American Horror Story – Cult episode 8 review: Winter Of Our Discontent

Rick Springfield is the stand-out in the latest American Horror Story: Cult episode. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

7.8 Winter Of Our Discontent

Kai Anderson is rapidly losing his grip on his followers. More and more, it seems the cracks in his story are coming to life, and those cracks are going to cause him to trip and fall before the season is over. We’ve already seen his core group beginning to fracture and split apart, and with every dead original, the loose-knit collective gathered by Kai’s personality further unravels. Of course, since Kai has a private security force at this point, he might no longer need the people who literally got him to where he is today.

Another glimpse of Kai’s origin story happens this week, with Winter telling Beverly and Ivy just exactly how Kai began to walk down the path he’s currently on. Winter and Kai trolling ‘SJWs’ online, each trying to one-up the other when it comes to outlandish statements, in this case about the never-ending abortion controversy. Some particularly inspired comments by Winter cause a lunatic pastor, Charles (Rick Springfield), to invite the two over to walk through his hell house, only this version of a hell house doesn’t use mannequins and special effects to replicate the wages of sin, but kidnapped people trapped in Saw-style torture devices.

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This whole segment is fascinating to watch, if only because it’s so well done by director Barbara Brown. I would watch a whole movie about Pastor Charles and his murder house, with plucky kids Kai and Winter trying desperately to save others from his macabre games. Like the previous flash-backs to Kai’s developmental period, Winter tells the story to Bev and Ivy to hold off a revolution; at his core, Kai really does want to save people from their worst instincts, or so she claims. he’s just got a slightly twisted way of going about that. It makes sense, when watching the events at the Hell House play out. Kai and Winter not only save the bloody woman, the man hooked to the syringe table, and the gay man trapped in the cross-knife booby trap chair, but they get a little righteous revenge on Charles in the process. As it turns out, Charles was sitting in judgment on people, but doing so for all the wrong reasons. The trapped folks weren’t abortion-seekers, junkies, and sodomites, but a woman getting treatment for a UTI, a man in rehab getting his life back together, and a volunteer at an AIDS clinic.

As expected, Evan Peters is great in this segment, and you see a different side of Kai than has been revealed before now, but the real stand-out from the episode is Rick Springfield as the psychotic ‘man of god’ on a mission to punish the wicked. He’s creepy looking, and more importantly, he’s got the terrifying eyes of someone who believes with all his heart that he’s on a holy mission doing God’s work by murdering innocent people. Rick Springfield is a stellar character actor, and he just makes the pastor so off-putting that I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the entire scenario, and he brings the right sort of mania to bring the monologues about sin and death in Josh Green’s script to life.

Winter is the follower of Kai that makes the most sense of the group. He saved her life literally, not figuratively, but even she has her limits. Kai’s pushing himself, working hard, trying to raise his profile and maintain his private army with the help of Ritalin and other prescription amphetamines. He’ll crack eventually, and it’s clear that he’s on his way to cracking when he tells Winter that he’s going to make a baby with her (or at least be involved in the conception process with Detective Samuels as the monkey in the middle). Winter’s deception later in the episode regarding the death of Samuels also happens to get one of Kai’s biggest stumbling blocks, Beverly, out of the way. Winter seems, whether she’s going along with his plans or not, like she’s taking out every possible challenge for Kai’s supremacy for him. She’s probably less of a follower than everyone seems to think, and he’s more of a troll than anyone really knows.

Kai’s making things up as he goes along, including his holy conception ritual, and it seems to be in character for him to do so. I mean, he puts on the song I Swear by All 4 One and says it’s going to be a part of a holy sacrament for conceiving future messiahs (even though Winter points out that you only really need one if it’s an actual messiah. He’s trolling religious fundamentalists, feminists, gay rights activists, and everyone else in his bid for power, and when he gets called on his mistakes, he figures out a way to sneak around that logical gap to maintain control or figure out a way to convert (or kill) the person standing in his way. He’s recruited Ivy and now that she’s got information that she can use to help him, he’s recruited Ally, too.

Kai isn’t assembling a cult so much as he’s assembling an atomic bomb. He turns on his own brother to keep his group safe, yet he believes the word of Winter over the word of Beverly. He’s got a fractured couple in his inner circle; Ivy hates Ally and the feeling is probably mutual now that Ally knows that she’s being gas-lighted by Ivy. He poisoned his female followers with a strain of violent radical feminism and his male followers are “women belong in the kitchen” thugs who are just missing MAGA hats to fit in with the Donald Trump crowd. Kai’s surrounded himself with marginalised, angry people, and he’s the eye of the storm around which the power-plays and interpersonal disagreements play out.

Such an arrangement won’t last. Kai leaves Beverly alive, and he knows better than anyone she’ll come back looking for blood. Ally might say that all she wants is to save her son, but as she points out to Kai, she no longer has anything to fear thanks to him and his clowns and holes. Winter keeps Kai abreast of all anti-Kai sentiment in the group, but she also breaks the sacred pinkie power rule of absolute truth. Someone’s going to turn on him eventually, and his blueshirts won’t be able to protect him forever.

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Kai’s goal might simply be chaos. Kai wants war between the sexes, the races, the liberal and conservative, American and non-American. If it costs him his life but he creates disaster out of unity, would he consider that a win? I think that he would, given what we’ve seen about the character. Some men just want to watch the world burn, as Alfred once said to Bruce Wayne, and Kai is a book of matches waiting to land in a puddle of gasoline.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Scumbag, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is beginning to think that Kai doesn’t want to be successful. Kai just seems to want to kickstart a second civil war or third world war. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.