American Horror Story: Cult’s fifth episode is its most gruesome yet but somehow, all the violence isn’t what’s sticking with us.
Sure, the scene where Kai (Evan Peters) and his cult kill a helpless person is pretty horrifying. So is the scene where Kai and his cult kill another helpless person. Or the third scene where Kai and his cult kill a helpless person one of their own, this time! In case it wasn’t clear that Kai and his cult are pretty garbage people, this episode offers you plenty of reminders. And yet none of that sticks with us, beyond a memory of a particularly gory shot, combined with a bout of nausea.
It’s not even how creator Ryan Murphy and writer Crystal Liu choose the end of this episode, after watching Kai descend into villainy, decide to give he and sister Winter (Billie Lourd) a sympathetic backstory: Their father was an asshole, and their mother killed him and herself. That’s gross, sure, as it seems to be justifying Kai the sociopathic killer’s behavior. It also throws one hell of a curve ball, as it reveals that Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), therapist to down-on-her-luck Ally (Sarah Paulson), is actually Kai and Winter’s brother. Rudy is the one who comes up with a grotesque plan to turn their parents’ bedroom into a mausoleum instead of reporting them dead, to avoid estate tax and loss of pension checks.
This episode gives us all that in 41 minutes, but it also gives us three other big reveals:
- Ally’s wife Ivy (Alison Pill) is part of the cult.
- Harrison (Billy Eichner) is seemingly not too distraught about wife Meadow (Leslie Grossman), as he’s taken her disappearance to hook up with fellow cult member and detective Jack (Colton Haynes).
- He’s not worried because Meadow is buried in their backyard, as Ally discovers. For some reason, he’s hiding this from the rest of the cult.
If you’ve been watching American Horror Story: Cult so far, and the above three revelations baffle you, congratulations! You’ve reached what sticks with us about this episode: It creates a metric ton of plot holes.
For one, Ivy’s behavior in the first three episodes is revealed to be the work of a fraud. Considering how deep Ivy’s lies to her wife and son go, you’d imagine her to be a master manipulator, right? Well, considering how poorly she does with other cult activities this episode, her villainous reputation clearly still needs burnishing. Her behavior seems wildly out of character, to say the least.
Not only that, Ivy believes her psychological torture of her wife is justified. As she tells Winter, she blames Ally and her Jill Stein vote for what’s happening to the country. “I hate my fucking wife for letting it happen,” she spits.
Problem: In episode four, we first see Ivy and Winter working together on November 7, 2016 before the election. At that point, Ally hadn’t even cast her ballot yet. So Ivy’s reasoning for joining the cult is bunk.
Meanwhile, we’ve previously seen Harrison and Meadow hanging out with Jack, so it’s unlikely that she’d have to have gone missing for them to be together. Not only that, but Harrison is openly gay, and hiding that secret from the rest of the cult feels nonsensical. And Meadow’s situation seems like nonsense from the jump; she’s a loyal member of the cult in flashbacks, but is quick to rat them out to Ally.
“There’s all sorts of holes in your stories,” news station chief Bob Thompson (Dermot Mulroney) tells reporter and cultist Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), but he might as well be talking to Murphy. American Horror Story: Cult is full of holes that make the story fall apart at first blush.
You could argue that the story doesn’t matter, and that the key is to be dazzled by what’s happening. I’d call that “all show, no substance,” as Kai calls Bob before killing him. (Funny how Liu’s script seems to work as comment on American Horror Story as a whole, no?) There’s nothing worth holding onto in American Horror Story: Cult, with its deeply unlikable and, despite their efforts to humanize, unsympathetic characters.
The season’s only hope is Ally, who remains a character worth rooting for no matter how thick-headed and misguided she can be. Armed with the knowledge that the cult succeeds and that Ivy’s a member she’s empowered to make moves. What she does with that information, and what Cult does with this dynamic shift, will affect how watchable the rest of this show is.