Just when we thought we had everything figured out on American Horror Story: Cult, Ryan Murphy threw us a curveball. There is a new cult in town, or so it seems, and it has created a chasm in Kai’s crew. The history of this cult is revealed through flashback scenes to the late '60s that make up most of the seventh episode. And the star of this week was undoubtedly Lena Dunham, who guest starred in a role that could not have been more fitting for the writer and actor.
Dunham took on a complicated figure in feminist history, Valerie Solanas, for her AHS debut. The real Solanas, born in 1936, was a radical feminist who wrote the SCUM Manifesto that underscores a need to exterminate men from the planet in order to make it a better and safer place for women. Her other claim to fame, however, is making an attempt on the life of pop art pioneer Andy Warhol. On AHS: Cult, the attempted murder of Warhol (Evan Peters) served as a signal for followers of Solanas to being a killing spree, taking out men and the women willing to have sex with them. The radical feminist cult is actually behind the murders that were credited to the Zodiac Killer, and in a fascinating twist, this misrepresentation is also a sexist affront. A man is being credited for their fatal work. Solanas dies not long after, as a result of her own mental health issues. Nearly 50 years later, Bibi (Frances Conroy) has arrived to activate the women in Kai’s (Evan Peters) contemporary cult.
I don’t think it was lost on anyone how fitting a role like this is for Dunham. She blew up playing Hannah Horvath, a Brooklyn-based writer with her own set of minor mental health issues and misplaced feminist tendencies. Dunham herself is also an imperfect champion of feminism who identifies as a writer among other things. Playing Solanas was really just another opportunity to push all of these traits to the extreme. No, I don’t think that Lena Dunham supports the murder of all men. But I’ll bet that she was completely smitten with idea of playing someone who does.
And it showed. Watching Solanas address her followers in the episode felt natural. It could have easily been Hannah going on a feminist diatribe about her right to wait for the perfect job to come along, or the real Dunham explaining to fans why she refuses to offer explanations for her body. Dunham was truly in her element, dropping F-bombs galore, and the episode was better for it.
Murder is Murphy’s genre. My favorite thing about every installment of American Horror Story is the creative liberty that Murphy takes with real American killings. This is where he really shines as a visual storyteller (not creating fake shows within fake shows that are part of his real show, like he did with Roanoke), and making an imaginary connection between Solanas and the Zodiac killer was a great move. Casting Dunham as Solanas was even better.