How far would you go to change the election results from November 8, 2016? An entirely flashback-driven episode of American Horror Story: Cult features two characters kidnapping another just to keep them from voting for Donald Trump only for that character to cut off his own arm just to get to the polling place. It’s like watching people go berserk in real time; then again, didn’t we all get a bit fanatic by the end of that election?
By flashing back to the days before and after November 8, 2016, Cult gives us a window of how we got to the world we’re in now. It establishes how Kai (Evan Peters) knows most of the cast, including the increasingly unhelpful Harrison and Meadow Wilton (Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman). It also fleshes outside characters like newscaster Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), who gets a fascinating bit of backstory.
Most crucially of all, however, Cult reveals who the gang of clowns who’ve been terrorizing this small Michigan town are: Kai and his crew. The blue-haired wannabe revolutionary is the cult leader, preying on his followers’ emotions (primarily fear and rage) to earn their devotion. In this episode, we see how he gathered those followers, from the Wiltons to Beverly.
Beverly’s is the most interesting story this episode: She’s a reporter who focuses on serious pieces, all too aware that they’ll get her nowhere in the business. Meanwhile, her in-office rival Serena Belinda (Emma Roberts, a Ryan Murphy alumna from American Horror Story: Coven and Scream Queens) is flirting with their boss and taking all the fluff pieces as she’ll do all the way to the top.
Despite her sunny exterior, Beverly is full of rage: at the loud, young, white men who barraged her on camera with “Grab her by the pussy!” taunts until she broke down, at Serena for rising through the ranks, and at a system that seems designed against her. Kai senses that rage and seeks to exploit it (and Beverly’s position as a journalist) for his own gain.
Beverly admits her feelings of wrath to Kai. “It’s not like anger. Everyone feels that,” she explains. “It feels like wanting to be the last person on earth, because that way, you got to watch every other son of a bitch die before you.” Still, she’s reticent to join his cause until he does her a solid by taking out her primary competition.
Dressed as clowns, he (as well as, seemingly, the Wiltons) murder Selena and her cameraman on-camera, in a scene that recalls the real-life killing of reporter Alison Parker and camera operator Adam Ward. Beverly sees the tape and recognizes Kai’s rage. She goes to him and joins his cause.
Most of this episode follows this pattern: Kai’s devotion to these people no matter the cost inspires them to join up with him. His passion for Harrison Wilton, including a raunchy gym shower masturbation scene, inspires Harrison to murder his boss and fellow trainer, Vinny. Meadow joins up when she catches Harrison and Kai trying to dispose of Vinny’s body.
We see very little of Ally and Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson and Alison Pill) this episode, but we do get to see them vote, along with the rest of the main cast. Here’s how the votes break down:
Beverly Hope, Ally’s therapist Dr. Rudy Vincent, Ivy Mayfair-Richards, Mayfair-Richards nanny Winter Anderson, so-far unnamed cameraman played by James Morosini: Hillary Clinton
Serena Belinda, Kai Anderson, Chaz Bono’s disgruntled supermarket worker Gary Longstreet: Donald Trump
Harrison Wilton: Gary Johnson
Ally Mayfair-Richards: Jill Stein
Meadow Wilton: Oprah
Funniest among these are Meadow’s useless write-in vote (she herself said she shouldn’t be voting for president), confirming that Ally did indeed vote for Jill Stein, and watching Serena claim she’s voting for Hillary Clinton outside the polling place, only to immediately break her word in the booth.
We also learn that Ivy and Winter knew each other before the latter started working for the former’s family. At a rally the day before the election, Ivy is sexually assaulted by Gary, and Winter seeks to take revenge on her behalf. The two kidnap Gary in his store, leaving him handcuffed and unable to vote on November 8. However, Winter tells Kai about it, and he goes to Gary to hand him a saw and have Gary saw his own arm off. They successfully get to the polling place, Gary just one arm poorer.
It’s a disconnected episode, but good for filling in some blanks. Assuming episode 5 returns to present day, we’ve at least got more information to understand what’s happening. Here’s the big question, though: How many clowns does Kai have at his command? Moreover, what is their ultimate goal?