We have a vague lay of the land so far on American Horror Story: Cult. In a time of intense political division, people in the state of Michigan are experiencing both personal and social anxiety. That fear is being cultivated by a group of killer clowns. A nanny is bad at her job and people aren’t acting very neighborly. And at the center of it all is Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) and a weird game that he orchestrates.
In what I can only explain as Never Have I Ever meets Truth or Dare: Extreme Edition, Kai locks his co-player in a pinky promise and asks them a series of questions about their deepest secrets, regrets, and most importantly, fears. His sister Winter (Billie Lourd) even played a round with the child she babysits, Ozzy (Cooper Dodson).
It’s still unclear exactly how the game is supposed to work but Winter told Ozzy that she was taking his fear from him so that both of them could be stronger. So apparently Kai and his crew believe that fear comes with power. And that’s not his only questionable belief.
On episode three, Kai played this game with Meadow (Leslie Grossman). She admitted to being afraid of dying alone — and never being penetrated by a man again — since she is in a sexless marriage with her gay best friend Harrison (Billy Eichner). Now that he has a “friend” that he makes jokes with behind her back she fears that she no longer means anything to anyone. And for the first time we see Kai send his own version of power back across the pinky promise. He tells Meadow to “stop saying sorry... for anything.” According to him, doing so makes her “nothing.” Kai’s advice to her? “Everything is someone else’s fault from now on. You want to be somebody? You want to matter? Then you make the world wrong.” That’s certainly one version of a pep talk.
I found myself mulling over Kai’s words and came to my own conclusion about them: they’re kind of fucked up in the context that AHS creator Ryan Murphy has built this season. We already know that Murphy is intentional to a fault. Case in point: Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson).
I don’t think a single word in Kai’s monologue went without consideration. I couldn’t help but notice that ‘playing the victim’ is often an accusation hurled at people of color who speak up about the systemic oppression against them. Right wing conservatives often find a way to blame oppressed groups for their own conditions. It feels like Murphy is rubbing salt in that wound by having his white dude antagonist instruct a white woman to use it as a tactic for personal development.
And then there’s the language of “mattering.” For the past few years, getting the people and institutions in this country to understand that the intention of Black Lives Matter has been a political platform and source of contention. Marginalized groups are still human beings and deserve the same rights and protections under the law, which many feel they don't receive. Black people haven’t taken up arms to say that they rest of the world is wrong. That’s a dismissive take on a movement that means so much to so many people.
In my analysis of Ally, I noted that Murphy is not one for subtleties. I’m sure this little speech was meant to reveal something about Kai. Perhaps he really is the voice of the radical right, ready to use the same tactics of his opposition against them. Either way, he certainly got my attention and I hope that the rest of Murphy’s take on Trump’s America is fleshed out in a way that draws meaningful attention to the issues that matter. Caricaturing them is not enough.