This American Horror Story: Cult review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story: Cult Episode 6
American Horror Story: Cult begins by assaulting the audience with an all-too-immediate fear. It may not be the time to talk about gun control, especially after so much immediate carnage was inflicted in a recent public attack, but it is the time for American Horror Story to explore and even exploit it. The fear of terrorism is at the heart of the season’s arc. It is its pulse. Sadly, though FX announced it would run an edited version of “Mid-Western Assassin” due to the Las Vegas shootings, the public attack warning could apply several times over decades. When AHS explores fear, and how it is used to sell politicians, this episode is one that strikes it most closely.
“Mid Western Assassin” explores a different nightmarish version of the controlled assassin story than we’re accustomed. Most political assassinations staged by outside forces in filmed entertainment come from the Manchurian Candidate premise. Ally’s (Sarah Paulson) manipulation is closer to what happens to Warren Beatty’s character in The Parallax View, where he was maneuvered into place as a political assassin. The only difference is that there is no doubt Ally is left holding the gun. Ally has enough holes in her psyche to pour several volumes of an assassin’s handbook into her brain. Some of those holes are caused by a fear of holes.
Triple spoiler alert here, but the opening sequence shows the audience that Ally is a patsy and that the rest of the episode is how she gets there. We know she’s been set up, because everything about American Horror Story: Cult up to this point shows the psychological influence the cult exerts. The incident goes from political assassination attempt to audience shooting spree and one of the bullets hits the very person who is trying to “help” Ally deal with her demons. We learned he’s part of the cult, indeed an inner family member of the highest order, in the last episode. So we know he has reason to help manipulate the events.
Ally is lured into action by the escaped cult exiter and former bad neighbor Meadow (Leslie Grossman), who she witnesses being taken away with a bag over her head after issuing a warning. This happens during one of Ally’s private freak-outs. The newly separated sufferer of every phobia known and unknown to science is wide open for suggestion. Everything and everyone she thought could betray her is confirmed right after the trauma. Ally can trust no one, just as her psychiatrist, Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), tells her those kinds of unfounded allegations lawyers use to take kids away. The doc asks Ally her to commit herself, something he knows she won’t do, setting her up for the accusations that will inevitably follow.
The cult has been softening up the residents to get them ready for the takeover, Meadow explains to Ally. They’ve instilled fear and paranoia. They sprayed water and killed birds, foisted the worst kinds of headlines on local news, and took political action by executing anyone who threatens Kai’s (Evan Peters) ascension. They’ve gone after politicians and journalists and are rising in the polls. At the city council town hall debate of April 3, 2017, Kai is called out on his bullshit by Sally Kefler (Mare Winningham), who announces her candidacy if only to stop the snake-oil salesman from making his pitch. She declares her write-in candidacy and promises to get rid of the lord of the flies and take out the garbage.
Ally goes to candidate Kefler with Meadow’s accusations, and also sets up an appointment with Meadow to see her own shrink. The politician believes her, and even sees how she can use the information before she gets cut off from the race. Kai does an impersonation of Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons while aiming for a JFK voice during a Facebook suicide note. Even the suicide is twisted to the new political way. Sally’s suicide is labeled an abandonment, and Kai is ready to pick up those left behind. The doctor professes that he didn’t get any such information from the ex-cult member.
In the opening sequence, Harrison takes off after imploring Ivy (Alison Pill) to run. He does not leave her behind. He fully expects that she is behind him. As much as it may look like he abandoned her, his voice says it is imperative she run. Ivy is frozen by fear just as she was when she was first recruited by Kai’s sister Winter (Billie Lourd). The pair committed a crime against the local grocery store manager, Gary, and handcuffed him to a beam in their own private gerrymandering attempt. Gary cut off his own hand to vote. But Kai could fix anything. The first thing he fixes is Ivy. He sees that Ally sucked all the happiness from her soul. It all is rooted in womb envy. The first thing she does is set up her wife so she can keep custody of their son, Oz. It leads to a plot where no court will grant Ally custody and ends with a gun in Ally’s hand.
We pretty much know throughout the episode that Meadow is being sacrificed for Kai’s partial assassination, but we don’t realize she’s complicit until it’s all over. Kai totally breaks Meadow down until she is a nothing that doesn’t exist. An easy patsy. Her demise is carried out with no regrets. Then Kai reinvents her.
The political patsy is a time honored position. From the moment Jack Ruby put a bullet in Lee Harvey Oswald’s stomach, which bled out because police pumped the presidential assassin’s chest in a half-hearted attempt to revive him, the idea that a coup could be pulled on America has been too real a fear. Sirhan Sirhan, who shot presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, is long rumored to have been a mind control assassin, brainwashed and triggered by some hypnotic woman in a polka dot dress. He was described as being in some kind of trance at the time of the shooting. But what was it that put the idea in his head in the first place. Meadow is certainly in a trance, but she is not the ultimate target. This reviewer wonders how many Zapruder tapes were made from the crowd on their cellphones during Kai’s shooting.
The episode is explosive, obviously, but the subtle machinations of the making of a murderess also helps show the implosion of the political body. The audience sees what the voters see.Violence can erupt at any time, regardless of crime statistics. But we also see how anyone can be a killer, even the bad neighbor next door.
“Mid-Western Assassin” was written by Todd Kubrak, and directed by Bradley Buecker.
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