Fall is upon us. Halloween merchandise is already on the shelves of your local Walgreen’s, pumpkin spice lattes are back at Starbucks, and another season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is upon us. After months of teasers and clues with blue hair, clowns, and beehives that are not at all affiliated with Beyoncé, the seventh installment of the anthology horror series, subtitled Cult, is here. I knew the season was going to be scary when they said it would be based on the 2016 election. Let’s face it, these have been pretty frightening times ever since. This is probably why the season seven premiere was more chilling than I was ready for — and I’ve been watching it since it’s beginning in 2011. Let’s dive right in.
News footage of the 2016 presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump opens the episode. It includes their running announcements and the highlights of their respective campaign platforms. Breaking to election night — November 8, 2016 in case you forgot — a FOX newscaster announces Pennsylvania in favor of Trump (putting him over the 270 electoral college votes required to win the presidency). Murphy has never been one for subtleties, so whatever reaction you imagined people on either side of the aisle having on that fateful night is exactly what you’re about to see:
Kai Anderson (Evan Peters), a weird white guy with blue hair says “the revolution has begun” in his basement. And with rising excitement he starts humping his TV while chanting “USA! USA! USA!.” Yes, humping. He puts some Cheetos Puffs in a blender, smears them on his face and puts his blue hair in a swoop to mimic Trump. I can’t make this stuff up. At another house, Ally Mayfair-Richards’ (Sarah Paulson) stunned disbelief turns into anger and hurt as she breaks down into tears, and is comforted by her wife Ivy (Alison Pill). The couple and their son Ozzy worry about their marriage status, while their friend Tom who was watching with them chides his wife Marilyn not voting. Clinton could have won in their state of Michigan with only 10,000 more votes. Sitting alone in her room with her laptop and her friend on the phone, Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd), who campaigned on behalf of Clinton, questions the campaign’s outreach tactics, CNN’s refusal to provide to provide a trigger warning before announcing the winner, and how she’ll get an abortion should she become pregnant. (I’m right there with you, sis.) Her friend is worried that Winter is going to self harm herself. Then something unexpected happens.
Kai, with his face covered in Cheetos, enters her room and jumps on the bed. She thinks he’s come to gloat about Trump’s victory and tries to kick him out. Instead, he extends his pinky finger to her. She offers her own and links it with his. How charming: a pink promise across the political divide. Winter tells him, “I’m just so scared now.” He responds, “Everyone is.” Cue the creepy AHS theme music and montage.
In a picturesque scene in a glassy clearing, a young couple is just about to have sex when the woman is overcome with the fear that someone is watching her. She’s right. Her boyfriend jokes that it might be the killer clown from several decades ago. It is. Twisty approaches — AHS: Freak Show fans rejoice! — and kills them both. Except he doesn’t. Jump to the present reality: Ozzy is reading a comic book about Twisty and when Ally sees it, she flips. Apparently she has pretty advanced case of coulrophobia, among other fears. More on that later.
In a courtroom, Kai’s greasy blue hair is classed up into bun as he addresses his local officials. They are voting to extend overtime to sheriffs in order for them to guard a Jewish community center against anti-Semitic violence. He launches into a speech about Americans and their obsession with fear. He thinks that people should become so scared that they allow the naturally fearless to govern their freedom. The chairman of the board — who is also Ally and Ivy’s friend Tom — shuts him down, and they vote to pass the motion. Kai sulks away with a comment about humiliated men being the most dangerous. Most women who have ever rejected a guy at a bar can co-sign that.
After her harrowing experience with the comic book clown, Ally is in her therapist’s office. She has been racked with anxiety since the election. Her Guatemalan nanny has stopped showing up to work. Ally’s anxiety has triggered all of her phobias: fear of clowns, blood, the dark, confined spaces, and the a piece of coral in her doctor’s office with way too many holes. [Note: When I find out who introduced Murphy to trypophobia, only for him to torture me for an entire season, I’m going to send them so much spam.] Her doctor gives her a prescription for anti-anxiety medication and tells her to cut back on social media because her reaction to the new political climate has been “extreme.” But Ally isn’t so sure that everything will be ok.
It won’t. She goes into an eerily creepy grocery story and the cashier is a Trump supporter. This is not a good sign. As she walks away from him, further into the store she sees several people in clown masks through a mirror. They disappear when she faces them. She turns a corner. Two more clowns are having sex over the produce. She’s getting nervous. One of them wields a knife on a scooter and another looks pretty cool in a sleeveless dress where the cashier once stood. Loud rock music blares through the speakers. Ally freaks out. She runs, throws a bottle of rosé at one of them, and escapes to her car. She calls Ivy, panicking and wondering what to do. But there is another clown masked assailant in the back seat of her car. She hits the gas, crashing into a pole. At home, Ivy breaks the news that the clerk can’t verify Ally’s story. There was no evidence of clowns being in the store or loud music playing over the intercom system.
