SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on unless you’ve seen Season 7, episode 7 of “American Horror Story,” titled “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag.”
This week’s episode is a bit of a departure for “American Horror Story” Season 7, as it takes a short break from the cult of Kai (Evan Peters) to make its first visit to another cult – the cult of Andy Warhol in 1960s New York. This is something “Cult” is going to do throughout the rest of the season, with Peters playing famous cult leaders Jim Jones, Charles Manson and more.
The episode opens on a woman, who we learn later is Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham, making her “AHS” repertory debut), prostituting herself for $5 in order to buy some bullets. In a quick flashback to 24 hours earlier, Valerie goes to Warhol (Peters) to demand he return the script she wrote, titled “Up Your A–,” that he had said he would make into a movie. Warhol is busy directing another film when she storms in – “San Diego Surf,” in case you’re curious – so he stops working just long enough to belittle and dismiss her, saying, “Oh, Valerie. You know women can’t be serious artists.”
The next day, Valerie returns with a gun and shoots Warhol at close range in the chest. This is a real incident, by the way. Warhol did not die from his injuries, but they were life-threatening and put him in a surgical corset for the rest of his life.
After the opening credits, we join various news broadcasts as they cover the shooting at Kai’s campaign rally that left five dead. Meadow (Leslie Grossman) is identified as the shooter, so that takes care of the suspense over whether Ally (Sarah Paulson) would somehow be framed. Ally is still in police custody as a person of interest, but the cult is laying the blame solely at Meadow’s feet, with Harrison (Billy Eichner) giving a statement to the media about how upset Meadow was over Hillary Clinton’s loss and specifically targeting Trump supporters.
Kai and Winter (Billie Lourd) celebrate that Kai has ostensibly won the election at this point, polling 20 points ahead (though seriously, who has poll numbers for a city council race?) and he delightedly exclaims, “Holy s–t! I just got a retweet from Eric Trump!”
Then “AHS” fans nationwide rejoice because Frances Conroy is here to make everything more awesome. As Bebe, Conroy is a mystery woman who thinks Beverly (Adina Porter) has lost her way by throwing in with a man’s cult and is suspicious about how Meadow, a supposed Kai-hating Hillary supporter, missed her mark from mere feet away. As Bebe seductively puffs on a cigar, she tells Beverly to “give [her] a ring-a-ding” in her hotel room when Beverly is ready to hear the truth.
Beverly becomes ready to hear the truth after arriving at Kai’s house the next day to find it overrun by white nationalist boys all wearing the same buttoned-up blue dress shirts and black pants tucked into their boots. “[They’re] looking to be a part of history. People are hearing us and answering the call,” crows Kai. They’re also looking a lot like SS soldiers, is what Beverly does not say out loud.
Kai is ready to bring the frightened world “stability,” so he tells Beverly to take a backseat for a while, but she’s having none of that nonsense. Beverly wanted equality in the cult, not a house full of men who would probably shoot her if Kai wasn’t looking (and maybe even if Kai was). So Beverly is ready to drink whatever Kool-Aid Bebe is peddling.
Meanwhile, Winter and Ivy (Alison Pill) are busy wondering where Ally is being held, and whether or not she’ll talk, when Beverly stops by the Butchery to introduce them to Bebe. It turns out Bebe was involved with Valerie Solanas back in the day, so we flash back to their meeting at a live reading of her SCUM manifesto, the work that encouraged women to overthrow the government and eliminate men altogether. The scene is populated by a couple Ryan Murphy familiar faces like Jamie Brewer from “AHS” Seasons 1, 3 and 4 and Dot Jones from “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee.”
Anyway, Valerie establishes her own little cult of mostly women and a couple men who are going to eliminate the scum; they also call themselves SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men). When she gives the “signal,” aka the Warhol shooting, her cult mobilizes in Vallejo, Calif., shooting David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen as they make out at a lover’s lane spot. They’re considered the first victims of the Zodiac Killer, which Winter notes at this point in Bebe’s story back in the Butchery.
“Haven’t you been listening, ingrate? That was Valerie’s plan all along. We were the Zodiac,” says Bebe, though one big problem with this is that Warhol was shot on June 3, 1968 and Faraday and Jensen weren’t killed until Dec. 20 of that year – just one of the many details about the Zodiac Killer (and Valerie Solanas) that “AHS” is playing fast and loose with in this episode.
