This American Horror Story: Cult review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story Season 7 Episode 2
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared in one of the most memorable political promises in history. The quote itself made it to Living Color’s song “Cult of Personality.” That’s just a sample of all that fear promises on American Horror Story: Cult, where fear is political currency and the politicians in charge are flush with it. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and people who face their fears grow so strong they are immune to them. The first lesson we learn in season 7, episode 2, is “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”
The block’s liberal lesbian couple, Ivy (Alison Pill) and Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson), face their first fears early. Ally, who has every phobia and panic disorder except insomnia, has been sleeping it off with the enemy. She wakes up to some clown in her bed and has a full on Coyote Episode. Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch), so sadly misunderstood in the American Horror Story: Freak Show season, just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong? Ally is already a diagnosed sufferer of coulrophobia, fear of clowns, so she calls in her wife. The two liberals immediately arm themselves like “violent” antifas, ready to hack up the first Harlequin they see.
Besides getting jittery around jesters, Ally is also afraid she’s losing her mind and Ivy is now scared her she’s taking her mind along with it. Everything points to a liberal dementia. It looks like the election of one orange man cracked Ally’s entire reality. The sickness could be contagious, because her son Oz (Cooper Dodson) caught it, so the clowns could be a shared fantasia, or a genetic predisposition to neurosis.
Everyone on American Horror Story: Cult has some kind of neurosis and the fear can be used as a potent weapon. As we expected, the beat down video tape Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) maneuvered last week bore fruit and the immigrant assailants he goaded face deportation.
“Vote for the man who will wake your fear away,” Kai promises as he announces his candidacy for local government. No longer will Michigan have to face the criminals and rapists who messed up his face, though they will have to contend with his face, especially those who would vote against him. Kai is a very effective canvasser, going door to door and instilling the fear that, if he could get that close to someone’s inner sanctum, anyone could. Of course, anyone or anything would probably be more welcome, and might even get a cool glass of water on a hot day. Not so much a guy with a petition mouthing all of Alex’s lines from A Clockwork Orange in order to con his way into a house.
The establishing shot of Ally and Ivy’s bedroom is framed like a Kubrick picture when Oz shows up because he can’t sleep in his own bed. This has an effect of turning the entire neighborhood into an Overlook Hotel. But the celluloid conspiracy tributes go back further. We get a pod people vibe from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, another political allegory horror tale. Something secret is going on in the community, and only the crazy people can see it. And let’s face it, even in her quiet moments, it wouldn’t be too great a shock to see Paulson go banging on car windows like Kevin McCarthy.
We learn that Ally also has Trypophobia, the fear of, trigger warning, honeycombs or other closely packed holes, like seed pods. The phobia is not an officially recognized by the psychiatric community, but on top of the agoraphobia and everything else, it doesn’t make for the best house warming cold calls, whether you bring a casserole or not. The couple across the street appears on the surface to be perfect foils for Ivy and Ally. He is a gay man, his wife is his best friend who doesn’t have a problem with it. They are brutally honest in all they do and kind of brutal about everything else, especially real estate deals. The couple worries about liberal issues, convinced that because of global warming we’re all going to get cancer, but they are also prepared with a cache of guns and a hive mind mentality. The trypophobic Ally cajoles a gun off the new neighbors, to shoot holes in things, I assume. While she balks at first because of her ingrown liberal knee jerk reaction, she ultimately gives in to her inner Charles Bronson, whose character in Death Wish also started as a non-violent liberal.
Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) makes house calls. Either that or he has a really strict policy about paying for missed appointments. He was established as the first liberal friend in the pilot, but something about him also gives me hives. At least he keeps Ally’s secret, for now. He understands that if she didn’t step in to help, Ivy’s second in command at the kitchen Roger would still alive, and the usual suspect, Pedro Morales, wouldn’t be playing delivery boy. Of course she gets the okay to have the gun. What could go wrong in a world where criminal cases are politicized? It’s scary to be brown on this season’s American Horror Story, yet there are now brown characters in the lead roles. The minor characters don’t last too long either.
Alison Pill is swallowed up in this role so far. I am waiting for a breakout moment like the ones she had on Newsroom. Her character there was made to blend, and yet she stood out in comic arias of physical comedy. Here, she exudes a blandness that might be suited for the hive mindset, but would come as a last resort.
The show is about indoctrination, and Billie Lourd, who plays Kai’s sister Winter, is positively hypnotic, magnetic as a new age guru. She brings Oz into an altered state by fusing his pinky to her flesh and suggesting he cannot lie. She then replaces every option with fear. By the end of the episode the kid is addicted to the pinky swear ritual. Then she sets out to love bomb, or in this case torpedo, Ally with red wine, bath salts and meditation.
The show gets to deliver one “fuck” per episode and it comes shortly before the whole town is fucked. The power goes out and the neighbors come calling to fear-monger and drop off some candles, in that order. They pass on word that terrorists put the power out, and leave a perfect storm to brew for the paranoid suburban mom.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” continues to shade the atmosphere of American Horror Story: Cult with false leads and red herrings. Everyone will be part of the hive by the end. We are all pods.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” was written by Tim Minear, and directed by Liza Johnson.