This season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY is hugely fear-based. Which, like, seems a fairly obvious statement — hello, it’s American Horror Story. But AHS: Cult is centered around the 2016 election, and as such, it starts out addressing a more grounded type of fear than the show typically plays with; the fact that American society, and especially American politics, are so deeply fear-based.
We meet the cast of characters, full of familiar faces, and spend most of our time with two households. One is inhabited by Evan Peters as Kai and Billie Lourd as Winter, siblings on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Kai is so pro-Trump that he paints himself orange with pulverized cheese curls, which sounds weird, but let’s be real, there are def some basement-dwelling neckbeards who’ve done this. Winter quit college to work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The other household is Sarah Paulson as Ally Mayfair-Richards and Alison Pill as Ivy Mayfair-Richards, a couple with a little boy named Oz. Following the election, Ally is gripped with such extreme anxiety that she starts to hallucinate (…maybe). Her phobias become so intense that she sees them everywhere. Clowns attacking her in the grocery story, trypophobia manifesting in everything. Of course, it’s AHS, so there’s doubt from the get-go as to whether or not Ally is actually being pursued by the insane clown posse. That said, by far my favorite part of the episode is before the clowns start appearing full force. It’s post election, and Ally walks into an empty grocery store, smiling at the bearded white dude cashier, only to watch him don a MAGA hat. As she walks the aisles, the sound design is tense, the hum of fluorescent, and a voice over of Trump plays over her anxieties. This felt like the realest moment of the episode; that feeling of absolute dread and not knowing what’s coming so many Americans felt after seeing that Trump won, not to mention how uneasy many women or people of color would feel walking alone at night through an empty grocery story with an avid Trump supporter at the front of the store.
But then clowns appear, and chase her around. She gets into her car and calls Ivy, who we learned from Ally’s earlier therapy session was really there for Ally when they first got together and her anxiety was bad. Ivy tries to calm her, but Ally sees a clown in the back of the car and floors it into a lamppost. She’s then brought home by the police, and tries to convince Ivy that the clowns were real. Ivy has a hard time believing it, probably mostly because it’s unbelievable, but also because Ally has a history of mental illness. Also, the night before, Ally caught Oz with a Twisty the killer clown comic, so Ivy probably assumes that’s what kicked off her phobia.
Kai goes to a town hall meeting, meanwhile. His purpose is to convince them not to provide extra police guard to a Jewish center with a rousing speech about the show’s core theme — which feels a little hokey, honestly — which is that Americans love fear, and so what the town needs to do is let people blow up the Jewish center so that they can give up their silly mortal desires and give over entirely to fear. The man presiding has a comeback I’ve wanted to say to dozens of annoying dudes post-election. He tells Kai: “I appreciate that a lot of you 4Chan guys feel empowered to join the rest of us in civil society now that Papa Bear Trump is telling you it’s okay,” but basically, yeah, no, go home. Kai walks away, defeated, the motion passes, but on his way out he adds that there’s nothing more dangerous than a man who’s been humiliated.
Winter gets a job as Ally and Ivy’s nanny, after Ally decides she’s going to go back to work. Ivy’s mostly been supportive, but she ends up pushing Ally to get over herself and re-enter the world, which is fair enough. We shortly thereafter find out that part of Ivy’s resentment is that Ally voted for Jill Stein, and Ivy feels some blame toward her about the election. This is a dynamic I definitely hope they explore more. There are surely a lot of liberal households who are somewhat divided due to third party votes, and it’s not something discussed or dissected very often, so it would be interesting to see.
Winter turns out to be the world’s absolute worst nanny, and immediately after finding out Oz likes the murder-clown comics brings him to the dark web. Like, outside of starting an adolescent fighting ring and broadcasting it to take bets on Facebook live, I’m not sure there’s much worse a nanny could do and still keep the kid alive than introduce them to the deep web. Oz wants to stop watching, but Winter tells him it’s like a vaccination — he’s weak now, but the more he watches, the more he’ll be immunized against it — meaning violence. Based on the show he’s in, seems safe to say he’s going to get a lot of exposure. Winter goes to get something from downstairs, and in the meantime Oz sees a bunch of clowns piling out of an ice cream truck through the window. He tells Winter, but she doesn’t see it — still, she takes him outside across the street to investigate, where they basically hear the neighbors getting murdered.
Ally and Ivy come home after Ally has another break down to find their neighborhood a crime scene. Oz tells them about the clowns, but Winter shuts that down as soon as Oz is out of earshot, telling them that he made it up. Still, their neighbors, the Changs, are definitely dead. The detective — a white-haired Colton Haynes — tells them they’re safe, and that it appeared to be a murder-suicide. But since Ally and Oz have now seen these clowns, there’s some doubt there. Then again, they’re related. I don’t know anything about the hereditary nature of hallucinations (by which I mean, I doubt there is such a thing) but television shows have pulled weirder explanations out of the ether before, so who knows.
Full disclosure, this will be my first full season of American Horror Story, because I’m an enormous baby and jump constantly when watching anything that even approaches horror. So I don’t fully know what the show’s ways are, and this might be a really dense supposition for a seasoned viewer. But assuming the clowns are real, and they’re targeting Ally, a green party lesbian, and the Mayfair-Richards’ neighbors, the Changs, and we’ve heard Kai announce that the answer to everything is scaring people to such an extent that they give up and give over to the state to protect them, and his vague threat about nothing being more dangerous than a humiliated man… my money’s on the crazy murder clowns being a bunch of Trump supporters. Which, really, just seems accurate.
Season 7, Episode 1 (S07E01)
American Horror Story airs Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
Alyssa Thorne | Contributor