Showrunners: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck
Main Cast: Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Alison Pill, Billie Lourd, Billy Eichner, Adina Porter, Colton Haynes, Leslie Grossman, Chaz Bono
Notable Guest Stars: John Carroll Lynch, Emma Roberts, Lena Dunham, Frances Conroy, Dermot Mulroney, Rick Springfield
Episode Length: 40-50 Minutes
The following review contains some spoilers
Another year, another season of American Horror Story. Going into this season, it was refreshing to see that the show would be trying something new, this time focusing on the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. For the first time in the show’s history, there’s no supernatural elements at play here, but there’s still moments here that will make you drop your mouth and say “What the fuck?” AHS has always been a show that’s favored style over substance, and for better or worse, that sums up Cult quite accurately.
Cult sets its tone quickly; in the first five minutes of the first episode, Donald Trump wins the election, as we see reactions from both Trump and Clinton supporters being taken to the extremes. Among these supporters are our main characters, Ally and Ivy Mayfair-Richards (portrayed by Sarah Paulson and Alison Pill, respectively), who are Clinton supporters devastated by her loss. Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) a die-hard Trump supporter, relishes in his victory, thinking the U.S. is back on track. The first few episodes alone revolve around the interesting theme of how we react under political duress, but sadly, the show starts to strive away from it.
As time after the election passes, a series of violent crimes begin to occur in the fictional town of Brookfield Heights, Michigan. Intent on political power, Kai begins to lead a cult that aims to terrorize Ally in her home, with various main cast members slowly being revealed to be part of the cult. Ally’s the perfect target: she suffers from various phobias, and as the attacks get more intense, no one seems to believe her, brushing her off and believing she’s hallucinating. No one will believe her, including her therapist Dr. Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), neighbors Harrison and Meadow Wilton (Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman), local police officer Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes) or her babysitter Winter (Billie Lourd). And why won’t they? Because they’re all a part of the cult too.
But sadly, many of the characters in Kai’s cult (save for Harrison and Meadow) aren’t really given all that much material to work with, and just sort of stand around in the background as everything goes on around them. This is especially true with Dr. Vincent and Detective Jack Samuels, whose backgrounds to the cult are revealed much later than they should be, and it gets to the point that we just don’t really care about them. Characters like Gary Longstreet (Chaz Bono) and Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) aren’t given all that much to do either, and that’s because the cult, first and foremost, is centered around Kai.
And in hindsight, Kai probably underwent about four or five different personality changes this season, none of which really transitioned all that easily. We also never really got a true sense of his motivations throughout the season as well, and we also never really got a sense of what his endgame was. Did he just want to terrorize Ally for the fun of it, or did he have something larger planned? It was something that was constantly in question each week, with answers that seemed to negate each other.
Another issue that came out of the show’s storytelling was the constant jabs at our current society, many of which were so unsubtle and blatant that I cringed almost every time they happened. I counted numerous references to the following subjects: how fucked the world is because of Trump, ISIS, George Zimmerman, white privilege, Native Americans, taking down the patriarchy, fake news, SJWs, and more. Each and every time one of these topics is talked about, they’re presented in such an eye-rolling way that any intended impact gets diminished.
If there’s one thing that Cult succeeded in well, it was capturing the paranoia and hatred that many people exposed both before and after the election. Some of these feelings are captured in flashbacks to other cults in history, including Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and Valerie Solanas. These sequences, in which the main cast plays the historical figures, are among some of the highlights of the season, showing how what’s going on here is just a modern-day version of what’s been done before. In the show’s modern-day, the cast here all has different reactions to the state of the world going on around them, and it’s interesting to get their viewpoints, even if all of them don’t get as much screentime as Ally or Kai.
Overall, Cult is one of the more turbulent seasons that the show has had so far. Many episodes were hit-and-miss, with the misses being more bland rather than strictly bad. As I mentioned before, the show took a bit to get going, then finally improved during the middle episodes. The episodes tanked again, then got better, only to lead to the season finale, which may have been the worst episode of the season. It ended the season on almost a 360-degree polar opposite from how the season started, and the true nature of the cult’s purpose was something that just wasn’t very well articulated to the audience. If there was one aspect of Cult that crippled its quality, you can point your finger to the numerous amounts of missed opportunities and shoddy storytelling present here that the show’s previous seasons know all too well.
How Does it Compare to Previous Seasons?: Cult stands in similar ground with the past 3-4 seasons of American Horror Story. They’re not exactly bad, but they’re so mediocre compared to the show’s earliest seasons.
Best Episodes: “11/9,” “Drink the Kool-Aid,” “Charles (Manson) in Charge”
American Horror Story: Cult is Recommended if You Like: Previous seasons of American Horror Story, over-the-top violence and sex, clowns, satirical takes on current events
Where to Watch: All episodes of the new season can be watched on FX’s website, with a valid cable sign-in.
Grade: 2.9 out of 5 Crazy Cult Members
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