Either way, according to Bebe’s narrative, Valerie was orchestrating these murders from her cell at a psychiatric hospital, so she goes absolutely ballistic when some man starts taking credit for it by sending letters to the local San Francisco newspapers. Bebe urges Valerie to go public and take credit, but Valerie says they aren’t going to do that until 1000 people are dead.
After she gets out, Valerie tells her followers that she was wrong about men: there are no good ones, no exceptions. She grills the two men who are part of SCUM about taking credit for the Zodiac murders, knowing that it’s Bruce (Miguel Sagaz) who is writing the letters to the papers. Maurice (Ryan Alvarez) runs for his life as the women of SCUM converge on Bruce and brutally stab him to death. He is later found, dismembered and with his genitals in his mouth, by local police, staged to look like a Zodiac Killer murder.
Valerie then goes to the Bay Area police to take credit for the Zodiac crimes, but the cops laugh at her. She thinks it’s because they’re underestimating “the rage of a woman,” but it’s probably more that she comes across as a completely unhinged person. Being so easily dismissed by the police causes Valerie to completely lose it. She makes a hit list that includes Hugh Hefner, Billy Graham, Bobby Riggs and Steve McQueen, with her ramblings scaring off her devoted followers, until only Bebe is left.
When Valerie is alone with her writing, she hallucinates Warhol in all his condescending glory, and she rails at him in a passionate speech about women’s oppression: “I’ve had men try to shut me up since I was a little girl. What is it about little girls that scares men so much? Why won’t they let us be artists or scientists? Why is it only men who can create ‘great art,’ as you call it? The game is rigged, you know, and the people making the decisions, the critics, they’re all men. You men, so terrified of what we might do, you keep us stupid, you keep us complacent, you hold all the power.”
As she lunges for Warhol, Valerie falls and hits her head on the corner of a table, and Bebe’s story in the Butchery seems to imply that that is what killed Valerie (though it is vague). In reality, Valerie Solanas was in a state prison until 1971 and then in and out of other institutions for several years. She did die at the Bristol Hotel in San Francisco, but it was of pneumonia, in 1988.
Either way, it’s an interesting story, and Beverly, Ivy and Winter are definitely buying what Bebe is selling. Beverly says they have to strike back at Kai and his boys, and this time they won’t miss.
“American Horror Story: Cult” has been setting up a Kai-vs-Beverly showdown for several episodes now, first laying the groundwork with the “equal power” talk and then when Beverly so deftly flipped the conversation around when she and Kai linked pinkies and she found out the story of how his parents died. It’s intriguing that three of the main players just jumped from one cult to another, perhaps a comment on how easily some people can be manipulated and persuaded. But it should be entertaining to watch the women go after Kai now. Will they recruit Ally? She’d be quite the (ahem) ally. And is Winter really going to go against her actual family?
We actually get the answer to that second question right away. The next day, Kai sits bedside, holding his dead mother’s rotted hand, and asks Winter if she thinks their parents would be proud of him and if he’s worthy of all this responsibility. She says he may be screwed up and they may not agree all the time, but he’s her brother and she loves him – but then she looks super guilty as Kai asks if he can count on her. Kai then stages his little “gotcha” moment by whipping out a copy of the SCUM manifesto that he found in Winter’s room.
He uses it as a jumping-off point to ask Winter about what he should title a manifesto he puts out into the universe. His suggestions include FIT (Fear is Truth) and MLWB (Men Lead, Women Bleed), which he says was Harrison’s suggestion. It’s actually a really tense scene, because it seems like at any moment Kai is going to snap and kill Winter (or have Harrison do it), but Winter ends up being able to leave without getting hurt.
However, Kai’s parting shot is, “Say hi to the girls for me,” and Winter is definitely shaken.
That night, the women lure Harrison to the restaurant by telling him it’s some kind of surprise for Kai. But really it’s time for the Butchery on Main to live up to its name, as the women threaten Harrison with a saw to find out what happened to Meadow. Of course, no answer Harrison could possibly give would satisfy them, so Ivy takes a saw to Harrison’s arm and throat as he screams in terror and she gets splattered with blood.
Who reports on the police finding Harrison’s dismembered body? Beverly, of course. But the big twist at episode’s end is that Bebe is actually working with Kai.
“They’re at their best when they’re angry,” says Kai, to which Bebe responds, “Aren’t we all?” and they share a smile.
So, what’s their endgame? To simply create chaos? To sow as much discord as they possibly can? Whatever it is, it is making for a really interesting season of “American Horror Story.”
New episodes of “American Horror Story: Cult” are on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX