That Bathtub Scene On American Horror Story: Cult Was Sexual Assault — Here's Why

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
American Horror Story: Cult has brought forth a gaggle of suspicious characters that aren’t clowns. And none creep me out more than siblings Kai (Evan Peters) and Winter Anderson (Billie Lourde). The latter has been hired to nanny for Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Ivy Mayfair-Richards’ (Alison Pill) but so far she’s pretty bad at it. She’s been quietly tormenting the couple’s son with dark images, and in Tuesday night’s episode she turned her attention to one of the moms. What happened between them was creepy, and not in the traditional American Horror Story way. It was sexual assault.
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Having had a weird encounter with Kai earlier in the day (I wonder if she’ll ever find out that he’s related to her nanny), Ally is clearly wound up and completely uninterested in taking her anti-anxiety medication. Winter appears out of nowhere and suggests a nice bubble bath. After it’s drawn and Ally is in it, Winter appears again. To prove she has no boundaries, she takes it upon herself to wash Ally — first her back, and then her front. When she reaches Ally’s vaginal area, Ally jumps and starts to protest. But Winter insists that she should relax and says she won’t tell Ivy that Ally isn’t taking her meds. She leans in for a kiss, while presumably fingering her, and Ally obliges right before the power goes out and all hell breaks loose.
I’m sure the scene was supposed to feel steamy and risqué, but I couldn’t help but be freaked out by its broader implications. Winter initiated sexual contact with Ally without her consent. While Ally is Winter’s boss, the power dynamic also leans in Winter’s favor because of Ally’s fragile mental health state. When Ally is resistant to the encounter, Winter threatens to reveal her secret to get her to comply. This is a form of coercion that falls on the spectrum of sexual assault. Let’s not make the mistake of calling it lesbian seduction.
Because AHS: Cult takes place in Ryan Murphy’s imaginative world of horror, I’m not sure there is a such thing as a truly romantic sex scene. However, because the interaction between Winter and Ally crossed the boundaries of consent, it became terrifying in a very real way.
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This isn’t the first time Murphy has used non-consensual sex as a plot device to build up suspense, shock, or scare viewers. In Murder House, Viven Harmon (Connie Britton) was tricked into having sex with a ghost that she thought was her husband. In Freak Show, Penny (Grace Gummer) was drugged and kidnapped before she participated in a circus orgy that she was later blackmailed for. I still get chills thinking about that scene in Hotel where the ghost had a drill for a penis.
We already know that Murphy isn’t a fan of subtleties, so when he gets an idea he runs with it. I can hardly tolerate the trypophobia on this season of Cult, but when it comes to sexual assault, Murphy needs to tone it all the way down.