This American Horror Story: Cult review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story Season 7, Episode 11
Love him or hate him, you have to admit former City Councilman Kai Anderson knows how to work a room. Of course, if you don’t admit it, you might end up getting shanked in a shower. If you hate him, he hates you right back, with interest. But if you love him, the Divine Ruler will love you with all you’ve got. That’s how he intends, on American Horror Story: Cult season 7, episode 11, to make the country “Great Again.” He made a pinky-swear promise so you know he wouldn’t lie.
The episode begins about a year from now, in a maximum security prison in Jackson, Mich., in 2018. Everyone is said to find religion in jail or in foxholes, but Kai brings his own movement to his own army. There is a class system in place in institutions and Kai is once again messing with the natural order. His entire campaign strategy has been a disordered way to gain power. Kai is bridging the gap between the inmates and the guards in his very personal way and some of the other inmates don’t like his inclusive policies. But Kai doesn’t include everyone in his rainbow coalition. His brain has been hardwired to feel the divide of the sexes and there is no way he will allow even the notion of a woman in charge. In prison, he is in an insulated world filled only with men, except for his insider guard, and the penal system is his political petri dish.
Kai is never alone in prison, even when he doesn’t have his growing troop of soldiers with him. Kai brought Chuck Manson behind the bars with him and the iconic counter-revolutionary is still wearing a swastika third-eye-patch and quoting Beatles song titles. We’re thrown right into the prison setting without warning, expecting the explanation will be coming, and hoping it will still take us by surprise. The last episode ended with Kai trying to one up the master in an opening mission statement written in truth, blood and amniotic fluid. Manson only killed one Sharon Tate. Kai promised a night of a thousand Tates, but has to lower his expectations when his followers can only confirm the locations of 100 pregnant women in their area.
The Night of 100 Tates was intended to stoke the fires of rage in women, an act so horrific it would spur the revolution promised by the SCUM Manifesto, an extremely radical feminist solution that cuts off the heads of society where they live. Kai bills himself as the counter-revolutionary whose movement will survive. It is killed by the betrayal of Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson), who then proceeds to take Kai apart bit by bit. She takes away his movement, his freedom, his belief that her son is his, and his future in a game she’s been playing for a while. Kai brings a checkerboard to a chess match and Allie putting him in jail is only a first move.
Kai’s imprisonment is actually an aberration on the show, which leaves so many crimes unpunished. Undercover operative Allie gets away with killing undercover cult member Speedwagon. The prison guard lets a prisoner get killed, and Beverly shoots Kai in front of a standing room only, well, crouching room only, crowd. All three are hailed as heroines and survivors. They all were victims of the cult.
Beverly Hope is completely broken. The former newswoman had more fire than all of Kai’s followers put together. Fueled by rage, she wanted to be the last person alive. But the Divine Ruler cut her down and now she just wants to die. Adina Porter puts as much ash into her crushed downturn as she put fire into Kai’s political rise. When the season started, Beverly had no fear, she was the baddest bitch in the valley. Fear was her friend, a potent political weapon in her hands, as she used her news reports to scare the citizenry into putting Kai into his city council seat. Hope is the first to realize that Allie is the one everyone should fear, which is worth double its weight in political dividends.
After she takes down the political movement, Allie becomes a political star. She turns down the chance to appear on The Rachel Maddow Show. She even says no to Lana Winters, which hurts more because Paulson played the muckraking reporter in season 2. American Horror Story has never shied against actors doing double duty as the characters spill over from past seasons. Evan Peters got to play against himself as both Kai and Manson.
The episode contains one of the best gore effects of the season, when Kai rips off the face of the young prisoner with the similar build and hair he’d been grooming for just such an occasion. The cameras actually cut away from the scene before it gets truly horrific, but this gives it that vile aftertaste we look for in an American horror. What really sells the scene is how Kai demands help from the prison guard. This is the same bull who wouldn’t look the other way when the prison movement leader roughed up a pay phone, reminding him that’s government property, Divine Ruler. But you know she’s going to do it, maybe not happily, but one way or another that face is coming off. I was only a little disappointed when he didn’t walk out of the prison wearing it like a Hannibal Lector. But that wore off as the realization of the why the guard would go to such lengths in her conversion.
American Horror Story: Cult lives up to its promise of subversive frights. The presidential election of 2016 and the Trump presidency unleashed sleeping demons in clown masks into the broadcast subconscious. The season may not ultimately have been as harrowing as earlier seasons but that is only because it strayed from form. When Allie takes Kai’s senate seat on a promise to do away with the cults of democrats and republicans, she is in the position to bring in same evil as the one she fought. But it’s implied she could always have been angilng for the position since the day she voted for Jill Stein. Her politics and the ones we read in SCUM are pretty close. Kai could have been a Manchurian candidate all along, and Allie is just his Queen of Diamond trigger. By the end, she’s racked up as many lethal casualties in what could be seen as a cut-throat path to elected office. In a feat of poetic justice, Senator hopeful Mayfair-Richards has a higher death count than the male president on House of Cards. She also gets 80% of the female vote.
“Great Again” is as subtly effective as the season has been peripherally horrific. Real life settings, secret organizations, crypto-SuperPACs and brown shirted thugs pick at the scabs of deep-seated conspiratorial paranoia. Politicians are every bit as scary as sad clowns and serial killers, and they have the power to affect more lives. That’s pretty frightening, and fear is trust. But the season ends on a reassuring note for horror fans as we see Allie fitting herself in the cloak of the cult she now leads.
“Great Again” was written by Tim Minear, and directed by Jennifer Lynch.