This American Horror Story: Cult review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story Season 7, Episode 10
American Horror Story: Cult season 7, episode 10, “Charles (Manson) in Charge,” is the much-anticipated “Manson Family” episode AHS aficionados have been waiting for since the earliest teaser-rumors. The misguided group of baby-boomer drifters ended the decade of love, peace and understanding in a trail of blood and a counter-revolutionary message. Manson’s plan was to race-bait the end of the world, hiding on a studio backlot in Death Valley until the time was right to save the day as the white guy who knows how things should be done. This is basically Kai Anderson’s message. The city councilman is riding a wave of hatred and division to national prominence on the political stage.
The episode starts in the Anderson living room during the last presidential debate on Oct. 19, 2016. The day Kai first gets the spark of an idea to change the world. Watching the candidates duel on TV, his sister Winter (Billie Lourd) wonders if the way women feel about presidential candidate Hillary is the same as blacks felt about Obama. Her friend thinks Clinton sets a more important historic precedent. Kai, sitting at his laptop, explains why that doesn’t compute. People hate Hillary, he explains. She’s weak, had to be carried to a car during the Sept. 11 memorial. Rumors are going around that she’s got early on-set Parkinson’s. The public can’t stand the very sound of her voice. Oh and that fake cackle she calls a giggle? If it weren’t for SNL, she’d be a laughingstock. No one wants a woman president, not even other women, he concludes. But that’s not quite the political idea he ultimately gets. The point he takes home is the importance of violence.
The presidential race was divisive, humiliating and eye-opening. White rage hazed the Electoral College. Kai seethes while hulking over his couch. He actually slaps one of Winter’s liberal friends, just as she’s baiting the white male ego, which might vote for the right to belt a jaw if they weren’t taught not to strike a woman. Male rage is impotent but rising and Kai sees it because he feels it. He sells the idea of equal rights under Trump with the same smack across the face he’d give any man.
The court orders Kai to take his white rage to anger management. His counselor, Bebe Abbott (Frances Conroy), micromanages his madness like Trump supporter and Joanie-basher Scott Baio took over the family who put him up on the series Charles in Charge. The centerpiece of Abbott’s office is a statue of the goddess Anat, the West Semitic goddess of love and war and the sister of Baal until she was merged with Astarte into one female deity because two were still too many. According to Bebe, an old tale says a man slighted the goddess, so she took a sickle and cut him in two, and fed his pieces to the birds. That’s female rage, which is multicolored.
Bebe is the last surviving follower of SCUM Manifesto author and feminist-fatale guru Valerie Solanas. She believes in the cleansing power of female rage. The patriarchy dammed it up and it’s about to flow. Donald J. Trump is the first world leader to start hammering at that dam. Bebe wants Kai to ensure that no one will finger the dike. She takes him into a prone state as easily as the mom-psychiatrist in the movie Get Out. Kai readily accepts the tenets of the SCUM faith. “I am a turd,” he intones. “A lowly, abject turd,” exposing more bottom to the backstory. Kai is not the brainwasher, he is the brainwashed. His preordained purpose is the exact polar opposite of what it appears to be.
Kai is now the divine ruler and he has broken the covenant. He tamed the wild roving reporter Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) and relegated all the women in his cult back to second class citizens, except for Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson), his newest recruit. She’s late in the political game, but gaining fast on his incumbency. Kai’s hold on his constituency is almost complete, except for occasional blasts of mace. But he is still consolidating his divinity.
In the last episode, “Drink the Kool-Aid,” he recounted bedtime fairy tales about past prophets of doom. He saved the best for last. Cielo Drive, Los Angeles, August 8 1969, is a dateline that has been rerepeated repeatedly. Manson reportedly boasted that he made Sharon Tate famous, an indignation as offensive as the life he took. Evan Peters, who plays Kai, plays Charles Manson, and each of the family members are played by the lead players in the American Horror Story troupe. Susan Atkins, who we are told killed Tate because she was sick of hearing her voice, is played by Paulson. Lourd plays Linda Kasabian.
Kai takes a page from the Manson playbook and scribbles his own notes. Charles Manson was playing the long game but didn’t go for the long pass. He only killed one pregnant young actress that night, among the others. Kai promises a night of 1,000 Tates. He wants to out-Manson Manson.
Charlie was too trusting. Even within his own family, he had traitors in his midst, ready to betray him at the very first quart of blood. Kai’s family ties are quickly coming undone. He is still coming to terms over whether killing his brother Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), was a bit premature, when he decides to trim the family tree by one more branch. Rudy is, of course, fine with this. He always believed in his brother. That’s part of the reason he betrayed him. But now, sitting on the king-size bed that has become his family crypt, Rudy sees what everyone else saw in Kai, a leader with a vision who’s getting visits from the ghosts of Mansons past.
Kai is listening to the low buzz of paranoia. He see duplicity everywhere. He’s worried about the feds, a mole, a double agent, elite Wolke warriors, anything that might threaten his preeminence. The Divine Ruler wants ultimate loyalty. Gary K. Longstreet (Chaz Bono) proves he will give life and limb for the cause. Speedwagon, the most beloved of the testosterone fueled apostles, gets a Judas kiss.
Charlie didn’t only end the lives of the people in the house, or lost on the property. He took the songs “Helter Skelter,” “Revolution” and “Piggies” away from the Beatles. While Kai’s subversion and Allie’s apparent conversion are unexpected, American Horror Story: Cult doesn’t quite pull the rug out from under us this week. The recreation of the murders is expertly done, fulfilling the anticipation of the promised gore, but the American horror at the center of the episode is more sad than frightening. If nothing else, this episode convinced me that Butte, Montana, is the scariest place on earth.
“Charles (Manson) in Charge” was written by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, and directed by Bradley Buecker.