Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 2, 3 and 4 of American Horror Story: Cult. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review here.
Four episodes in and American Horror Story: Cult has become a strikingly prescient tale of unnerving psychological terror, largely eschewing blood and guts in favour of Polanski-style unhinged menace. At the centre of this unfolding madness is liberal Ally (Sarah Paulson), left fighting for her sanity after America voted in Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States. An alternative subtitle for Season 7 could easily be: Let’s Scare the Liberal Who Voted for Jill Stein to Death.
The focus on Ally changed in Episode 4, however, with the narrative pulling a switcheroo like a getaway car making a hairpin turn, leaving pursuing rozzers in the dust. The chapter zeroed in on blue-haired orchestrator of chaos, Kai (Evan Peters), and how he assembled what is revealed to be his Manson-style cult, which not only includes sister Winter (Billie Lourd), Harrison (Billy Eichner), disgruntled former newscaster Beverly (Adina Porter), but also – shock, horror – Ivy (Alison Pill), Ally’s wife. His view of the world is that fear keeps people in check and only a select few can overcome their fears. But remember: it isn’t paranoia if they’re really after you. Fans will also appreciate the brief return of Coven and Freak Show alumni Emma Roberts as Hope’s rival news reporter, who meets a gruesome end during a report taping covering the kind of boring-ass local community event many fledgling reporters with big dreams must cover on their way to the top.
Ally has spent four episodes being gaslighted by nearly everyone around her. She’s so on edge that she accidentally shot a Latin-American employee to death on her doorstep. From social justice warrior to neighbourhood hate figure, literally in a shot, Ally, by the looks of things, is being conditioned into seeing the alt-right’s way of thinking and the poor lady is Kai’s pet project. Is this really Ally’s fate? From dyed in the wool liberal to maniacal alt-righter?
American Horror Story: Cult has smartly utilised today’s identity politics and grievances on both sides of the political aisle. The left feel like their world has come apart since Trump’s election to the White House and the far-right feel it is their time to reshape the world in their racist, xenophobic, inwards-looking image. If you thought the neo-cons were the early 21st century’s big monsters – think again, buddy!
Adding Billie Lourd and Billy Eichner to the cast was a great move by Murphy. Lourd is fantastic as the Hillary voter turned seducer (her scene with Paulson in the bathtub is so cruel) and Eichner, too, is brilliant as a gay suburbanite health instructor married to his ‘fag hag’ and college bestie (they made a pact to get hitched once they hit 35). Harrison’s backstory, revealed in Episode 4, shows a man with low self-esteem lost to middle-age disappointments and economically threatened by banks. He is also routinely humiliated by his boss at work, who makes him mop up all the semen in the locker room showers, left by pumped up dudes jacking off. It isn’t just hilarious camp Eichner brings to the role, but a sad-sack quality that is finely portrayed.