American Horror Story: Cult Explained (and Why It Is The Best Season Yet)
Our world is in ruin. To look around on a local and global scale and come to any other conclusion seems foolhardy. We are a people on the verge of extinction due to the terrible choices we’ve made up to this point. And with that feeling, a sense of dead seems to be always hanging over everyone’s head now. Hell, just this week a shitload of people got shot at a country concert, if you don’t think THIS is hell, I am curious what your version looks like.
The reason I say that is this season of American Horror Story has done something very brave and timely. Skewing ANY supernatural elements, they went for a show (American Horror Story: Cult) that plays off the fears of modern America while also sort of satirizing the idea of whole country living in fear (which is what many of us are).
Whereas past seasons threw ghosts and possession and killer nurse twins at us, this season is simply a sort of satirical photograph of Trump’s America. A world unhappy with how it is being ruled and convinced that this is the end of the world as we know it (which it is, but what the hell can you do about it other than accept it?). The fact is, American Horror Story Cult has been a very real, creepy, and honest ride up to now, and for those reasons, not only is pertinent to the life we are all living, but it shows us just how scared into submission we have become.
On top of that, it also goes so far as to hint that maybe, just maybe, that crippling fear we feel might just be justified, making it one of the more unique and interesting seasons of AHS yet. This is not the season to come to if you want vampires and rape-gimps. This is the season you come to if you want a show that looks eerily like the America you are living in, right now, in 2017. American Horror Story season 7 is our life, right now, or at least pretty damn close to it.
Side-note, yes Sarah Paulson is INCREDIBLY annoying the first half of this season, but that insanity is what she is supposed to be playing off of, and just you wait to see where her character goes because the payoff is going to be crazy mind-blowing.
A Shout Out to Trump Nation
The first thing you see on American Horror Story Cult is a woman (played by Sarah Paulson) LOSING HER SHIT because Trump won the presidency from Clinton. They had me right there, for the simple reason that, for the first time, a season of American Horror Story was based on current, real life.
Don’t get me wrong, all past seasons have been partly based on things that supposedly (and actually) did happen, but AHS Cult was dealing with the America we are in while we are watching it. Not many shows have the balls to straight up call out an election’s results as apocalyptic, but to show the political fallout and social fallout between friends and then to use that separation people have right now (rights vs. lefts) as a jumpoff point for the “horror” on this season was genius.
So just what IS the horror of this season, and what makes it so spectacular?
Well, for one, you have a….
A Gaggle of Killer Clowns (And That Is Always Creepy-Fun)
Imagine for a moment, you are out shopping late-at-night for some last minute things in an empty grocery store, and suddenly the lights flicker. When they come back, in the store are roughly ten people dressed up as clowns and other terrifying things, skateboarding around you, throwing bottles of wine at you, trying to grab you and whisper in your ear. You are freaking out, screaming for help and nothing is happening. Suddenly, lights flicker, and they are gone.
You are on the floor screaming, but nothing is there. You try to tell people, but NO ONE believes you and even the cops say there was nothing on the tape other than you freaking out in a grocery store, late at night (even though they won’t SHOW you the surveillance tape).
Can you imagine how alone you would feel, how crazy that would drive you? That is what the season is about. To tell you more is to ruin some of the killer (shitty pun intended) twists and turns that unfold during American Horror Story: Cult.
Another thing worth mentioning and something totally unique to this season of AHS, there are….
NO SUPERNATURAL HORROR ELEMENTS THIS SEASON
Yes, the show that had a nun get possessed by Satan himself (Asylum) and had a Halloween episode filled with zombies that was reminiscent of the camp of Evil Dead (Coven) has decided to askew all supernatural elements this season. Meaning, there are no MONSTERS or creatures or ghosts of goblins. This is a show about a society reacting and the polarizing outcome of that, including the personal responses of people involved.
Basically, long and short without spoilers. Trump wins the election. This sets Kai (played by Evan Peters who better get an Emmy this season) off and running on his idea that the country needs to be ruled with fear. That nothing keeps people in line like fear. That being said, using some very unique ways (that are VERY accurate to actual cults, I would know, I just interviewed the last Member of the Heaven’s Gate cult, who ALSO get brought into the mix later this season even though I am not supposed to know that) Kai wins the trust of enough people to form his fear cult. That is where the terror begins.
But just the simple fact that a season of American Horror Story (which has had wall-crawling ghosts on it) is not doing ANYTHING Supernatural takes guts for a show built on the supernatural. Truth is, you don’t need that shit for it to be scary. Right now, our lives are scarier than any whack-ass Paranormal Activity film where someone gets their sheets pulled off.
AHS: Cult is horror in the realest sense, which is why it is so great. This shit COULD happen.
