I have literally no idea how AMERICAN HORROR STORY: CULT is going to sustain an entire season out of what thus far appears to be pretty frail political commentary used to justify an hour of jump scares. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a devotee of the horror genre on a whole, but the heavy-handed creep-factor overlaying every new character introduction comes across as silly and sloppy rather than contributing to the tension, and the fact that there are clowns is just… so ridiculous? I just can’t stop thinking about how many different ways you could make a horror series based off the election genuinely frightening and also contribute to sociopolitical discourse in an interesting way… and instead we have clowns. Why, oh why, are there clowns?
Ally’s phobias continue to escalate. They aren’t helped by Winter, who keeps doing crazy things with Oz, and also tries to seduce Ally. The latter Ally seems to go along with, so that sucks for Ivy, but makes sense as to why Ally doesn’t just fire her on the spot. What makes less sense is that while Ivy and Ally are out, Winter takes Oz across the street, to the Changs’ old house, to meet the new neighbors. And she leaves him there, to come back for a coat. Even if there weren’t some murder clowns roaming around, and even if Ally weren’t a walking anxiety attack, this strikes me as a crazy thing for a babysitter to do. You don’t leave the kid you’re charged with caring for with strangers, for any amount of time, period. But Ivy seems okay with it, so it doesn’t become an issue.
The new neighbors are Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman, and they’re really sinister. More like Sinister with a capital ‘s’ for silly, because the amount of odd hobbies and quirks they pile onto these people who confusingly glower at the couple they’re seemingly trying to befriend over their beehive (bee!! hive!!) is so over the top that it starts to feel like Leslie Grossman is back in What I Like About You.
Meanwhile, there are some problems at the restaurant. A guy in charge of the kitchen gets into a tiff with another kitchen guy, Pedro. Ally sees it and breaks it up, but not before they threaten each other. The head kitchen guy tells Ally she needs to fire Pedro, but Ally says she won’t fire an immigrant in “this climate.” This foreshadows the foreshadowing we get of Ally’s most probable arc later, so it seems worth pointing out that she doesn’t defend Pedro as a worker or a person, even though Ivy tells us he’s been with them since the restaurant opened, and that he’s a good guy and employee. She doesn’t tell the head kitchen guy he’s being inappropriate or discipline anybody; Ally’s ally-ship (say that five times fast) is explicitly performative in this instance.
While all of this is going on, at night, Oz is having night terrors. Or, probably having night terrors. He keeps seeing the clowns we’ve met before coming into his room at night. There are points at which they’re definitely not real — they break a window in his bathroom, and then he wakes up in bed — unless there’s going to be a really belated reveal (“Oz, what did you do to your window a week ago that I totally failed to notice?”) and so it seems a little lame and unfair to have them actually exist at other points… but also it’s lame and unfair to have Oz and Ally share hallucinations. Also it’s lame to have the clowns present at all. But I digress.
One night, the alarm at the restaurant goes off, and although Ivy offers to go check it out, Ally ends up going. She finds the head kitchen guy strung up in the meat freezer, and when she realizes he’s still alive she tries to unhook him, which causes him to bleed out and die. When talking to Detective Colton “White Hair” Haynes, it’s worth noting yet again the disparity in how Ivy and Ally wield their beliefs and opinions. The detective is definitely leading them to finger Pedro as the culprit, and there’s a racial tinge to his questions. Ivy disputes this, and sticks up for Pedro. Ally doesn’t.
Ally feels responsible for his death, and also slips further into her fears. Ivy brings Ally’s therapist over for a bit of an intervention, and the therapist finds out that she has a gun that Billy Eichner gave her to feel safer. When the therapist balks at it, Ally says something about his “knee jerk liberal” reaction which sounds like something my relatives would say on Facebook, not something your average Hillary supporter would say.
This is further underscored when Kai comes to her door. He’s running for a seat on the city council, and is going door to door to get votes. The speech he gives Ally about being afraid preys very specifically on her insecurities, as we know, although he’s speaking generally about fear of immigrants and change, overall. It’s an interesting illustration as to how people become beholden to ideologies that seem opposed to their own worldviews — if you can find a way to explain something to somebody generally enough, they’re probably going to find a way to relate to it. Ally kicks him out forcefully, but it seems like there’s going to be more of this to come.
It’s an interesting arc, but it’s handled so clumsily, in my opinion. It’s not that I think everything needs to be a mystery, but the beats at which they decide to plant these seeds are practically written in neon. And also, any time we touch on an interesting philosophical or intellectual or character development beat, we have to ditch it quickly for clowns.
So obviously: clowns. The power goes out that night when only Ally, Winter, and Oz are home. Billy Eichner brings Ally a candle and tells them to stay locked inside as the power has gone out in several states. Though… has it? It seems like there’s a pretty good chance Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman are evil Republicans with Kai and are just telling people, or only Ally, that to get them in the state of fear that Kai wants people in to give him ~true power~. America is definitely, absolutely a fear-based society, but like everything in this season so far, all of this feels too hamfisted to be interesting or clever.
Ivy, meanwhile, is at the restaurant, and asks Pedro to bring some candles and supplies to Ally, who she knows is freaking out. Ally, at home, is in a panic after realizing somebody cut the security system wires in the house, and after seeing a clown trying to attack her. This is also where the real/not real lines are confusing, and not really in a good way, unless there’s an exceptionally clever explanation coming. Winter told Oz earlier in the episode, if he’s not sure whether the clowns are a dream or not, just ask them. So before the clown goes after Ally, Oz is in bed, sees t he clowns, asks if they’re real, and they say no. But then Ally sees them.
Maybe this whole show is about a family suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s my crack theory, guys.
Ally grabs Oz and goes to run out of the house, to try and get to the neighbors for safety, and as soon as she opens the door, she sees somebody, and shoots. But it isn’t a clown, it’s just Pedro coming with supplies. So now Ally’s a murderer on top of a crazy person, and we still don’t have any idea about the level of reality involved with these clowns. Nor do we… really know why they’re there, and that’s what bothers me most. I mean, if they’re part of Kai and company’s plan to unsettle liberals or anybody unwilling to hand over total control to Kai and company, it sort of makes sense, because clown fear is pretty rampant — but again, I just can’t stop finding it sort of silly, and sort of inconsistent, and wondering why this show has to be So Much when it could’ve been much scarier with much less.
Season 7, Episode 2 (S07E02)
American Horror Story airs Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
Alyssa Thorne | Contributor