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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Horror Story: Cult gives us a history lesson

Screenshot: American Horror Story
Screenshot: American Horror Story
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In addition to the sense that even those closest to them can never, ever be trusted, American Horror Story is giving viewers quite the education in the modern American cult. Evan Peters, fresh from his stint as Andy Warhol, is transformed into Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones, and David Koresh to let his followers know that the truly great cult leaders don’t get (or just get) their followers to kill others—they inspire the kind of loyalty that gets followers to kill themselves.

Kai’s spooky bedtime stories for well-muscled men in matching undershirts serves as some serious foreshadowing misdirection. When he pulls out the vat of Kool-Aid at a later gathering, it just doesn’t produce the tension it should. Sure, Ivy, Beverly, Winter, and Ally believe they’re going to die when they down their cups, and their emotion is genuine and palpable. But a show has to recognize the limitations of its own structure when building suspense. AHS: Cult still has two episodes left, and while it’s not exactly unbelievable to think the minds behind AHS wouldn’t bring back shades of Murder House to support a ghost cult, that wouldn’t exactly work as the political metaphor they’ve been building all season. The Kool-Aid moment did serve as an important reminder of the kind of crazy Kai (probably) is vs. the kind he is not. As unorganized and manic as his rules and purpose have sometimes seemed, he’s always kept one solid goal on his to-do list: continue to acquire political power. And, as he says, the dead can’t vote. To some extent, Kai keeping any thread of sanity (or practicality) makes him even scarier. It’s easier to shrug off men who think they can use tainted Kool-Aid to ascend to a higher plane.

There’s something frustrating throughout Ally and Ivy’s brief reunion, even if it was obvious from the start that they were never going to be able to successfully co-parent (somehow attempting to drive your partner insane really erodes a sense of trust). Ivy’s explanation for her allegiance to the cult, that she felt like she was drifting and wanted someone to tell her what to do does seem troublingly non-specific for such a major character. And while the audience knows her hatred of Ally comes from her jealousy over her ability to give birth to Oz (and at least Ivy’s perception that she was, to a degree, keeping him to herself), it seemed strange that Ally wouldn’t question exactly why Ivy hated her, when she makes that confession.

Of course, it’s possible that Ally simply didn’t think it mattered in light of her grand plan, pasta with Mariana and a dash of arsenic. The fact that the food is poisoned is painfully obvious from the moment Ivy questions the change in Ally’s demeanor as she whips up a light meal (a normal reaction to having your child locked in the house of a violent psychopath). Each choice Ivy makes seems painfully naïve to the point of stupidity after that. You take a bite of the dinner she prepared (which is unusual for her) after you ask why your estranged wife isn’t eating? You drink more wine after she’s vowed revenge? These are the kind of instantly recognizable horror film/Lifetime movie tells that should make a normal person suspicious of a meal, let alone someone who’s recently committed multiple horrific murders herself. Watching Ivy die wasn’t cathartic, but no matter how many seasons AHS churns out, Sarah Paulson’s chilling “watch this house burn to the ground” smile never gets old. Seriously, she must be terrifying to be in a feud with.

The few moments Ally (and the audience) are meant to consider whether or not Kai could be Ozzy’s father are… fine? It’s a solid setup for a daring plan from Ally: convince Kai he is without a doubt her sperm donor (once she breathes a sigh of relief that the father of her child actually seems to be the guy who comes with the picture frame) to cement his loyalty and protection to Oz, and with a little Manwich seduction, herself as well. Which would be a perfect plan, if she didn’t already know blood bonds actually don’t mean much to him, as evidenced by the murder of his brother. And while it could be argued that a son would be far more tied to his ego, his sense of self and dominance, Kai has very little patience for his boy when Oz uses the power of Wikipedia to contradict his Jim Jones happy ending (possibly the one thing Kai gets right this season—Wikipedia is not a reputable source!). For any kind of satisfying ending, the show will have to provide a pretty compelling argument why Ally shouldn’t have just poisoned the Manwich a very trusting Kai chowed down on when she had the chance. Because for now, Kai, Ally, and miracle messiah baby make three. But if the rundown of cult leaders at the start of the episode made anything clear, it was that cult leaders show a certain amount of “love” to their chosen family. But sometimes that affection is given to them through the barrel of a gun.

Stray observations

  • The only, only way the existence of the printout of WikiHow’s “How To Escape A Cult” Winter’s carrying around makes any sense is if Kai discovers it and later uses it as a reason to kill his sis. Otherwise, the showrunners just believe twentysomethings frequently run out to Staples to print information they could read on their phones.
  • “Bed is for the family” is probably the funniest line this season.
  • This is why schools need such strict policies about who can and can’t pick up the kids.
  • Why do all of Kai’s followers have names that sound like rejected Garbage Pail Kids?
  • It seems like a very disturbed Beverly is back in isolation, but it isn’t totally clear.
  • Whose side is Winter on? The fact that she helped Kai pick up Oz points to her being back on Kai’s team, but she could have easily been coerced. It looks like she’ll be the loyalty wild card going into the final two episodes.