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[TV Review] ‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Episode 6: “Mid-Western Assassin”

Ally struggles to bring the truths of Kai’s cult to the public as he continues to retaliate and she depends on an unlikely ally in the process

“No one’s going to believe that.”
“Of course they will. It’s on Facebook.”

At one point during “Mid-Western Assassin” Ally questions why Ivy would want to betray her so thoroughly and Meadow brings up how she voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary Clinton. Ally responds with, “That’s not a reason,” but that’s kind of been the reason for this entire season. People are offended when someone has slightly different beliefs than they do and suddenly they feel threatened. Suddenly something needs to be done. Glimpses of Kai’s campaign seem to imply that his empowering slogan to America is “We are wool.” It’s a pledge that’s not too different from everyone screaming, “We are sheep.”

In one of the most chilling cold opens of the season, a mass shooting at a Kai Anderson rally is shown with unflinching brutality. The sequence is handled in a chilling unbroken shot, save for a few close-ups of the gunman’s trigger being pulled. It’s a jarring introduction that is all too real in a lot of ways. In fact, this scene was sadly so real that Ryan Murphy decided to re-cut this opening scene at the last minute as a response to recent events. I have not seen this re-cut version, but it apparently leaves much of the shooting’s horrible visuals off screen and to the imagination. As I mentioned earlier, the original version is brutal, shocking stuff, much like the rest of this season. All of this aside, the revelation that Ally is the one holding the gun doesn’t feel like it lands with the shock that the show hopes for. I didn’t expect anyone else but Ally to be behind this shooting due to the grueling journey that she’s been put through this season. However, the reveal that Kai has been shot does hold a lot of dramatic weight. That is, it would if he actually dies.

While the episode obviously plays the assassination card, it’s still a very controlled one. Actually having the balls to kill off Kai this early in the show would be really exciting territory to explore. While what happens still takes the final steps in vilifying Ally and turning Kai into a martyr, it would help lead into the beautiful idea of how it doesn’t matter if you’re alive to pull off an agenda. In fact, sometimes it’s even easier to do such a thing when you are dead. Cutting off the head doesn’t always silence the beast, and American Horror Story: Cult could have a lot of fun exploring that idea. Furthermore, the show is already about to highlight this principle in some really creative ways, like putting Evan Peters in the role of other famous cult leaders like Charlie Manson, Jim Jones, and even Andy Warhol. Even if Kai is dead, his energy is omnipresent and using the same actor to portray previous cult figureheads is the perfect way of symbolizing that idea. The episodes fails to have the guts to go in that direction, but Kai’s master plan is still far from over and surely going to be full of surprises.

The shooting makes for a strong introduction, but turning the clock back to the events at the end of “Holes,” does feel like a bit of an injustice. It’s a strong boiling point to build up to, but it’s not exactly one where we need to watch an entire episode of Ally’s motivations building up to this point. We know what pushes her over the edge.

Even though Kai’s cult is in full-on “deny” mode to make Ally feel crazy, she finally begins to start thinking for herself and attempts to take matters into her own hands. There’s no more time to just let the killer clowns come to her any more. Ally is able to get Harrison’s keys and free Meadow because Harrison’s a little too occupied having sex. It’s a deeply reductive moment for the characters, but American Horror Story isn’t exactly where you go to avoid stereotypes. Ally finally gains someone who she can trust in the form of Meadow, but the two of them are forced to go on the run. Meadow is pushing the too-sensible idea of fleeing the State, but Ally isn’t going anywhere until she gets back Oz. As admirable as Ally’s actions are, I’m almost frightened to see any reunion between this mother and son. I’m afraid Oz might be completely brainwashed at this point and that would just be too much for Ally to handle.

Meanwhile, pieces of backstory between Meadow and Kai are shown and their history is surprisingly heartbreaking. Meadow evidently wasn’t only a part of Kai’s cult, but she was actually quite high up the ranks and practically his other half. That makes her spilling her guts here all the more important as she wasn’t just spending time with the enemy, but also thoroughly understands him. It also makes her reflection on Kai’s treatment of her that much more devastating, especially after the bombshells that go down in the episode’s final minutes.

With this episode taking a good chunk of time to look at Meadow’s induction into Kai’s cult, each week effectively shows a different way in which someone can get persuaded to the dark side and drawn into a cult. A little more light is also shed on how Ivy got involved with all of this too and it’s even revealed that everything that Ally’s been going through is actually her doing. Ally needs to seem crazy so Ivy can retain custody, with all of Kai’s handiwork actually being a comprehensive plan of ruining Ally’s credibility. This has already been a depressing season in a lot of ways, but these latest episodes are especially brutal in that regard. People are either the absolute worst or just helpless victims.

The episode’s swift introduction and execution of Sally Kepler is also another tragic sequence to watch play out. Kepler’s confident takedown of Kai and his ways is not only beautiful, but cathartic. She completely understands the sort of person that Kai is and his reactionary ways even cause her to stand up and do something about her feelings. You can see how much Kai wants to murder the woman all over his face, but she’s also doing exactly what Kai’s been telling people to do.

Ally seeks out Kepler and tells her everything that’s gone on and it makes for a sweet friendship, but one that you know is sadly going to be short lived. Kepler is fairly nonplussed over what Ally shares with her. She reduces Kai’s antics to a generational threat and that he’s just a product of the times, like so many that have come before him. Kepler’s help needs to be limited and it’s beginning to be more of a bummer to see good, innocent people being murdered by Kai, simply for getting in his way. Especially when some of these kills are dressed up as suicides.

Overall it feels like American Horror Story: Cult is wearing a little thin, but it’s at least moving at a respectable pace and appears to be entering its endgame. The final moments of the episode actually pull a reasonable bait and switch over what the circumstances of Kai’s shooting originally looked like. It somehow becomes an even more tragic scenario when innocent lives are lost in the name of building Kai’s name up. This season may still be a little too angsty for its own good, but Kai’s vision has never been going more according to plan than it currently is. It looks like the guy is finally ready to reach the national level.

3/5

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