Fans of Ryan Murphy’s terrifying, twisted anthology series might have already anticipated season seven with their expectations in check, but American Horror Story: Cult is using a setting and storyline that might draw on first-timers who are as shocked by this first episode as they were on election night. Let’s begin to unpack what happened on “Election Night.”
This first episode opens with the familiar clips of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton announcing their candidacy, followed with a highlight reel of both campaigns. As the results of the election are made official, two Michigan households have drastically different reactions.
Ally (the dreamy Sarah Paulson) and Liz, a lesbian couple who live with their son Oz, are watching the results unfold with their neighbors. As the pair comfort one another in a scene that’s uncomfortable (and reminiscent of the emotional breakdown my wife and I had when watching the state of Pennsylvania be called for Trump), their neighbor Tom observes that Hillary lost in their town by just 10,000 votes. He acknowledges that 40,000 votes went to Jill Stein of the Green Party, a narrative that’s plagued third party voters since they realized that their disdain of both primary candidates had resulted in a fascist president for our country. Liz and Ally’s son Oz worries about his family being broken up after their Tom berates his wife for not voting when their friends’ marriage could be at stake.
Meanwhile, Kai and his sister (or something) Winter —Billie Lourd—both cope with the results in their own, shall we say, unique way. Kai screams disturbing statements like “The revolution has begun” and “Fuck you world!” while Winter discusses the uncertainty of her future after putting her life on hold for Hillary’s campaign. Kai interrupts the phone conversation by sitting on Winter’s bed with blended Cheetos smeared on his face as a tribute to Trump. The Cheeto mask might be one of the most brilliantly disturbing things I’ve ever seen, and thus sets the tone for AHS Cult. Kai pelts Winter with a series of personal and occasionally revolting questions that reveal little other than the fact that the two have a less than mainstream relationship with one another.
The blend of rage, exultation, hysteria, and sorrow that unfolds during the first few minutes of this episode is a beautifully haunting portrayal of the reactions citizens all over the country had after the 2016 election. Speaking of hysteria, Ally’s latent anxieties and phobias resurface with a vengeance after the election, causing her to have a panic attach after discovering Oz’s Twisty the clown comic book series, a character which fans of earlier seasons might remember.
Ally visits her therapist, explaining to him that her phobias have resurfaced with a vengeance after dissipating when she began her relationship with Ivy and Barack Obama became President. The layers of dramatic lesbian hysteria that have been mocked from those outside of the LGBT community is cleverly examined with Ally’s phobias and her refusal to take anxiety medication.
After therapy, Ally heads to the grocery store for some bread, milk, and a little bit of murderous clown torture. The cashier smirks and puts on his “Make America Great Again” hat as she enters the store, which is a sign of nothing but bad things, but I was not prepared for the clowns humping, clowns on scooters, clowns with knives hallucinations (or were they?) that drove Ally into a full-blown near-psychotic break when she drives into a telephone pole.
Liz attempts to care for both Ally and their son while running their restaurant, Butcher on Main, without the presence of her wife to help. When Ally finally returns to assess the state of the restaurant and discovers how behind they are, Liz finally confronts her about being both emotionally and physically absent since the election. As distraught and unstable as Ally is over Trump’s victory, we learn that she in fact voted for Jill Stein, and that even though she “hated him,” she “couldn’t trust her,” meaning Hillary. The issues between Liz and Ally run deep, particularly as Ally’s phobias and Liz’s growing resentment over that third party vote, but their tense conversation is interrupted by Kai spilling (throwing?) his drink on the couple as he walks by.
The local proximity isn’t all that seems to connect Kai with Ally and her family. When Ally advertises a nanny position for Oz after theirAmeri previous housekeeper from Guatemala disappeared following the election, she hires none other than Winter to fill the vacancy. They give Winter a trial run while taking a night to do a tasting at their restaurant and spend some quality time together, while Kai tortures a group of Mexican workers by peeing into a condom and throwing it at them like a water balloon. As the group of men tackle Kai to beat him up, it’s revealed that the interaction is being recorded. Perhaps a nod to all of the rhetoric and violence that’s been recorded and gone viral online since the election?
Although Kai is most immediately painted as the villain of the season, Winter slowly starts to reveal herself as a twisted presence whose loyalty and motivations are completely unknown. Has she completely lost her mind because of Hillary’s loss, or did she infiltrate the campaign simply to sabotage it for Kai?
While babysitting, Winter ups the creep factor bit by bit by first asking Oz who is “real mom” is and then following up with questions about a father, tapping in to fears and insecurities Oz didn’t even know he should have. Winter then discovers Oz’s Twisty comic and proceeds to force him to watch online videos of real murders. As Winter leaves him to watch the snuff clips to go get cookies for the viewing party, Oz takes a glimpse out the window to see an ice cream truck pull up and the same clowns from the grocery store step out.
Liz’s attempt at a romantic date falls short when the dish she serves Ally sparks another phobia about oozing blood, which creates a manic meltdown yet again, forcing Liz to drive them both home. As they pull up to their house, police cars and an ambulance litter the road in front of their house. Ally and Liz discover that Oz is safe, relatively, but their neighbor friends are not.
Oz claims Winter walked him over to the neighbor’s house, where he saw the clowns murdering the inhabitants of the home, but Winter hands over the Twisty comic book and implies he’s lying or hallucinating just like his mother. The police call the slaughter a murder/suicide, claiming no one outside the family was involved in the incident. After making sure her son is safe and telling off the nanny, Ally goes to bed only to wake up to the sight of a killer clown under the sheets beside her.
That’s is, ladies, the premiere of the first episode of a season that features a lesbian couple as the protagonists. What did you think? Are the killer clowns real, or does Oz suffer from the same illness as his mother? Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments. I don’t know about you, but I’m both scared and psyched for next week.