegorical representations of those who stand behind the Donkey versus those who stand behind the Elephant. Some examples in the show were more ridiculous and extreme than others, but hey, it’s a television show. The thing we all love about AHS is that the FX network pretty much lets them get away with anything and everything- and offending people this season was right on top of the list. I loved it.
Something that Ryan Murphy and the AHS marketing team are excellent at is coyly teasing us with teaser trailers before the season premieres. They may not have made a lot of sense back then, but looking back now, the clues were “hiding in plain sight” as Kai would say: from a clown-face-painted Evan feeding a woman honey from a beehive, representing the Queen Bee (Sarah as Ally), to a bunch of clowns riding inside a truck with ice-cream truck music playing, to the appearance of holes within the clown noses. It’s always in the small details.
Small gushes: TWISTY returned!! One of my main problems with Freak Show and one of the reasons why I lost interest, is because they killed off the uberly creepy, murderous Twisty the clown! I was so happy to see John Carroll Lynch return as one of my favorite AHS monsters, and I thought the way they incorporated him into Ally’s coulrophobia and Ozzy’s fascination with clown comic books this season was great. Also, Emma Roberts showed up for only one episode and was brutally killed off. I just straight up don’t like Emma Roberts, nor the archetype of characters she always portrays on AHS. I dug the episode titles which included, “Charles (Manson) in Charge,” “Great Again,” and “Winter of Our Discontent,” which was a reference to a Shakespearean narrative. Also noteworthy: the musical score this season was chilling, and the sound effects, as well as all makeup, blood, and other effects were equally on-point and horrifying.
As much as I loved Cult and felt that it was a vast improvement from the last couple seasons of AHS, it wasn’t a 10/10 perfect season. Most of the plot holes that I noticed throughout the episodes did make sense as the season went on, but a few were a little wacky. Where in the hell did Kai get the big ice cream truck or the trucks that were filled with water to scare people? Doesn’t his whole house stink from his parents’ bodies and the rest of the bodies that have piled up in that room? There’s no way his cult members couldn’t smell that shit when they came over to meet. How about when Kai claims to be getting his information from “Facebook” in episode 2 as he’s talking to Ally from outside her door, using scare tactics towards her, but then later on in episode 6, when he’s about to kill Sally Keffler, he goes on her computer and mocks her by saying, “Facebook?! You are old.” And why would he shoot Sally in the chest, and actually think people would believe it was a suicide?? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to put the gun to her mouth or head? Rookie mistake, Kai. As someone who has always had a fixed fascination with cults, especially the Manson Family murders, I was very much looking forward to seeing Evan Peters play Charles Manson in episode 10. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Kai having delusions of Manson, but as the episode progressed, and we see Kai increasingly lose his mind, we realize that Charles Manson is the only one that Kai feels like he can trust, as well as the only person who understands him right now, so I was okay with it. However, I would have much rather seen EP play Manson in flashback scenes, or possibly have Manson somehow linked to this whole plot, within Kai’s current cult (I know, ambitious). Okay, fine, I’m being nitpicky…
And now, we’ve finally reached the moment we’ve all been waiting for: let’s talk about that season finale. AHS has a reputation of starting its seasons off strong, but failing to stick the landings at the end (I’m looking at you, Hotel), and Cult‘s season finale was a mix of tying loose ends, yet not totally making sense either. I’m still indifferent about it- I was expecting and hoping for a little more. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I actually kinda dug the Ally and Kai on the same team angle. Yes, Kai was a horrible human being who I ended up resenting by the last episode, but there was something about seeing phobia-proned, scaredy cat Ally turning into Kai’s righthand woman that was much more satisfying than the somewhat cliche way the story turned out to be- we find out Ally was actually framing Kai from the get-go, as she was (one) of the real moles all along, and Kai furiously escapes prison to exact revenge on her ratting him out to the FBI. Kai fails, and ends up dying which I was sort of bummed to see- even though he was awful and deserved the bullet straight to the head via Beverly, I still felt like I needed more from this story. I was hoping for more than just a predictable, happy ending. And yes, Kai did technically do as Bebe asked I suppose- he completely unraveled and unleashed female rage, and he ultimately did end up drowning in it, as Bebe predicted. But, I’m still kind of meh about the whole ending. It was underwhelming.
Some questions: Why did Ally bother killing Speedwagon for being the mole, if she herself was ALSO a mole?? Why not just work together? Or was Ally just telling Kai that story that she killed Speedwagon to keep up her loyalty act? It wasn’t clear. How did Ally end up linking up with Kai’s prison guard fuckbuddy, Gloria, who ending up taking the bullets out of the gun that Kai was intending to kill Ally with? How come Ally got away scot-free with the murders of Ivy, Bebe, and Speedwagon? Her criminal hands came out perfectly clean, and then she runs for office? Hmm… Why did they set it up as if Beverly was trying to get Ally to confess to murdering Ivy, when they ultimately joined forces? Why did Ryan Murphy allude to “Ally and Kai- a love story for the ages” when there was essentially nothing loving about these two? Any form of bond and trust between the two of them was just a secret backstabbing ploy against each other!
I saw a couple things coming, which kinda bums me out, because I would have much rather been given an unpredictable ending. I had a feeling Ally was going to turn everything around on Kai, including Ivy’s murder. I definitely knew Kai was going to operate a cult inside of prison (like he would ever let a jail cell stop him from being “Divine Ruler”). I also saw Ally running for office coming: I knew she was going to become the reformer that makes everything “great again.” As I expected, Ally was the figurative “Queen Bee” all along- in the very final scene, we see her look into the mirror, carefully placing a green velvet hood over her head, just like Bebe and the rest of the ladies from the SCUM cult did back in episode 7. She has won the senatorial race, and is (as implied) becoming the leader of her own version of the female SCUM cult.
