This review contains spoilers.
7.9 Drink The Kool-Aid
American Horror Story has crafted one of the show’s most compelling characters in the form of Kai Anderson. It’s a masterful performance by Evan Peters, as unhinged as anything he’s done on screen, but with a kind of charm that makes the performance all the more effective. It seems that every season has a character that stands out; we’ve had the Jessica Lange season, the Sarah Paulson season, the Lily Rabe season, the Denis O’Hare season, and now we’re having the Evan Peters season.
If his turn as Andy Warhol earlier in the season wasn’t quite enough to cement that fact, then Drink The Kool-Aid puts the focus firmly on Evan Peters as Kai tells his space monkeys a variety of fun tales about the history of death and doomsday cults throughout the past fifty years or so: Marshall Applewhite and his applesauce-eating castrati of the Heaven’s Gate cult catching a ride on Hale-Bopp; David Koresh and his messiah semen impregnating his female followers in Waco, Texas; and the titular cult leader, Jim Jones and the People’s Temple drinking poisoned Flavor-Aid in the jungles of Guyana. Peters is all over the episode, and while it’s not subtle, it’s very funny to watch Kai insert himself and his philosophies into the real-life teachings of cult groups.
It’s really impressive to see Evan Peters playing so many roles, and so many roles that folks fascinated with true crime and cults know well. I know I’ve listened to hours of Jim Jones ranting and raving, I’ve seen Marshall Applewhite’s videos, and I was alive and enthralled during the Branch Davidian Siege, so I’m familiar with all these scenes, and I recognised quotes as they were spoken by Peters (or when they were adapted for his own use by Kai). There’s nothing subtle to the way Anderson—via screenwriter Adam Penn—lifts phrases from other cults, but at the same time, he can’t be all that subtle because his group is young, idealistic, and not very well-read. Even Winter doesn’t know who Jim Jones is, when the rest of the women of Kai’s cult know exactly what it means to “drink the Kool-Aid” in the suicide scenario Kai dreams up.
Kai’s Kool-Aid stunt never really seems legitimate; Kai’s never been a particularly messianic cult leader, and his power quest seems confined to Earthly realms. Still, it’s a decent enough loyalty test, and Adina Porter’s sobbing breakdown after she drinks her Kool-Aid but is denied a release from her torment in The Hole is a stunning display. Thinking about poison keeps that thought in the forefront of the mind throughout the episode, so when Ally and Ivy sit down to a reconciliation dinner, the whole thing seems more threatening than conciliatory.
Poison has been a motif throughout Cult, with Kai having a food taster and making frequent references to poison infiltrating America under the guise of immigrants or liberals. Ivy and Ally’s dinner always seems like an opportunity for a poisoning, and Angela Bassett frames it deliberately so we see the bottle of wine and the food on the plate on Ivy’s side, and the viewer is deliberately shown Ally’s empty plate and her untouched glass of wine. Something’s up almost from the very beginning, but when Ivy and Ally turn their fury from Kai on one another, airing all the dirty laundry of their marriage, the set-up is clear. Ally is clearly a changed woman, and Sarah Paulson lets that power show on her face as Ally watches her wife cough up blood on the floor of their kitchen. Alison Pill has a tough bit of business with her drinking and continued eating of the poisoned food, even after Ally discusses her desire for revenge, but that’s either explained away by Ivy’s smug certainty that Ally is as weak and cowardly as she’s always been or by Ivy realizing that if she is poisoned, she might as well get a lot of it and perhaps die quicker.
Spoiler alert: she does not die quickly. Ivy suffers, screaming in anguish while Ally flashes a subtle smile and enjoys the first course in her revenge banquet. With one target down, it’s naturally assumed that Ally would take the opportunity to invite Kai over for a special dinner, which she does. However, he’s not choking and dying on the floor after his first bite of Manwich. (Evan Peters takes huge bites out of every sandwich, and if this is Manwich product placement, it’s really effective at making me want a Manwich.)
Clearly, Ally has a plan, and it must go farther than simply blaming Ivy’s death on Kai and his cult. She told her wife that she had two goals, and she was halfway there. Her second goal was to have Oz all to herself after Ivy’s death. I’m not quite sure how playing family with Kai accomplishes that, but it’s clear by watching Ally operate that she’s a whole new person from the weak, mentally and physically ill person we meet in the first episode. Ally is as dangerous as Twisty the clown, and much more devious in how she operates than even Winter, who seems to be playing all sides at once..
When she confessed previously that her fears were all gone, Ivy dismissed it as hyperbole, but it’s true. She gives Oz a copy of Twisty’s comic book; no more fear of clowns. She wears a top to dinner with Ally that is covered in little holes; no more fear of holes. Judging from the way she stares at Ivy’s final moments, Ally isn’t afraid of blood anymore. She’s definitely not afraid of Kai Anderson, either.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan recommends the 2006 docudrama Jonestown: Paradise Lost for anyone interested in learning more about the real Jim Jones. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.