Warning: This contains spoilers for the final three episodes of American Horror Story: Cult. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review here.
Of 11 episodes making up American Horror Story: Cult, 7 were directed by women, including AHS alumni Angela Bassett and Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David Lynch and a very good filmmaker in her own right). This seems like progress in the sausage factory that is the movie and television industry, but also because AHS Season 7 was about Donald Trump’s odious presidency creating the circumstances for Valerie Solanas’ SCUM manifesto – an extreme, some way satirical, feminist text – to influence a fightback. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, that so much television direction is bland and invisible: progress is progress.
After a desultory season 6, American Horror Story: Roanoke, which really was a grind to get through, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk got back on track with Season 7. It was a massive gamble taking on the recent Trump presidency and the toxicity of identity politics, but in using the SCUM manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men), the creative duo behind the often-extraordinarily transgressive television show found a brilliant solution and satirical counterpoint to springboard off.
Having taken a back seat in Seasons 5 and 6, appearing in a supporting role capacity, Evan Peters was front and centre as ‘Angry White Man’ Kai Anderson, a psychopath who dreams of changing his country into an Objectivist dictatorship. As the layers of Kai’s backstory were unpeeled, it’s revealed – surprise, surprise – he’s just another misogynistic nimrod like all the other polo t-shirt-wearing, Tiki torch-holding douchebags who are attempting to reassert their male authority against changing times.
Peters excelled as the repugnant wannabe uber-Trump. Peters also got to play Andy Warhol, the recently deceased cult leader Charlie Manson, as well as Jim Jones and David Koresh, two other famous cult lords who led folk to disaster. His range as an actor is most impressive and it is on American Horror Story where he has often shined.
Sarah Paulson, meanwhile, is very much the Queen of American Horror Story. Agoraphobic suburban socialist Ally Mayfair-Richards initially looked very much like a target of Murphy and Falchuck’s venom. Ally voted for Green Party leader Jill Stein because she just didn’t trust Hillary, thus displeasing her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill). The wasted vote became a point of contention and a running joke. But ultimately, Ally is right. As a left-winger and suspicious of the centrist career politician, whose husband, Bill, 42nd President of the United States, was involved in the Democrat Party’s move to the centre ground (known as the Third Way), it ripped the soul out of American politics and made anything left of that look extreme or plum unelectable. Ally’s inherent distrust of Hillary is something a lot of folk felt – many women, in fact, who saw her not as The Hope against The Dope, but equally an elitist obsessed with power and out for number one. Ally emerged over the season as the heroine who will play dirty and is not above blood-letting (she poisons hypocrite wife Ivy for ruining her life).
Yet in the final episodes, things felt suddenly rushed, as if the showrunners were reminded this season ran 11 episodes. After Kai attempted to launch his “Night of a Thousand Tates” (revised to 100 and named after the infamous Cielo Drive massacre, where pregnant actor Sharon Tate was murdered along with her friends in the Hollywood Hills), the FBI swooped in and busted Kai’s movement, sending him behind bars, leaving the last episode (“Great Again”) to explain what happened.
American Horror Story has often been accused of being too interested in style over substance. There have been times when Murphy’s penchant for high camp and the absurd has grated on viewers, but was Season 7 guilty of the reverse? Too much substance for 11 episodes? The story is riddled with contradictions in characters and plot, things happened at too quick a narrative pace, but overall it was a fascinating dissection of the horror of the 21st century identity politics currently destroying western culture and society. This season’s newbies Billie Lourd, Billy Eichner and a barnstorming special guest appearance by Lena Dunham as Valerie Solanas were highlights, too. Let’s hope they return in Season 8.