Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 5, 6, 7 and 8 of American Horror Story: Cult. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review here.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. America is in the grip of an insanity plaguing in its political and cultural discourse. Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, folks, has found the answer. And what, pray tell, is that? In 1968, radical feminist Valerie Solanas published her SCUM Manifesto. The tract posited that women have been held back for centuries by men and the world has been turned into a “shitpile”. It isn’t that women suffer from “penis envy”; it’s blokes who suffer from “pussy envy”. The only way to end this state of sorry affairs, Solanas decided, was for all men to die. According the publishers, Olympia, although disputed by Solanas, “SCUM” was an acronym for “Society for Cutting Up Men”.
Solanas is famous less for her SCUM Manifesto and more for the fact she tried to murder Andy Warhol, an associate whom she pegged as the source of her career woes and mental health ills. She basically projected all her crap onto him. Yes, even though Solanas penned a well-regarded if obscure literary work, which excited radical feminists and was so extreme people wondered if it was satire, she’s primarily known for attempting to kill one of the 20th century’s great artists. A man is responsible for her notoriety.
Murphy is clearly having a laugh by using Solanas’ book as a solution in American Horror Story: Cult to fight back against male oppressors, as it’s a bit like throwing a nuclear bomb onto a bonfire. Casting Lena Dunham in a special guest appearance as Solanas, the result was electrifying and very clever. Whatever one thinks of the Girls star, she was outstanding as Solanas, not just capturing firebrand crazy with aplomb, but acknowledging and touching upon the writer’s tragic side. It would have been so easy to simply caricature Solanas and her bananas rhetoric, and leave it at that, but the Dunham-Murphy collaboration brought such creative riches to Season 7, it’ll leave fans wondering if the actor will return in a greater capacity. (Murphy’s hilarious revisionism of history also saw Solanas responsible for the Zodiac killings and, again, is thwarted when a man takes responsibility for the slayings. Too funny.)
In the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting (the deadliest to date in recent US history), Murphy was forced to trim and re-edit Episode 6’s opening scene, featuring Meadow shooting Kai (Evan Peters) at a political rally. In a twist of events, it turned out Meadow (Leslie Grossman) was instructed to shoot Kai all along, in a bid to further consolidate his grip on the town hall, as well as elevate his campaign to national level. Ally (Sarah Paulson) attempted to stop Meadow, but was carted off to the nut house for 3 weeks of psych-evaluation. When she returned home, Ally realised Kai had cured her – she was no longer afraid of anything.
For much of this season’s run, it’s been a guessing game and, maybe for those interested in evaluating cultural material exclusively through a social-political prism, irksome. While Cult sure isn’t Republican, is it a Bernie-bro or a Hillary-sister? Ally voting for Green Party leader Jill Stein has been a running joke, but it increasingly looks as if Cult is occupying the centre ground, with Season 7 looking at how divisive identity politics and insane ranting leads to national disaster and bitterness, time and time again – the fabric of the nation torn asunder by selfishness and hate; the antithesis of American ideals and vision.
Kai is a misogynistic monster using people to feed his own ego who will certainly get his comeuppance. When Ally told the cult leader that she was no longer afraid of anything, it placated Kai, but has blinded him to the possibility Ally is going to burn down everything from within. Kai thought he could take a suburban liberal and change her core values and identity. He broke her down, but not in the way he believed. He didn’t weaken her, but made her stronger, impervious to further harm. Ally has lost everything, so she has nothing left.
Will a sisterhood arise, in honour of Valerie Solanas, and bring about the apocalypse for all men? Ryan Murphy has become an expert in transgressive television, pushing boundaries and delighting in being the provocateur. Season 7 of American Horror Story is a plea for togetherness, just not in the cult sense.