SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the premiere of “American Horror Story: Cult,” titled “Election Night,” which aired Sept. 5 on FX.
For many, Nov. 8, 2016, was, truly, an American horror story. As former real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump was elected president over the expected winner Hillary Clinton, dozens of media talking heads lost their heads and liberals took to Twitter to express their fear. And, yes, there was hysteria, to say the least… but few were perhaps as emotional as Ally and Kai in Ryan Murphy’s kind-of fictional universe.
Ally and Kai, being, of course, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters’ characters, respectively, on the latest season of “American Horror Story,” titled “Cult,” which debuted Tuesday night. The premiere, written by co-creators Murphy and Brad Falchuk, is over-the-top, in true “AHS” fashion, but grounded in our very real political state, looking at the extreme reactions on both sides to Trump’s election.
The episode opens with a scene that’s familiar to plenty, to be sure: Ally and her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill), watch in horror with their friends as newscasters announce that Trump has won the 2016 election. Ally wails, “What’s going to happen to Merrick Garland?”; the words “F— you, Nate Silver!” are yelled at some point. Their friend snaps at his wife for “being too busy on Etsy to go vote.” It’s a blame game that just about anyone who’s been on Twitter in the past ten months can recognize.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kai, watching the news alone that same night, is ecstatic. He goes so far to dry-hump the TV screen when Trump appears, and yes, actually covers his face in Cheetos to emulate his orange-hued leader. In that same house, Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd) — who I’ll assume is his sister, given their conversations and shared surname — is devastated. In some of the most in-your-face satire of the episode, Winter, on the phone with her friend, chastises CNN for not issuing a “trigger warning” before announcing the election results.
Kai goes to her room, presumably to gloat, but then something strange happens: they lock pinkies, implying some sort of pact between the two of them. Between this scene and her actions in the rest of the episode, Winter becomes the hardest character to pin down thus far.
Cut to a few weeks later, and Ally is not doing well. She loses it when she finds their son, Oz, reading a Twisty the Clown comic book late at night — and in one of the most blatant “AHS” crossovers we’ve ever seen, John Carroll Lynch returns as the infamous clown in a scene depicting what Oz is reading that was ripped straight out of “Freak Show.” Later, talking with her therapist, Dr. Rudy Vincent (“Hotel” and “Roanoke” alum Cheyenne Jackson), she confesses that her myriad phobias, including a fear of tiny holes, have only gotten worse since the election.
In this scene, it’s evident that Ally has an uncanny ability to make everything, well, about herself. It’s a valid argument that she’s in a private therapy session, and therefore should talk about herself, but when she recalls “what happened to me after 9/11, when I couldn’t leave my apartment,” it seems exaggerated to the point of humor. It doesn’t look to be an accident — at a press screening and Q&A last month, Murphy teased that he would take a “satirical” approach to Ally and Ivy’s white privilege. Regardless, despite Ally’s protests, the doctor prescribes her meds to keep the phobias at bay.
Meanwhile, Kai has been keeping busy. He attends what seems to be a city council meeting over whether or not to approve overtime pay for extended security at a Jewish community center. Kai, unsurprisingly, is opposed, and launches into a diatribe over using fear to control people (it’s a familiar narrative — earlier, when Winter admitted that she’s “just so scared now,” Kai snapped back, “Everyone is.”) A city council member dismisses him as a basement dweller who feels free to emerge now that Trump is POTUS, and Kai storms out, incensed.
Oh, and later, Kai pees into a condom and chucks it at a group of construction workers while hurling racial slurs at them, because of course he does. The group attacks him, which appears to be according to Kai’s plan; an anonymous bystander records the beatdown on a cell phone nearby.
Before Ally can really get to work on her new mission of self-improvement, she suffers a setback, to say the least, at the grocery store. There, after an awkward encounter with a Trump-supporting cashier, Ally sees figures in clown costumes copulating in the produce aisle, and some even move to attack her. She hurls bottles of rosé at the assailants and runs to her car, where one of the figures waits for her. Panicked, she crashes into a pole.
Later, however, Ivy tells her that the police found no evidence of what she described. With the lack of supernatural elements this season, we can choose to believe one of two options: one, that she’s hallucinating these figures; or two, and maybe the more likely possibility, that they’re actually targeting her.
At the center of all of this, Ivy is understandably a little exasperated. She expresses this to Ally, who, while defensive at first, vows to try and move past her fears, and help out more with the restaurant they own. Afterwards, in probably the best bit of satire in the premiere, Ivy signals that she might still be resentful of Ally for — gasp! — voting for Jill Stein instead of Hillary Clinton. In the only time they collide the entire episode, Kai diverts their attention by spilling coffee all over them in the street, and isn’t very apologetic.
The fact that Ally’s going back to work, and that their housekeeper mysteriously disappeared after the election, means the couple needs a new nanny for Oz. Winter, of all people, is up for the job, after being prepped by Kai. While talking to Kai, she hates children. When she’s interviewing with Ally and Ivy, she loves them. The couple is ultimately sold by Winter’s claim that she paused her higher education to work for Clinton’s campaign, and she’s in.
It’s later made very apparent that they’ve made a mistake. When the two leave for a romantic evening at their restaurant — that’s eventually sullied because Ally starts seeing the clowns again — Winter shows Oz the “dark web,” filled with videos of murders and other grotesque sights. Oz notices a commotion across the street, and Winter takes him outside where, if he’s being truthful, he witnesses the brutal murders of their neighbors by a group of people in (you guessed it) clown masks.
When they return from their date to a crime scene on their street, Ally and Ivy panic. They’re immediately furious at Winter for allowing Oz out, but when he’s out of earshot, she tells them that his over-active imagination, supplemented by the Twisty comic, made up the gruesome killings. The police seem to back that up, curiously telling Ally and Ivy that the deaths are being investigated as a murder-suicide.
One last surprise before the episode ends: Ally later wakes up in the middle of the night to find one of the masked figures in bed with her instead of Ivy. It sets the stage for the rest of the season — it looks like it’s Ally v. her own mind v. whatever this cult is. Trump may as well be the last of her worries.