SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on unless you’ve seen Season 7, episode 4 of “American Horror Story,” titled “11/9,” which aired on Sept. 26.
A cult is nothing without a charismatic leader, capable of convincing individuals to trust him and follow him. “American Horror Story: Cult” has its crazed Kai Anderson, played by Evan Peters, and until this week’s episode, it was hard to see why any halfway sane person might follow him. But in “11/9,” we see exactly how Kai seduces potential cult members: there’s preying on post-election fears and more than a little bit of murder, but perhaps more importantly, an ability to seem like he will truly protect the members of his tribe.
This flashback-based episode, though, picks up right on Election Night… and “AHS” vet Emma Roberts is back (but not for long)! She has a contentious exchange with fellow reporter Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) and immediately sets the stage for their relationship: Beverly is the serious news reporter, and Roberts’ Serina Belinda is the ambitious, amoral competition. But inside the voting booths, we see all the characters we’ve gotten to know cast their votes: Ivy (Alison Pill) proudly for Hillary Clinton, Ally (Sarah Paulson) now infamously for Jill Stein, and Meadow even writes in Oprah.
But perhaps no one is more enthusiastic to vote than the injured Gary Longstreet (Chaz Bono), who Kai drags into the polling place. As he bleeds out, Gary casts his vote for Donald Trump, before exiting his station, holding up his bloody stump and yelling, “Welcome to Trump’s America, motherf—ers!”
Harrison still has to go to work after Election Night, arriving to the gym he trains at (making his switch to a beekeeper later an interesting career change) to find that Kai has requested him as his personal trainer because he “looked strong.” That’s convenient for Harrison, who’s lost a number of clients over “post-election economic anxiety.” As Kai works out, he launches into a diatribe over labels created by the “leftists,” but then pivots in a strange direction. Though he clarifies that he’s straight, he would do anything for someone close to him, and if someone in his tribe woke up to a “hard-on that won’t quit,” he’d find, well, some way to take care of that.
They’re interrupted by Harrison’s jerk-bro coworker manager Vinny, who demands that Harrison clean the semen from the steam room, and Kai’s appalled by Vinny’s treatment of him. Later, as Harrison dutifully hoses down the bathrooms, he’s distracted by the grunts of Kai, who’s jerking off in the showers. Harrison seems unfazed by this (and the cult symbol written in the steam in the bathroom door), especially when Kai clarifies that he’ll “clean it up myself.”
When he gets home to Meadow, however, Harrison only sees more stress. Meadow informs him that they’re being foreclosed on, as they’re only living on Harrison’s gym trainer salary. They start to turn on each other: Meadow’s supposed to control the finances, but she accuses him of “guilt tripping” her into a job at a craft store where she was sexually harassed. But in a sad twist, Meadow seems to try to seduce Harrison, crawling on top of him. It doesn’t work — Harrison is, as Meadow well knows, gay.
The foreclosure news makes Harrison even more on-edge at work. As Vinny continues to provoke him, Harrison confines in Kai, confessing that he’s the only thing keeping him going. Kai gives him a pep talk, and later, when Harrison is once again cleaning up bodily fluids in the steam room, Kai gets to the heart of it: “You want to change, but you don’t know how.” He convinces Harrison to put his anger and pain to use, and Harrison does just that, marching out to the gym and pressing a loaded-up barbell to Vinny’s neck until he passes out. When that leaves him only near death, Harrison finishes him off with a dumbbell.
Understandably, Harrison is now freaking out. He’s officially a murderer, after all. Lucky for him, though, Kai is oddly prepared for this. He sends a text from Vinny’s phone, telling his friends that he’ll be away for a couple of weeks. He erases the security footage from the killing. He somehow knows that Vinny has no family. Kai reveals to Harrison that he’s been watching him for some time… and at this point, proven that he’ll take care of him.
Later, poor Meadow tries to bum some weed off of her motel neighbors, even offering sex in exchange. She comes home to quite a sight: Harrison sawing off Vinny’s head in the bathtub, as Kai looks on. Harrison introduces Kai simply as “someone to believe in” — an interesting choice of words, considering that the 2016 election was often criticized for not providing voters with someone just like that.
