“American Horror Story: Cult” is the series’ final chance to redeem itself after its awful last three seasons. Devoted fans of Seasons 1 and 2 stayed tuned in for “Cult,” a politically charged season in the wake of the 2016 election.
It is made clear by the title of the first episode, “The Election,” with its opening scene of a deranged Trump supporter and a distressed woman and its Hollywood origins, that the show will be very anti-Trump. “The Election” has its fair share of surprises of different perspectives from opposite sides of the political spectrum, but in the end the plot is mostly predictable, especially with its base in today’s political climate.
For many viewers, “American Horror Story” may bring back memories of the election, with scenes of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton surrounded by their comments and controversies. When the 45th president is announced, a crazed, blue-haired man named Kai Anderson (played by fan favorite Evan Peters) shouts “the Revolution has begun!” while a gay married couple (played by Sarah Paulson and Allison Pill) cries. Both sides are represented, as the far-right character interrogates minority residents and liberals talk of the possible loss of same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Even Twisty the Clown of “Season 4: Freak Show” makes an appearance, tying into the story line for Ally (Paulson) and her son. Triggered by the election, Ally develops severe coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and trypophobia (fear of holes). Any given moment without her wife she sees violent clowns and oozing holes. Her son, on the other hand, always reading comics about Twisty the Clown, begins to learn dangerous ideas in his young age, aided by the babysitter, Winter (portrayed by Billie Lourd). At the end, with the usual “AHS”-esque murder scene—this time of the married couple—we get a glimpse of the new, bleach-blonde detective in town, portrayed by Colton Haynes.
While a mostly liberally-biased episode, “Election Night” plays up the extremes of both sides in ways that work both positively and negatively for the episode. Predictably, the Trump supporter is some sort of cheese puff weirdo, a funny but overused and expired joke in the political world. However, Kai Anderson shows a radical character development, speaking about the importance of fear as a currency and a way to see who comes out on top, the fearless. It’s a nod to Nazism and Hitler’s use of fear, which is disgusting but relevant to the show and its depiction of the far-right. It captures, frighteningly realistically, the true ideas and thoughts of a select few Trump supporters.
On the side of the Hillary supporters, there is a sense of privilege and melodrama. Ally and Ivy talk about how worried they are for the status of their Guatemalan housekeeper, who hasn’t come to clean the house in weeks. Ally meets with a therapist (played by Cheyenne Jackson) to talk about the sudden onset of her phobias, mentioning Barack Obama and how the universe "righted itself" with his administration. Justly so, there is a general feeling of anxiety in the show, and the fear of losing rights, especially for the gay couple, is captured. The theme of mental illness adds a vivid perspective of those with serious phobias. At the same time, Ally’s dramatic reaction, and the fact that she voted for Jill Stein, pokes fun at the liberals as well of the political spectrum, and indirectly reveals the political center in its view of both the very left and right.
There seems to be a balance between criticism of Trump supporters along with some judgment of Hillary supporters, so there is just one thing left to tip the balance: clowns. The inclusion of Twisty the Clown is a strange surprise, a repeat of his usual killings of young couples in isolated picnic places. Depending on the viewer, the scene may be satisfyingly frightening or utterly ridiculous. It’s one of the core reasons people watch “AHS,” for the horror and entertainment. The scene is the pure entertainment and complete horror that the episode needed (and it coincides with the recent release of “It”).
“American Horror Story” started out as a highly-acclaimed show with its first two seasons “Murder House” and “Asylum.” Fans grew to love the twisted and demented characters and the psychotic and brutal plot line. However, viewers have long tolerated the recent seasons, and there was hope for “Cult” to restore its glory. “Cult” does not do “AHS” justice, but it at least maintains the same entertainment value as the last few seasons rather than continuing its downward spiral. The actors skillfully embody their characters, helping maintain the entertainment and horror standards of “AHS.” It is worth continuing forward to see what the rest of the season will bring.