This season of American Horror Story has officially joined a grim and ever-growing club of pieces of pop culture that have had to edit out pieces of violence because a too similar piece of violence occurred in the real world too close to the air date. In the late ‘90s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer chose not to air an episode that featured hints of a school shooting a week after the violence at Columbine. Mr. Robot pushed an episode back in 2015 because it had an instance that seemed to echo the horrific on-air death of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. And tonight, less than two weeks after the deadly Las Vegas shooting, AHS aired an episode without a previously shot scene featuring a mass shooting in a public place. The need to edit out a moment of violence that now feels all too real is all the more chilling when you consider Cult is acting as a giant metaphor (and some could say, as a giant mirror held up to) the post-election era.

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This episode revealed what many fans suspected—the idea that one of Kai’s disciples had turned against him was just wishful thinking. Meadow only has a moment of doubt that the man she’s come to not only follow but love, isn’t the savior she thought he was (a moment that comes when she hears the blue-haired charmer giving new recruit Ivy the same “you’re special” speech he gave her). While Harrison is happy to tie up his wife and leave her for Kai in a closet, the cult leader is able to play the rescuer just moments after becoming the kidnapper, telling Meadow she was right to question how effective a seat on the city council will really be if his goal is world domination, explaining what he really needs to rocket to national fame is an assassination attempt. And for that, what he really needs is her.

Cue Ally “rescuing” a hysterical Meadow who tells her everything about the cult under the guise of someone who no longer believes. While she presents some compelling evidence for her more painful confessions (of course Ivy was in on the pet in the microwave incident, how would the timing have been so perfect otherwise?) it seems odd that Ally, as such a paranoid person, would be so quick to trust a relative stranger. Perhaps even odder is her continued faith in Dr. Vincent. The audience knows leaving who she thinks is her star witness in the hands of Kai’s big brother is probably a bad idea, but if Ally believes someone she loved and trusted (her wife) could be part of a conspiracy against her, and people who hold traditional positions of authority (the police) could also be corrupted, why doesn’t she pause to wonder if her therapist deserves her blind faith?

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because after dropping off Meadow, Ally heads to the home of Sally Kepler (played by the tragically underutilized Mare Winningham). After declaring her intention to challenge Kai as a write-in candidate during a debate, you know poor Sally isn’t long for this world. She absolutely makes the most of her screen time though, taking in Ally’s info about Kai’s cult with absolute calm, rolling a joint as she explains how famous violent men have actually been reacting to history’s larger cracks in the patriarchy (“Manson was a product of the ‘60s-women’s lib, the pill”). Of course, her chill TED Talk is interrupted by the killer clowns, but even the appearance of Pennywise and friends doesn’t phase her—until Kai begins composing her suicide note on her Facebook wall. Though the criticism of online culture was a little self-congratulatory (“It must be true. It’s on Facebook”) Sally’s panic facing the knowledge she will lose her voice, her agency in death is the most affecting final moment the very murder-happy season has had so far.

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In the end, Meadow shows her devotion to Kai by shooting him (not fatally, just as he instructed) before turning the gun on innocent bystanders, and eventually herself. It’s unclear why the violence had to come in the form of a mass shooting, beyond drumming up even more fear that Kai sees as his fuel. The senseless and completely random violence seems to have at least shaken Ivy, who was caught in the crowd as the bullets rained down. While the most recent addition to the cult could have rationalized the other murders as necessary to the cause since they targeted specific enemies, roadblocks in their path to world domination, a mass shooting is inherently random, hitting people that could have as easily been for what Kai stands for (whatever that is) as against him. Will she be able to put that eerie elephant/donkey mask back on now?

And in the wake of Meadow’s death, Ally is the one holding the gun. While it might seem impossible that no one (and no camera) will have seen Meadow shoot multiple bullets into the crowd, the stage, and eventually her own head, shootings are a time of chaos and a desperation to search for a narrative, an explanation. A dead woman can’t give people answers. But Ally, even if it goes against her own best interests, can. And Kai is counting on the fact that she will.

Stray Observations

  • Ivy’s confession that she began to hate Ally when she seemed to take ownership of Oz after she gave birth to him (and in light of Ivy’s own infertility) was truly sad, but it seemed odd that a family that obviously embraces the idea of therapy wouldn’t take this pain into a couples session before it festered into a murderous rage.
  • Is mace always packaged with an unbranded label that says “Mace” in comically big letters? It does seem like that would be helpful.
  • If you’re hiding from someone and their homicidal friends, you shouldn’t head to the restaurant you own with them. Especially if it has “butchery” in its name
  • “She’s not a joiner” is the best evidence you could give to prove your wife couldn’t possibly be in a cult.
  • “You have the only real espresso in town” is not a good reason to let a stranger into your house in the middle of the night when a killer is on the loose.

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