‘AHS: Cult’ turns up the heat as Kai as his band of merry murderers start to tighten the strings of their puppet regime
“Are you with us, or all you against us and all that we stand for?”
With AHS: Cult more or less being at its half-way point with this episode, it’s only fitting that Kai’s plan and the whole arc of the season is explicitly spelled out for everyone. Kai’s been orchestrating all of these clown murders as a means of driving the community into a feared panic where he can then shepherd them into the future. With humanity being plenty desensitized, his perfect vision isn’t going exactly as planned. It’s time to turn things up a notch and really get everyone hiding under the blankets until their Leader makes them feel safe again. It’s hard not to feel like this isn’t American Horror Story having a bit of a meta conversation with itself in response to those that haven’t been crazy about this season. So you don’t think this has been scary or gory enough? Fine. Let’s do some body torture on a gimp and throw in some Satanic shit for good measure (“like from that movie, Paradise Lost, that I saw once on HBO,” Kai boasts). Welcome to phase two.
Holes are an interesting concept in the sense that they’re signs of structural integrity falling apart. Tiny holes that seem innocuous can quickly turn into a massive sinkhole that consumes everything under its weight. Alone holes don’t seem like a big deal, but get a lot of them together and there’s going to be a problem. This episode of American Horror Story: Cult is all about those holes coming together and the weak links from this season being singled out and dealt with.
In the episode’s opening minutes Beverly Hope is told that her news story about crime being on the rise and people’s safety being at an all-time low is “full of holes.” At another moment Ally pleads to her psychiatrist that her inability to see her son has become a hole that’s been impossible to fill. Whether it’s the metaphorical holes in a news report or the literal ones that bore away in objects—something that’s another intense fear of Ally Mayfair-Richards—they all point towards danger here. This week some characters fall into those holes of darkness, while others are the ones pushing people into them.
Very early on, “Holes” decides to take on the ever-popular growing idea of “fake news,” with Beverly finding herself at the center of this idea. Her and Kai’s plans to spread the word that a serial killer is loose in the community is not met in well regard and ends up in Beverly’s messy dismissal from the network (although not nearly as messy as Sabrina or Bob’s exits). Her and Bob continue to butt heads here and it’s worth noting that those that are following Kai’s orders are also seeing a lot of resistance come their way. Of course, if an obstacle gets in your path, an ax to the skull is always a good problem solving method.
Speaking of Kai’s followers, it’s rather satisfying to see Kai’s entire army congregating together as they plot towards ensuring his seat on the city council. This might all feel rather small potatoes, but as Kai pointedly explains, “people don’t follow experts any more, they follow titles.” It really doesn’t matter what election Kai is trying to win here. What’s important is establishing his credibility and that he’s capable of winning something; that he has a following. At the same time, it still feels like everything Kai says is meant to be a new tagline for the deplorable ranks of humanity. At his most cringe-worthy moments Kai still comes across as Tyler Durden-lite in the world of Trump, but Peters at least continues to crush this performance.
The reveal that Ivy of all people also happens to be apart of Kai’s manipulative games is perhaps reaching a little too far. It’s a moment that’s meant to give the audience whiplash and throw out one of the few cornerstone relationships from the series. That being said, last week effectively put a wedge between Ally and Ivy, with it looking like the supportive lover was more than ready to permanently abandon ship. The fact that every single person in Ally’s life is secretly working against her is starting to become so implausible and feel like some Truman Show level of prank that I wouldn’t even be surprised at this point if the season ended with Kai just being some extreme life coach that’s trying to get Ally past her worst traits.
Last episode gave audiences a bit of a break from Ally, but she’s back in fine, shrieking form this week. As much as this character might be completely grating in a very “Shelly Duvall in The Shining” kind of way, it’s still upsetting to see her opening up to Dr. Vincent who’s then using all of this against her. In this sense, Ally continues to be a highly problematic character because every direction she seems to be taken in only further demeans her character. Seeing this weak woman become only frailer as she worries about losing her son and is left alone in her home is just gutting.
While seeing Sarah Paulson continually in peril isn’t that exciting, the episode absolutely nails her dream about scratching away at the holes in her neck. That sort of blemish obsession is very real and the way in which the sequence distorts reality is particularly unnerving. It absolutely taps into the obsessive horror of this phobia. At least Ally begins to stop blaming the election for every tragedy that hits her. The ironic thing though is that after Kai is able to rally this support staff together because of being inspired by Trump, the election sort of is to blame now in a roundabout kind of way.
Winter’s complete brainwashing of Ivy is also extremely icky to watch. As Winter slowly indoctrinates herself into becoming Oz’ “new mom,” it seems like the two of them are more than willing to let him forget about Ally completely. What’s even worse is that Ivy isn’t only inspired by Winter’s radicalism, but she’s now actively blaming Ally and people like her for the state that the country’s now in. In her head she’s cleaning up their mess. It’s sanctimonious as all hell, but it’s hard to not picture Kai smiling at the whole thing.
Kai goes through an interesting journey this episode that largely hinges around his gang’s attack on Bob. This planned attack veers off in some highly unexpected madness as it’s revealed that Bob’s keeping a tortured gimp in his attic. Why? You’ll never get to know. It’s not important, instead the show goes out of its way to be its bloodiest and most gruesome yet. Almost offensively so. The same can be said for not only the gore, but the mentality behind the nail gun scene that follows. This definitely feels like American Horror Story at its highest levels of torture porn, both physically and emotionally, with it using the bleak backdrop of the current times as an excuse for everything. Even if this doesn’t all exactly work, the fact that it’s making you uncomfortable is kind of the point here. Kai’s methods should make you wince.
There are also some signs of a very twisted romance between Kai and Beverly that seems to be just as much about stroking egos as it does body parts. The two continually push each other to work harder and they bring out the most driven qualities in one another. Beverly’s also interested in asking the questions that nobody else is when it comes to Kai Anderson. Her investigative reporter nature gets the better of her and she tries to peel back the layers and find out who Kai really is.
Beverly gets Kai to present the story—or rather a story—on what happened to his parents and it’s the sort of abusive, tragic backstory that you might expect for someone like Kai. Whether it’s true or not, it leads to another great performance from Peters and leads to the curious information that apparently Kai, Winter, and Dr. Vincent are all apparently siblings? Winter also seems to have been the least complicit in all of this, with her really having no say in the matter as her family transforms into monsters over night.
On the topic of romances, Harrison and Dr. Vincent also seem to be generating some heat together, which ends up cluing Ally into the fact that everything lately may not be as it appears. Also, if Ally doesn’t initially put this together, at least Meadow is there to tell her exactly what’s going on, right down to the most tertiary members of Kai’s cult.
Kai’s latest extreme actions boil down to his cult turning to self-sacrifice with Beverly and Kai insisting upon a weakest link execution scenario. These people are forced against their ideals and are beginning to realize that the horse that they’re backing might be batshit insane. Suddenly even more real of stakes are injected into the situation—like nails into a skull—and all of these people learn that they can’t turn back now. There are very upsetting consequences awaiting those that do and Kai has an itch to break a world record here.
American Horror Story: Cult is now moving into the second half of its season and while its endgame may be a whole lot clearer at this point, whether it’s worth the trek is beginning to be questionable. “Holes” is certainly the series at its most audacious, but it’s going to take more than that to hold all of this together. It should only be appropriate that an episode that’s all about pulling yourself out of a hole is now stuck with the same dilemma. However at this rate, maybe they should just air the finale in Latin with English subtitles. Latin is scary, after all.
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