I just… genuinely don’t get American Horror Story. It’s full of great actors, it looks fairly nice, and it’s about American politics — all things I’m super here for. But I don’t want to root for any of the characters. They’ve all proven that they’re duplicitous or weak or too scared to function or morally compromised to such extents that I don’t really care who wins. None of these people are good; none of them are even bad in a fun way that makes you love them despite their darker foibles. On top of that, it feels useless to root for anybody to win, since they’ve made Kai ludicrously omnipotent. And not only do I not care about the outcome of the season because I don’t care about any of the people, but I do not understand the constant violence. I get it, it’s a horror show, it’s on cable, whatever. I watch Game of Thrones. I can get past my knee-jerk displeasure with violence or sex used to titillate in order to obfuscate some empty plot elements to enjoy a show if pressed. But there’s not even shock value in AHS, because every scene includes something gross. There’s no tension, because I’m always assuming somebody’s going to get shot or stabbed or mutilated in every scene, so when it happens, it’s like… the weather. It’s there. It happens every day. Whatever.
It also seems like basically everybody is going to get killed, and I don’t know how to bring myself to care about that, either. This is all obviously very much based around my personal preferences and values, and so your mileage likely varies vastly, but I don’t see the point in intentionally, relentlessly bleak programming. I don’t see the point in watching a group of people rot away their compassion and values until everybody’s just, like, killing each other left and right. It’s not that I don’t think cults lead to this — it’s not that I don’t believe a charismatic leader can make their acolytes commit murder, and other horrible things. It’s just that it all feels so heartless coming from American Horror Story. Perhaps because they’re pulling on real events, and (badly) commentating on our real political climate, at points, American Horror Story: Cult feels just… cruel.
This episode we open on Kai talking to all of his (white, dude) followers about famous cult leaders whom he admires. Jim Jones is at the top of his admiration pyramid, but the “flashback” scenes while Kai is explaining where Evan Peters plays the cult leader were a point at which I just wanted to leave the show and not come back. Cults are fascinating, of course. I like reading about Jonestown as much as the next person. It’s horrible, and fascinating, and fascinating because it’s horrible. But the scenes in which all of Jim Jones’s followers drink the Kool aid, and we watch them die was so incredibly jarring and unpleasant to watch. There was no compassion there, and yes it was coming from Kai’s point of view so naturally not, but it was just so upsetting to watch this horrible event unfold and feel like it’s being presented as more weather. I don’t know; maybe that’s the intent. Maybe it’s enough for the purpose of the show that it made me uncomfortable. But I think there’s a difference between “I’m uncomfortable because this is making me question something I held true about the world” and “I’m uncomfortable because this shows human life as endlessly expendable and delights in pain and suffering”. This is the latter, and I think it’s bad and pointless. (Really, what all three of these paragraphs were getting at. I digress.)
Kai continues to exercise his brutally enforced power on the city council. He announces a run for senate. I get that his cult has now expanded and will likely continue to expand, but assuming that his goons can kill and suppress people at the senatorial level seems kind of absurd. Or at least, assuming that there aren’t bigger and badder politicians in this world who will eat him for breakfast seems silly.
Ally and Ivy argue over how Ivy’s bene treating Ally. Ivy admits that she sort of hated Ally. Ultimately, though, they seem to have more or less made up in deference to Oz. Winter comes to them with a plan for escape — WikiHow article on leaving a cult, easily the funniest moment of the show — but they’re instead taken in by a big group of Kai’s flunkies.
In Kai’s basement, Kai delivers a speech and serves everybody Kool Aid he says they’ll all drink. The first guy who refuses gets shot, so everybody, including the women, downs the Kool Aid, including Kai. Of course, there’s nothing in the Kool Aid; it was just a test to see who would be willing to die for him.
After that, Ally and Ivy are definitely ready to get out. They try to grab Oz right after school and take off, but when they go to get them, they find that their nanny has already picked him up — Winter. They go to Kai’s house, where Kai asserts the fact that he believes himself to be Oz’s father, as Kai used to donate to the sperm bank Ivy and Ally used. He basically holds Kai hostage, and tells Ally and Ivy to go home.
At home, Ally and Ivy have a heart to heart over dinner. Unfortunately for Ivy, Ally laced the dinner with arsenic, and Ivy dies. Ally’s personality 180 doesn’t really track for me (presumably she was actually mentally ill since her problems extend beyond Kai’s trickery, and that’s not something that just goes away, y’all), but I’m happy about it just because it’s finally giving us a character ruthless enough to potentially confront Kai. It would’ve been more interesting to me for kind, soft Ally to figure out how to win this, because if we’re going to make a statement about how to defeat the alt-right and reactionaries and the cult of personality therein, I think compassion is a good place to start but again, American Horror Story seems much more into being bleak for bleak’s sake instead of really engaging with anything.
Ally goes to the sperm clinic and bribes the nurse to see Oz’s biological father’s file. It isn’t Kai — so Ally bribes the nurse to switch out the donor information with Kai’s, and let her take it home. Ally invites Kai over for sloppy joe’s, where she presents him with the folder and Kai decides Oz is definitely the messiah baby, and the universe made this happen, blah blah blah. The whole scene is tense, however, since we just saw Ally cook for and poison Ivy, and Ally conspicuously doesn’t eat — but Kai doesn’t die, so it looks like we’re going to have to wait another week at least for something bad to happen to him… On the up side, somebody finally has some secret from Kai, in that Ally wants him dead for sure, so I for the first time have hope that something will happen.
Season 7, Episode 9 (S07E09)
American Horror Story airs Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
Alyssa Thorne | Contributor