This American Horror Story: Cult review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story: Cult Episode 5
A severed head, a brutal attack, people are being targeted on American Horror Story: Cult, season 7, episode 5, “Holes.” Fear is leaking into the political system as rumors of chemical sprays, an uncaught serial killer running loose and a neighborhood gripped in terror prompt police to urge frightened residents to lock their doors and stay inside. Local businessman and city council candidate Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) is fighting back against the crime spree that is taking over the country.
Except that there is no crime spree, and Kai knows more about the severed heads than anyone, except maybe reporter Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), who has been spreading the fear on nightly reports that go against actual crime statistics. The newsroom isn’t a place for sensationalism and fake news sells. The now-former reporter is selling the perception of credibility, which leads to the perception of power, to the small special election that could vault small government to authority.
American Horror Story finds its scares in likely and unlikely places. The real world is much scarier than the supernatural one, especially when society is being shaped in a monster’s image by a monster politician. It’s easy to control the population through fear. New York City and Washington DC were attacked on September 11, 2001, but every town in every state wanted extra money for national security. Small towns are like bees in the hive body, and fear is a contagion that spreads like honey. Here the killers emerging from the clown cars are more frightening because under the grease paint and pantaloons could be anyone’s neighbors.
We learned that the cult in the center of American Horror Story: Cult includes most of the main characters. They have been indoctrinated and fully converted, and as they face their first real setback, low voter recognition, they are ready to recruit. In this case, the tactics become more violent and more satanic. These people are up against true evil, real career politicians. But also bastions of journalistic integrity, like Bob Thompson, who have more than skeletons in their closets. They also have gimps in the attic hanging from hooks in the skin like sadomasochistic fakirs.
Everyone has secrets on American Horror Story. In the cult, it indicates weakness. No one in town knows secrets and weakness like Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson). It appears mental acuity and a propensity for manipulation run in the family. As the series progresses, more and more members of the secret society are revealed. So is the group’s plot. Everyone in the inner circle has a direct line to one person who is slowly being driven mad. Dr. Vincent is doing his best to stem the tide of madness.
Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) suffers from every conceivable, and some inconceivable, phobia yet known or being studied by the American Psychiatric Association. Some of these have been taken off the list of accepted diagnoses, but that doesn’t make them any less scary. No scarier than Latin.
“Ave Satanus,” the cult intones as they perform their blood sacrifices. The deviltry is only to instill fear and has nothing to do with philosophic notions of right, left or wrong. There are obvious parallels to Charles Manson in the clownish break-in, and in the sway Kai holds over his followers. The last words the veteran newsman hears won’t be heard or known outside of the people in the room. The terror is for his sake only. When Beverly reveals herself as the cutthroat investigative reporter she’s always been, the news division head implodes with the breaking report. Kai isn’t content to take out his victims. They have to convert before they die. Not to his cult, necessarily, but to fear.
Fear is a modern American horror story that’s become a reality TV trope. Full color visions of war ravaged soldiers and civilians splayed out on the evening news during the Vietnam War and people protested for peace. As the fake news pours into the eager and open brains already petrified by national divides, the radicals demand war. The internal war isn’t exactly the race war promised by Manson as he attempted to kick start Helter Skelter, but it is no less a war of divisions. The cult members aren’t bonded by political, class or ethnic ties. They are bound by rage.
It is interesting to note that the only person we see turning the tables on Kai is Beverly. Before her escorted departure from the newsroom, she’d flirted with absolute truths only to become a mover in the story. She also has the most rage. It comes into her from every direction. Everyone around her belittles her in some small way and the holes in psyche came together like a chainmail suit of armor. She is the one who gets Kai to admit his secret. The brain damaging abuse he received from his father, and the numbing trauma both his parents left him and his siblings as their legacy.
The father got abusive after he was paralyzed. This feeds into Kai’s constant need to affirm. He recruits from the helpless by letting them help themselves. Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd) will turn out to be the genius of the family. Winter takes everything in stride and is as magnetic as her Manson-lamps brother without having to resort to cracking someone across the face when they step out of line. She is the strength that Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Alison Pill) calls on when she finds she doesn’t have the stomach for revolution.
The hooks in the flesh of the suspended gimp are sufficiently cringeworthy gore effects, but the nail-gun execution works on two levels. It is gore effect with things you can find around the house, although we don’t suggest you try this at home. It brings every day horrors to the American Horror Story landscape.
American Horror Story has a formula that runs arc-wide. We’ve learned who the conspirators are and now we will get to see the conspiracy. It feels like the trap that’s been set for Ally will be pulled soon. Her nerves are beyond frayed. Tonight she learns that everything she’s come to believe about life in her little town is a lie so twisted, mere paranoia doesn’t cover it. Allie is finally told about the cult. But that knowledge does not give her any comfort. Only fear. She should go out and vote.
“Holes” was written by Crystal Liu, and directed by Maggie Kiley.