It seems kind of fitting that the penultimate episode of AHS: Cult, a season that seemed less like an echo or reflection of the 2016 election and more like a piece obsessed with it, aired on Election Day 2017. The episode features another dress up moment for Evan Peters, this time seeing him become Charles Manson (though not a ghost, as the vision helpfully reminded Kai and the audience, Charles Manson isn’t dead). The Tate Murder vignette seemed like more a strategic choice than an artistic one. As perversely charming as Sarah Paulson is in manic murder mode, and unintentionally comical Billy Eichner is with “serious face” and a ’60s wig, the scene serves two purposes: to bring audience members not up on their ’60s history (or true crime novels from any subsequent decade) up to speed on who Kai is talking about when he informs his undershirt army they need to stage a “night of 1,000 Tates.” And by casting Billie Lorde as the Manson Family member that ultimately betrayed their patriarch, it very, very obviously sets up Winter as the next cult member to be taken out for disloyalty.
But before they could get to Winter’s end (a missed opportunity for the episode title, if a bit spoiler-y), Bebe Babbitt returns for an ultimately unsatisfying twist. Seeing Kai end up in her office for anger management (after he hits Winter’s friend, and fellow Hillary supporter when a presidential debate viewing gets heated) seems a bit like fate, and watching Kai be so easily convinced, and given a purpose by a charismatic cult leader is cathartic. It would be an interesting idea to explore if Kai was really, ultimately, under the control of a woman hell-bent on “unleashing the feminine rage,” and was truly willing to sacrifice himself for the cause. But when it is revealed that, basically as expected, the constant increase in Kai’s power has boosted his self-esteem to the point he’s is no longer under Bebe’s influence, the initial reveal (and what seems like Kai’s sixth origin story) is ultimately unsatisfying. When Ally shoots her after she pulls a gun on Kai, it seems like killing off a plot device, not a person.
This week also sees the demise of Gary, a man willing to 127 Hours himself to do his civic duty and vote. Gary is only moments into his great Planned Parenthood heist (in search of the records of the imaginary women getting third-trimester abortions to make a political point) when the clowns surround him. A true Kai believer, Gary makes peace with his impending death really quickly, thinking it’s for the better good, which begs the question, why a mass stabbing with clown masks? Gary knows who they are, and it hardly seems necessary to make it a group job. Why not offer him something quick and painless, and leave the slicing and dicing necessary for their very unnerving Planned Parenthood display for a post-mortem? It can’t even be said they’re doing it for the theatrics of it all, since no one will see their triumphant clown gang in action.
It’s been clear for a long time Winter wasn’t going to be making it to the end of the season. She and Kai, in the end, are just too close to leave each other on less permanent terms. It looks like karma was a factor in her downfall. She’s framed for bugging the house by Ally, still obviously not over Winter’s part in Ivy’s betrayal. And after trying to help Beverly escape by providing her with a train ticket out of town, she doesn’t know she’s just given her the perfect proof that Winter herself is trying to run away from Kai forever (and possibly betray him). Choking his sister to death seems like such a personal way to murder someone, but that choice, as well as his terms, suggest he’s still a person who can feel.
Going into the season finale, there’s a final mystery to explore. What is a member of Kai’s Extremely Buff and Incredibly White cult doing with the kind of wire and recording reviews Kai had mentioned in what seemed, at the time, like the rantings of someone in a manic state? Kai is now a man with a lot less hair and a lot fewer options.
- A straight razor should not be used in a house where multiple murders have taken place. A straight razor should not be used on you by someone with whom you have a complicated relationship. Really, if it’s anything but the best of situations, you should probably do it with a tool not associated with Sweeney Todd.
- Ally had a clear shot to Kai, so why not take it? Obviously, she’s creating a plot to escape, but will that plot ultimately be more effective than just killing the cult leader?