Later, Ally and Ivy go over some business at the restaurant they own. Ally is the face of the operation and Ivy, a chef, is responsible for the menu items. But with Ally’s declining mental health, Ivy has been carrying the weight in the months since the election. It’s one of those tense scenes between married couples. Ivy needs Ally to get her shit together (I don’t blame her) but Ally feels justified in her worry over the “state of our country.” Ally gives in, vows to do better, and even offers to write the ad for their new nanny as they walk out of the restaurant. They cross the street and Ally gushes about how grateful she is that Ivy hasn’t “told anyone,” and wants to make sure Ivy forgives her. For what, you ask? Ally voted for Jill Stein in the election. They start bickering about it right there on the street corner. But there isn’t time to process the inner turmoil of a silent, white female voter because just then Kai walks by and throws his latte on both of them. He is unapologetic as the two women stand on the corner stunned. They don’t try to beat him senseless as I would have done. It’s safe to say I still don’t understand white female voters.
In the first way-too-predictable plot twist of the season, Winter is the candidate that shows up to interview for Ally and Ivy’s nanny position. She tells them that she was a woman’s studies major at Vassar before dropping out to work full time for Clinton’s campaign. She wants to help a family in need since she isn’t ready to go back to school where it’s so “political.” Simultaneously, we get a flashback scene of Winter with Kai, embraced in a pinky lock and being interrogated by him about her biggest moments of pleasure, pain, humiliation, and fear. Her biggest fear is Kai, for the record. He asks her if she wants the people who got Trump elected dead, she answers yes. Given that Kai overheard Ivy and Ally arguing about their vote choices, this is not a good sign. But there are more pressing concerns first.
A newly radicalized Kai is still on a rampage to terrorize people he views as different and un-American. He fills a condom with his own urine and throws it at a group of Spanish speaking men, after calling them a racial slur and saying that they aren’t welcome here anymore. They beat him senseless, but it’s clear that this is the reaction he wanted. Someone is recording their attack.
Taking full advantage of their new nanny, Ally and Ivy have a romantic dinner for two at their restaurant after hours. Back at their home, Winter is proving that she’s not so woke after all. As he colors a personal drawing of Twisty, she asks Ozzy which of the two women is his “real” mommy. When he responds that both of them are, she says “which one carried you in her belly?”. Still not satisfied with his answer, she asks about his dad since “everyone has one.” Women’s studies degree… my ass. Things take a darker turn when she decides to show Ozzy real murders on some back alley website. She claims it’s like a vaccination for his brain that will make him stronger.
Back at the restaurant, Ally looks at some tweets by Trump and then has another episode. She’s seeing bloody entrees with holes and masturbating clowns until Ivy calms her down. Ivy asks if Ally has been taking the meds that her doctor prescribed. She hasn’t.
Ozzy is interrupted from his online gore by the sound of an ice cream truck. He looks out of his window and sees some clowns with weapons pop out of it. They stand there and stare at him. At this point I’m convinced that this season of AHS is loosely based on The Purge.
Ally and Ivy arrive on their street to see police cars and crime scene tape everywhere. Naturally, they are nervous that something has happened to their son. So am I. But he’s ok. The crime scene is at the house across the street, the home of Tom and Marilyn Chang. When his parents ask him what happened, Ozzy tells them that it was the clowns. Cut to a flashback of him and Winter going across the street to check it out. Ozzy looks into a window, the Chang’s being stabbed by the clowns. And they saw him peeking!
But Winter insists that this didn’t happen and that Ozzy’s overactive imagination conjured it up. She says they didn’t come outside until they saw police. She presents the Twisty comic book as a potential source for Ozzy’s story. Ally believes her son, but Ivy chalks it up to his night terrors. I’m not trying to mommy shame but I think they should have asked a few more questions. In fact, they should have asked the same amount of questions they ask the detective on the scene who claims it’s a possible murder-suicide.
Later in bed, Ally hears a noise. “Ivy did you hear that?”, she whispers. She turns towards her wife. Clown! In her bed! We’ll have to wait until next week to find out if it’s a figment of her imagination, a bad dream, or an actual masked killer out for blood.
For now, think long and hard about the decision you made on November 8 and what kind of ball has been set in motion as a result. Sweet dreams tonight.