This review contains spoilers.
7.11 Great Again
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a happy ending on a television series. Every season of American Horror Story has ended more or less happily, usually with the most put-upon character of the show rising to triumph. Given that Cult has been a season about politics and victimhood, it makes total sense that the happy triumph is a successful Senate campaign for someone not named Kai Anderson and that the someone jumping into the political game is the impressively woke Ally Mayfair-Richards.
After all, throughout Cult, Ally has struggled to make something of her life; even prior to her personal problems, she wasn’t doing all that well. She’s survived a terrible marriage to an unsupportive partner, nearly losing her son, becoming part of a murderous cult of alt-right nationalists, a failing business ruining her finances, being menaced by killer clowns at the grocery store, and witnessed dozens of cruel murders (as well as actually doing several murders on her own). She began as fragile, but like steel, the more time she’s spent being hammered by life and thrust into the fire, the stronger she’s become until she’s something more than just a cult survivor, but an icon to struggling women everywhere (like Kimmy Schmidt with a body count to her credit).
It appears that Kai has taught Ally much more than he would have ever thought. Ally is branded in the media as a survivor, but she’s much stronger and more capable than that, and it takes a fellow survivor to bring that out of her. Is there a stronger political power pairing than Beverly Hope—smart, savvy, a media expert—and Ally—also smart, sensitive, composed, and completely fearless? It’s fun to watch those two together, even if it does seem that Ally has taken the broken tiger and lured her into a different, more dangerous sort of cult of personality than Kai.
There’s nothing subtle about Cult, and Tim Minear’s script for this week is even less subtle than usual. That Ally would turn down fame for the opportunity to turn her status as a feminist icon into political gain makes perfect sense. Ally has always been politically motivated, even during the cult days, and that drive to change the world through politics would only increase. The political ad highlighting Ally’s run for Senate is very well done, and Ally and Beverly’s exchanges were very well done. There was just enough tension there that whether Beverly was threatening Ally or not was unclear; as it turns out, Beverly might have only been looking for an ally, which Ally provides. Ally is trying to get back into a life in which she is comfortable; she picks up a new girlfriend, throws herself back into the restaurant business, and gets involved in politics again, just bigger this time.
It also makes total sense that Kai, who has spent the last few years preying on angry and disillusioned young men, continues that trend by working to rebuild his rag-tag cult behind bars. In the real world, prisons are a fertile breeding ground for radicalisation, and Kai’s about as radical as possible. As stated so well in the cold opening by one of the prisoners sent to stomp Kai, prisoners like to keep their divisions simple, banding together in groups by race and association in a way that means that Kai will be able to assemble his own little group from fringe associates of other groups and fresh fish. Anger and fear to prey on in large amounts, both in prison and in the world at large.
The focus on three major characters, Ally, Beverly, and Kai, allows the strong ensemble cast to shine through. There aren’t a lot of distracting camera tricks this week, just a lot of focus on faces and performances, with the only real flashy things being some well-constructed focus pulls from director Jennifer Lynch. Ally’s political ad feels very real, as does the televised news report and the debate that Kai crashes. I like the little moments that tie Kai’s methodology in prison with the methodology he used on the outside world, as well; it’s nice to see that while his audience is different, his act (physically and psychologically) doesn’t really change, right down to the Divine Ruler comments that stretch Kai’s act into comedy territory. Lynch tends to find the comedy in all of Kai’s darkness, with the practice fun for Night of a Hundred Tates becoming a pep rally and an opportunity to make a bunch of watermelon salad out of the practice “pregnant belly” watermelons.
Between the comedy and Ally’s triumphant “nasty woman” tirade, the finale of Cult is a fitting end to a solid season of American Horror Story. It’s never quite horrifying, but creepy would be a fitting description of a lot of the elements. Clowns, holes, blood, cults, chanting in unison, slightly altered tales of real-life cults… it all comes together for a very consistent plot, with fairly well thought-out characters performed with real skill by the actors involved. Evan Peters in particular earned his pay this year, providing a highlight reel performance every time he donned the guise of a new cult leader.
Sure, at times character motivation gets muddy, and it can be convoluted, but it wouldn’t be American Horror Story if there weren’t drastic twists at various times. Most of them worked, or at least were spectacularly entertaining. While Cult didn’t swing for the fences, the show was consistently entertaining and showed remarkable focus. Whatever the reason, it bodes well for the future of the show and of Ryan Murphy’s upcoming Gianni Versace edition of American Crime Story.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is a big fan of watermelon salad, though he takes his without feta and with basil. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.