I thought Ally’s line of, “You were wrong, there is something more dangerous than a humiliated man- a nasty woman” was a little much, but it made sense, and shows that Ally is a badass final girl. I was hoping for one last scene that included the clowns, but the clowns never appeared. I enjoyed the tiny reference to Asylum, as Lana Winters is briefly mentioned- even though it was ruined for me thanks to Evan Peters divulging a little too much in a recent interview. And I also liked that Ally made a promise in her campaign trail to eliminate both the Democratic and Republican parties and reform Washington from the inside, which is Ryan Murphy’s last little (too obvious) dig at the proverbial monster of the season, the lack of communication and bashing of each other within America.
I was kinda longing for a not-so-happy ending, and I still feel like the finale didn’t quite do the season justice, but I guess the idea that there is still hope for us (by us, I mean women) at the end of the Trump-adminstration-metaphorical-tunnel should be satisfying enough. Ryan Murphy is known for his feminism, and I expected nothing less from him.
This season played out like a piece of cinema, and has been the first (mostly) consistent story within an AHS universe in a while now. Everything came to a poetic full-circle in this season, even though I had mixed feelings about the finale.
And the awards go to 🏆…
LVP of the season: IVY. Ugh that bitch just irked my soul. To be fair, I wasn’t a fan of Ally in the beginning of the season either- but I did sympathize with Ally at least, and Ally had major, major character development that Ivy never did- Ivy only became more and more unlikeable as the season progressed. Her brutal death was pleasurable- especially since it occurred after she just got done condescendingly mocking Ally, like the typical bitch that she was. Ivy was bitter for all kinds of reasons- bitter at Ally for hogging their son when he was a baby; bitter at Ally for not voting for Jill Stein; bitter at the Hillary loss. She contributed very little to the season. AND THEN when her and Ally were going to try to run away and escape the cult, and she goes, “What about Winter?” Ally should have smacked her back into episode 1. Sorry, little Oz, but you were probably better off as Ally and Kai as your parental units, over fucking Ivy. (I’m exaggerating.)
MVP: 1) Kai. Sue me. Kai was an egomaniacal, terrible bastard, but he made this season what it is. You know it’s true! 2) Ally. Ally started off as one of the most obnoxiously snooty and annoying characters in the beginning, who screamed and ran from all her problems, and then became one powerful bitch. Great final girl, as always. Runners-up: Beverly motherfuckin’ Hope (duh) and Sally Keffler. Although Sally’s time was shortly-lived, she was awesome.
Standout scenes: Out of all 11 episodes, there were so many quality scenes, but two that stood out to me the most are 1) When Kai comes to Ally’s door and uses scare tactics to try to come inside in episode 2, and 2) Winter delicately shaving Kai in episode 10. In the episode 2 scene, Kai knocks on Ally’s door, which starts off as small-talk faire, but then turns into heated threats on Kai’s part. He asks if he can come inside and share his ideas with her, but of course he turns to his fear-mongering techniques and rattles Ally’s new, strong door bar handles as he angrily stares into her eyes. Their dialogue and facial expressions between the both of them are exceptional. In the episode 10 scene, Winter begins carefully shaving off Kai’s blue hair before she begins shaving his face. The two (as they always do) are having a personal, yet somewhat creepy conversation about Winter feeling defeated and wanting to leave the cult, before she really starts to resent Kai. Winter tells Kai she loves him and then accidentally(?) nips his face with the razor, while we hear the sounds of Kai’s heavy breathing and he asks her why she wants to “hurt” him. She insists she does not want to hurt him, and he agrees to let her leave, but then just when we thought Kai was a good guy who still has a heart, he reveals that he’s known about Winter’s ticket to Butte, Montana all along, and he quickly calls in his buttbuddy boys to take her out of the room. Kai is always 5 steps ahead. Such an excellent twist. Both scenes were very intimate, and like I mentioned previously, Evan Peters has had such excellent chemistry with both Sarah Paulson and Billie Lourd, making these scenes truly chilling.
Best death scenes: Cult contained a lot of gripping, gruesome death scenes, and as hard as it is watching people get their throats slashed and stabbed to death by clowns, the 2 best death scenes in my opinion were 1) RJ receiving several nails to the head from a nail gun by each of the cult members, and 2) Kai strangling Winter. Each scene was difficult to watch for different reasons: one for its use of ghastly gore, and the other for more emotional reasons, as it signified the ending of a complicated sibling relationship that used a passionate murder technique (putting heads around Winter’s neck ’til we hear the sounds of it breaking.) 🙈
Best line: “You’re a reactionary. You use fear, and the fantasy of a time that never was.. ‘when people left their doors unlocked’…People like Mr. Anderson and Trump are not the garbage- they are the flies that the garbage has drawn“– Sally Keffler, the woman who runs against Kai for city council, in episode 6
As you can tell, I adored AHS: Cult, for the most part, and I am sad to see it all come to an end. I’ve never been this invested in AHS characters and a plot quite as much as I was this season. This season had balls- and I will happily watch again when the opportunity arises. Just when I was about to give up on AHS after a few disappointing seasons, Ryan Murphy has won me over once again. Well-done, Cult. I look forward to watching and reacting to season 8 this time next year. Until then, happy clowning, AHS fans. 🤡🔪