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[TV Review] ‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Episode 3: “Neighbors From Hell”

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‘American Horror Story’ keeps on holding a distorted funhouse mirror up to reality as Kai’s game of wits continues to unfold and consume

“Make the world wrong.”

Recovery is never an experience that’s starkly black or white. It’s complicated and messy in spite of it leading to something positive. It’s a process where sometimes the moments where you feel the most stable and secure can end up leading to the most paralyzing spin-outs. I’ve tried to avoid dipping into discussing politics when handling these reviews, but this is proving to be a season where that’s an increasingly tricky task. This recovery idea is seen on a national scale in the sense that through Obama’s two terms in office, much of the country were feeling that things were improving and that the country was opening up in exciting new ways. That’s why it’s jarring to see the United States currently regressing in such drastic ways. What once seemed like a time of recovery has decayed into a time of fear and powerlessness.

“Neighbors From Hell” is especially interested in digging into this recent schism that’s been occurring and this idea of “false recovery.” The episode crams this theme down the audience’s throats, with the installment’s cold open being the perfect distillation of it all. The episode’s introduction takes some time introducing the audience to some other patients that are in fear therapy with Dr. Rudy Vincent. The chilling events that follow involving coffins are all sorts of disturbing, even if it is just meant to titillate the audience. This does at least lead to the interesting conclusion that between Ally and these victims, patients of Dr. Vincent appear to be specifically targeted here. Furthermore, the victims from the cold open were cured, yet they’re still not immune to this level of harassment. No one is really cured. Whether being locked in a coffin, fearing the “mysterious” neighbors that live next door, or the contorting nature of gun legislation, “Neighbors From Hell” proves that stability is just one knock on the door away from turning into a relapse.

With smoke still being in the air from the dramatic events that the previous episode went out on, it looks like Ally is definitely going to have some trouble on her hands. Only she doesn’t. Because once again American Horror Story doubles down on reality and use the warped events of the past few years to dictate its storytelling. In this case, it’s the protection that the “stand your ground” law gives gun owners. Suddenly this innocent man who was trying to help the Mayfair-Richards is posthumously turned into a predator just because of his race.

It only takes this season of American Horror Story three episodes to fully go through the looking glass. It literally gets to the point where people are wearing sombreros as they hurl Taco Bell coupons at Ally while brandishing her as the “lesbian George Zimmerman.” It’s so deliciously Ryan Murphy it’s not even funny.

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Pedro’s death begins to turn into a grassroots movement in the community and a collective boycott of the Mayfair-Richards’ restaurant. Ally finds herself becoming a pariah in her neighborhood as her delicate composure gets increasingly chipped away. All of this also allows Kai the perfect soapbox to gain more supporters and by proxy, knock Ally even further down. It’s not dissimilar to what Trump did during the election with Clinton. Their whole story acts as a microcosm of Hilary and Trump. Kai continues to empower others in the same way that Trump did by telling them that they need to “make the world wrong” in order to actually bring about any progress. All the while, more people that are close to Ally continue to enter Kai’s orbit in a way that can’t be good for her.

Another big idea that’s present in Ally, Kai, but also the majority of the characters this season, is that everyone is so convinced that they’re the right ones. As this increasingly becomes the mentality of people in the age that we’re living in, it’s not surprising to see this blind arrogance fueling so many of this season’s characters. For instance, Ally is legitimately being terrorized, but the way in which she falls back on the election after every bad thing that happens to her gets a little drastic. It’s Ally’s catch-all and go-to excuse for her to be miserable.

On the topic of Ally, Paulson’s fragile performance continues to be grating and it seems like viewers are quickly turning on the character. “Neighbors From Hell” is a step forward for Ally in comparison to where her head was at last episode. She still needs more going on than simply being a frail character that’s in need. Paulson has been given the gift of playing some of the most interesting characters throughout American Horror Story’s run. Ally Mayfair-Richards is definitely the least complex of her many roles so far. Hopefully there’s more to this character and performance that will gradually reveal itself. Maybe all of Kai’s harassment will push her over the edge and she’ll become an even larger force of nature than Kai himself. Maybe Ally needs to be broken down and made to feel completely helpless before she can grow in the ways that she really needs. Or maybe she’ll just continue screaming about clowns.

Much of Ally’s grief this week comes courtesy of her neighbors, the Wiltons. The episode continually tries to paint Harrison and Meadow as the worst, but it plays with the idea that any sinister nature from them is just Ally’s growing paranoia. That being said, it still seems like something is up with these guys. Those large shipping containers that Harrison was dealing with last episode certainly seem to be more suspicious than his regular bee-related equipment. It’s still a little too early to be borrowing a cup of sugar from these guys.

The relationship between Winter and the Mayfair-Richards family continues to deepen in dangerous ways. Winter keeps up the manipulation of both Ally and Ivy , but the fact that she sends her “video” with Ally to Oz feels a little like overkill. After that point someone from this family should be questioning Winter’s intentions rather than everyone being so blind and attacking each other. Watching this frail family get turned against each other is rather bleak, but it’s working and we’ll see where it all ends up going. Maybe this intense deception from Winter and Kai is weirdly going to end up helping the Mayfair-Richards in some way.

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In a lot of ways this weird relationship between Winter and Oz continues to be the most unsettling dynamic within AHS: Cult. The fact that a pseudo-sexual component is being peppered throughout their interactions is also deeply concerning. Once more, this season reiterates that the most horrible terrors out there are the grounded ones that take place between everyday people. Such as the whole set piece involving Oz’ new pet guinea pig. Even if the whole scene might show its hand a little, the fact that Oz’ pet guinea pig gets urban legend-ed in the microwave is exceptionally brutal. It also points to more evidence of Kai building this Project Mayhem-like cult to systematically bring Ally down.

Beyond all of the clown murders, homewrecking, and rodent explosions, AHS: Cult leans into its crazier inclinations by bringing some evil chemical company into the picture. The material seems like it’ll be dipping into mind control or other crazy conspiracy theories, which could make for an entertaining aspect this season. However, if this ends up leading to Ally developing cancer or some disease from these chemicals, I’m going to be pretty bummed out, especially considering how haphazardly she acts during this. This is certainly the biggest disparate element of the season at this point, but who doesn’t love green ooze type scenarios? If Murphy hadn’t already confirmed that this season wouldn’t be supernaturally based I’d already be placing my bets for when Tokka and Rahzar would be popping up this season.

American Horror Story: Cult continues to refine its story and shed more light on its characters as it lets this broken world consume them all. It feels like this season has a clear sense of where it’s going and a plan for at least the next few episodes, so let’s hope it can maintain the energy that it has going. After all, everyone’s just one breakthrough away from being nailed into a coffin…


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