Perfect Satire of Post-Election America
The other underlying thing about this season that I find enthralling is the fact that it takes who we are right now, on social media, at political rallies, on news footage, and cranks that dial up to ten. This is not primarily a show telling us “we are screwed now because Donald Trump is our president.” Cult is SHOWING US the only way things will really go when we, as humans, over-react or flip out. No good comes from panic, in other words.
AHS: Cult is playing off a fear that is already alive and well in post 9/11 America. The idea that there is no safety anymore. The idea that, from schools to concerts to churches and polling stations, nowhere is safe anymore, and that is true, sadly. Believe it or not, the fear we all constantly fear now between the barrage of bad news from our Facebook feeds to how much we gorge on the TV news now, this show plays off that, and plays off that superbly.
What if, instead of a cult focusing on an entire nation, they turned their actions essentially toward driving one (already crazy) woman even nuttier? Imagine if a group targeted ONE PERSON and slowly, every person that person knew played along and just did all they could to drive that ONE person to the very edge of madness and suicide?
Can you imagine how wholly unsettling yet wholly possible that would be? THAT is AHS Cult.
It’s impressive stuff considering this is American Horror Story season 7. 7 years in and still bringing wickedly unique ideas and concepts to the table, you can’t be mad at that when most shows are known for just recycling the same shit, year after year.
They NAILED The Cult Part
A big part of this season of AHS is watching the Kai character (blue-haired and charismatic as hell) slowly bring more and more people into the ‘cult’, and the way he does this is remarkably true-to-life. As in every season, this season of AHS did a bunch of homework and got the cult thing JUST RIGHT.
A cult leader is whoever you need him or her to be. They find someone who is empty, angry, ignored, and they offer them everything their life is missing. They offer to fill all the ‘holes’ (holes being another thematic visual to the season, though it is more a metaphor than anything else). Seeing the way Kai won over every person differently by giving them what they needed was a sight to behold.
A cult takes people who feel alone and powerless and finds them a group to put them in and pretends to give them a voice. The reality is, a cult member is a sheep, period. They do not think for themselves. They blindly follow the leader like a God, until the cracks start to show. This cult will play out no differently. They were doomed from the start, but aren’t all good cults doomed?
It is also cool the way we see Evan Peters As Kai channel all the cult personalities we know as Americans. From the charisma and “you go do it while my hands stay clean” aspect of Charlie Manson, to the gentle way he acts like what he is making them do is necessary and will fix the world, what blows your mind about this season of AHS is the fact that everyone Kai is during this season represents one of the major cult leaders we all know of from history, from Jim Jones to the aforementioned Manson.
Also, sorry to make a prediction here, but if the show is running all the American cults into one, that means this group will DEFINITELY go out Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown style at the end of the season, suicide style, together (probably with black shoes on, no joke.
Ending this season any other way would be a fail, but only time will tell if this prediction plays out.
Oh, and have I mentioned….
Evan Peters is UNREAL
Evan Peters who plays Kai, the cult leader who is everything to everyone at a time when they need it most is, in a word, sublime. The kid pretty much steals every season (Roanoke being an exception), but as Kai, he is something else. You sit at home watching and even though you know he is a fucking loon put out there to represent all the extremists in the country right now, he will say some things that even you, as a viewer, will agree with (even if you disagree with 99% of his teachings, which the sanest of us will).
Crazy has never been this charismatic, and he owns the season. Imagine if Kurt Cobain and Johnny Rotten had a baby with Charlie Manson and you understand what you get this season with Peters. He goes from being a skinny, punk-looking kid to scenes when his personality is larger-than-life and fills the screen. It is a sublime performance that Peters loses himself in, and in the process, we get caught up and lose ourselves in it, too.
And it’s key to remember, he is not a demon or monster or possessed. He just represents a small part of the country that thinks all this shit that is going down right now is okay. In many ways, it is almost fun to think of Kai like the Joker (as in Batman’s Joker). From the strings of wet-colored hair hanging in his eyes to the feeling of anarchy that follows him like storm clouds, you can tell he feeds off of adding chaos into the mix, just like The Joker did. He is that one kid you sat next to in school you kinda scared you cuz he always wore a trenchcoat and talked about guns. He is the one guy at the poll you KNOW is gonna vote the wrong way and send the world spinning into Hell. He is the punk ass kid who looks harmless for the most part until he opens his mouth, at which point, people listen and act.
He IS the heartbeat of season 7 of American Horror Story, this being the most realistic of them all so far.
Where It Is All Heading
I am telling you to get on board with this season of American Horror Story for no other reason than it is sort of a snapshot of America right now, minus the clowns to be afraid of (as we are also the clowns in this example).
But the real reason I think people should be watching AHS: Cult is because you know what? Maybe we could learn something from it and whatever tragedy unfolds for these people, maybe we still have time to keep it from actually happening to us.
Or maybe we should all just buy some clown masks and play the other side. I know I’m ready….