Vinny’s beheaded body ends up at a landfill, where Beverly is reporting the case. Meanwhile, however, Serina sits on a couch, reporting a fluff piece, much to Beverly’s chagrin. As Kai watches the news, he realizes he knows Beverly from somewhere: a YouTube video, which shows several of Beverly’s news reports interrupted by bystanders yelling some variation of “grab her by the pussy,” before she eventually snaps and beats one of those people. She was later admitted to a facility for psychiatric rehabilitation.
In the present, though, she’s confronting her boss Bob, who’s in the process of pinching Serina’s nipples and inviting her to his lakehouse. He demands that she cut a minute out of her hard news segment for Serina’s fluff piece, and when she protests, he reminds her that he could’ve just fired her when she had her breakdown. Beverly fires back by reminding him that she’s his only black reporter, but he insists that she can be replaced, and Serina? Well, she tells Beverly that she will “suck d— all the way to the top.” No shame in her game.
This provokes an already angry Beverly, who goes outside to slash Serina and Bob’s tires, but not without receiving some constructive criticism from Kai, who’s sought her out. He manages to get her to agree to grab dinner, where he tells her that he’s running for city council (this was before Councilman Chang vacated a seat by getting murdered by a horde of clowns). She details her terrifying rage to him, and he provokes her further, telling her his own personal mantra: “If you get the world scared enough, they will set the world on fire for us.” But she doesn’t believe in him, or anyone… for now.
Unfortunately for Serina, Kai is a man of action. She’s off reporting on a local festival, berating her cameraman, and proving she truly is a villain by complaining about cuddling an adorable puppy when a group of the clowns appear, stabbing Serina and her cameraman to death (for what it’s worth, the puppy does live). After Beverly sees the footage, she rushes to Kai, who is complimenting Meadow’s clown drawings. Meadow has real talent, and did want to be a painter, but was too drawn to the normalcy of middle-class life, as she puts it. Kai admits to Beverly that he’s the one who ordered Serina’s murder, and just like that, he has another cult member: Beverly Hope.
But remember Ivy and Ally? We see Ally briefly, refusing to go to a rally with Ivy the day before the election, because Michigan is a lock, right? Right?! (not right). At the rally, Ivy gets into an argument with Gary, who grabs her by the genitals and runs away. Winter sees this and is furious, chasing Gary away, and then checking up on Ivy — which means that Ivy knew Winter before, and presumably hid that from Ally. Over coffee, Winter tells her that she wants to be Huma Abedin, pushing a great person to power. Meanwhile, Ivy vents to her about her frustration and anger — a familiar theme.
At his grocery store, Gary has a nice interaction with one of his employees… that quickly turns awkward when it’s implied he’ll vote for Trump the following day. As he attempts to close up shop, he sees Winter, who’s picking out tape, and Ivy appears behind him and Tazes him into unconsciousness. They tie him up in the basement and handcuff him to a pole, revealing that they’ll call the cops to find him tomorrow — just after the polls close. In some over-the-top dialogue (even for “American Horror Story”), Winter yells “Consider yourself silenced, bitch!”
She tells Kai later what happened, even admitting to him that she enjoyed it, and Kai can’t help himself. He goes to find Gary in the basement, and has a saw with him, though not one sharp enough to cut through the handcuffs. That’s because Kai wants him to cut through his wrist. Gary is appalled, at first. But Kai goads him on, saying “bitches like Samantha Bee and Rachel Maddow” mock him for being a straight, white, cheap-beer loving dude. “Today is the chance to stick it right in their f—ing eyes,” through voting, of course, Kai tells him. “What would you give for the chance to do that? How humiliated are you?”
And just like that, Gary starts to saw through his wrist, with Kai looking on. And now we know how Kai recruits his cult members: by preying on their fear and anger to drive them to the brink, and then appearing as their savior.