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Humping the Horror Story

Is there anything more descriptive of American Horror Story than a recap of the 2016 American election?

The first episode of American Horror Story: Cult starts us off with exactly that, a quick rehash of everything leading up to election day.  Election night finds two very opposite reactions. On one end of the spectrum, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) humps the television in glee and rubs his face with blended cheetos. Meanwhile across town, Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) breaks down and must be comforted by her wife Ivy (Alison Pill) as their son Oz (Cooper Dodson) questions whether his moms will stay married. As the night wears on, we meet Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd), Kai’s Clinton-supporting, Vassar drop-out sister. For all their differences though, it seems like they have some pact to truthfully answer each other’s questions so long as their pinkies are linked.

She’s definitely seen him in Cheeto before

In a straight Zodiac scene, a young millennial couple lies in a field by a lake ready to get down to business, only to be interrupted by none other than Twisty the Clown (60 years after his terrifying reign). He proceeds to kill the couple, but does he actually? As it turns out the whole interaction happened in one of Oz’s comics.  When Ally finds him reading the clown comic (does these actually exist?), however, she has a full on breakdown. Apparently her fear of clowns (Coulrophobia), is kind of a problem.

Elsewhere, 4Chan, basement dwelling Kai leaves his home and gives an impassioned speech to Tom Chang and the local government against an upcoming piece of legislature that would bring more police to the town.  According to Kai, humans love fear and they need it.  Isn’t that the world they are currently living in?  After being shot down, he leaves and states that “there is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man”.  Well that’s not ominous at all.  Certainly there’s a set up here for a villain.  He does have a propensity for Cheeto skin after all.

While Kai tries to enact sweeping changes, Ally tries to change more about herself.  Since election night, her phobias, particularly of clowns and holes, have been terrorizing her.  Ally’s psychiatrist Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) urges her to leave social media and prescribes her antipsychotics.  It seems as if Ally refuses to take them, however, sinces in the next scene she enters a grocery store where she proceeds to see clowns everywhere.  Two have sex on the watermelons while others chase her throughout the store.  Don’t worry though, she’s got rose and what else does a girl need?

Keep away from the booze clowns

Shocking no one, the clowns don’t show up on the security footage, but since time needs to move quickly here, we don’t actually get to see how the whole shakedown with the police plays out.  All we know is that Ivy stands beside Ally through it all though, because she states as much at their restaurant The Butchery (there’s a joke in there somewhere).  Things are on the rocks between them though, and not just because Ally voted for Jill Stein.  According to Ivy, Ally has been distant and (shockingly) not taking her medications, but Ally promises to be at the restaurant more as soon as they hire a new nanny.

Cue Winter.  In a scene that juxtaposes Kai asking her questions with her interview for the nanny job, we’re not quite sure why Winter wants the job, but as a former Clinton Campaign worker, she’s the perfect candidate for the job.  After all, Lena Dunham retweeted her.  Dunham is set to guest star later this season, so coincidence?  I think not.

One night while Winter babysits Oz, Kai throws a condom full of pee at a group of Mexicans who in turn beat him up, all while a mysterious person videos them.  Could it be Winter?  It’s kind of hard to determine yet, as the timeline of this episode isn’t terribly clear.  Presumably though, this happens the same night that Ivy prepares a tasting menu for Ally that goes terribly wrong.  Ally imagines blood seeping out of the holes in the dish and a clown in the room with her and Ivy finally calls her insane.  So much for being the supportive wife.  Back at their home, things aren’t going much better for their son.  Winter has subjected Oz to the darknet where she shows him graphic videos of torture and death.

Ally and Ivy’s night makes a turn for the worse (because of course it gets worse), when they arrive home to find police blocking their street.  Oz and Winter are okay though, it’s the Changs across the street that have been murdered.

Oz knows exactly how too.  He tells his moms about the clowns he saw exiting an ice cream truck.  He and Winter then went and followed the sounds they made to the Changs, where Winter lifted him to see into a window where a group of masked clowns killed the couple.  Interestingly, however, Oz was the only one to see this.  Winter never saw any of it.  In fact, Winter insists that Oz has made the whole things up and they only left the house after the police arrived.  Ivy takes Winter’s side, because after all, Oz has a history of night terrors where he doesn’t know that he’s asleep.  Somehow Winter doesn’t seem to be the most reliable character though.

Is she covering up the fact that it’s vegan ice cream?

The episode ends with Ally in bed.  When she calls to Ivy, however, it’s not her wife in bed with her but a clown.  Imagined or real, I guess we’ll find out next week.

Closing Thoughts

The best moments in this episode were those that leaned in to the truth and made fun of it.  The man in the grocery store wearing an Make America Great Again hat and pretty much every single Trump joke.  Overall however, the progression of the story felt recycled and too on the nose.  And not just because Winter didn’t have a trigger warning for the election winner.

We know Twisty the Clown, we’ve dealt with scary clowns in previous seasons.  Do really want more?  The theme of this season of American Horror Story is “cult”, and as of yet, we’ve not seen much of this cult aspect.  If what Oz saw at the Changs’s was real, are we going to see a cult of clown mask wearing Neo-Nazis?  While there is definitely something to the show leaning into the truth and relying on true events, why rely on archetypes like Kai and an overall predictable first episode?

With the only interesting characters being Winter and Oz, it’s hard to feel too invested in Ally’s gripping fears.  What I want to know about is Winter’s deal: did she take the nanny job to torture Ally and Ivy, or does she have genuine motives?  Why does she seem so attached to, yet so disgusted by her brother?  Did Oz really see clowns, or is he taking after his mother?

As an eleven episode season, there’s still much that’s yet to be revealed. But with a sort of hodgepodge, lackluster beginning, Cult will have to find its center storyline and driving force in order for it to live up to some of the shows past seasons.


Images courtesy of FX

Kristen Roche
Written By

Slytherclaw with a masters in Screenwriting. Lover of all things fantasy and Girl Power. Kristen would spend every day watching TV and writing about it if she could. The kind of girl who named her dog Buffy.

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