American Horror Story: Cult has had the weight of the 2016 election crushing it since its showrunners first began to tease the season, and no show has such a long, exhaustive teasing process as AHS. Someday there will be an American Horror Story: Edit Room season that details the lives of production editors who are told they have to release twenty promos for ten episodes that give away nothing and everything at the same time.
Cult has always had to come back to politics, and like previous episodes, getting explicitly political in the finale means that the show is at its bluntest. Ally dressed in a red pantsuit for her first debate telling her male opponent, in a careful, confident tone not to interrupt her is sure to get the emotional reaction from the audience the writers were going for, frustration with just the glimmer of vindication that only fan fiction can offer. But telling Kai he shouldn’t underestimate a “nasty woman,” seconds before Beverly shoots him in the head, ending the reign of his cult for good, seems too on the nose. You can practically see the showrunners peaking out from behind the curtain saying see what we did there?
For a show that has based so many of its pivotal, season driving moments on twists, the finale of AHS seems to forget that for a twist to be effective, the audience needs an “ah ha” moment. Of course Bruce Willis was dead, no one was talking to him but the kid! If a reveal doesn’t make sense, even in retrospect, it’s less of a twist than a writer’s room giving up, exhausted by the body count and the sheer number of tired 2016 elections allusions, saying simply, this is how it was.
It’s never clear how Ally even found out about the guard Kai brought to his way of thinking, allowing him to have sex with her and help as he cut off a man’s face to escape prison. What’s even less clear is how quickly Ally’s able to break Kai’s spell over the guard, bring her over to her side so she gives Kai a gun without bullets when he takes the debate stage. It’s suggested Kai’s digs about her weight put her over the edge, but every other character needed to see unexpected horrors at Kai’s hands before the honeymoon ended. Is the audience meant to believe this guard is special, or Kai’s losing his touch? Or has Ally simply become a more powerful leader already?
In the end, AHS comes full circle, as Ally, a newly elected senator, stares at herself in the mirror before donning a green velvet cloak. She’s become a Slytherin (jk). She’s clearly become the leader of her own cult, the only thing she seems to have learned from Kai is blue denim-colored shirts are tacky, and just because you’re raising a brainwashed army doesn’t mean you can’t step things up, fashionwise.
So what is the moral of Cult? Because AHS is, at its heart a show with a message. After eleven episodes exploring men (and women) gaining the power over the hearts and minds of their fellow man, driving them to violence out of blind loyalty, sometimes to a cause, but often to the sheer charm and charisma of the leader, the takeaway might be chillingly simple—there are scary people in seats of power. Kai was able to infiltrate local office even as he became a mass murderer with fear tactics and calls for social order (and social constraints). But Ally rose to an even higher political office as a feminist icon, as someone saying all the right things, fighting for all the right causes. Yet she had a collection of horrible skeletons in her closet (er, Kai’s parents’ bedroom). The whole season and its connection to the election at first seemed like a parable and a warning. Don’t follow anyone blindly, don’t allow yourself to be lead by fear or hatred of a perceived threat or you could become the victim of someone ready to exploit that fear and anger. But now it seems like the message might be simpler, and even scarier (and perhaps have an even more obvious connection to the election). Those we should fear are already calling the shots. And they’re doing it with the perfect smile.
- Watermelon and feta salad will never seem innocent again.
- Is it just convenience that Ally found a girlfriend who was a chef, or has she learned, post murderous rage, it’s important to multi-task—filling the hole in your heart and the hole in your kitchen staff with one hire.
- It makes sense that Ally would constantly want to prove and remind herself that she’s over her fear of clowns but is there any parent who would want to tuck their kid in with a homicidal clown action figure?
- The people in charge of Kai’s high-security prison obviously haven’t seen the last season finale of Sherlock, but shouldn’t it just be the basic procedure to separate a cult leader from the general popular and avoid alone time with the guards?
- With its love of connecting seasons and bringing old characters back even for a cameo, there’s no way Oz isn’t returning as a vaguely evil preteen having just learned his mom murdered his other mom, right?
- Kai might be a cult leader and an expert in psychological warfare, but when it comes down to it, he knows the best way to incite a man’s rage is to hit him with a “That’s what your mom said last night” joke.
- There’s no way any prison is going to fall for the “face conveniently mutilated beyond recognition” tactic. If you can’t recognize someone’s face, and that someone happened to be involved in organized crime, the dead person is 100% always going to be not them.
- That’s it for this season! Thanks for reading and coming along on this journey of gore and vocabulary lessons (fear of passing time is chronophobia, just in case you need it).