Ally Mayfair-Richards is not the savviest lesbian west of the Allegheny. It’s easy to root for her because she’s played by Sarah Paulson, and who doesn’t want to root for Sarah Paulson? But to root for her, you’ve gotta make peace with the fact that she is missing every bit of the forest for the trees.
During the third episode of American Horror Story: Cult, Ally finds herself a social pariah after accidentally shooting and killing her employee, Pedro. Because of a Stand Your Ground law in Michigan, Ally is legally safe, but she finds herself branded “a lesbian George Zimmerman” by angry protesters and media.
No one is angrier, however, than the Wiltons, as played by Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman. Introduced mostly as comic relief in episode two, Harrison and Meadow become the episodic antagonists this time around, parodying outrage culture with their hatred of the “racist” Ally. They show up at the Mayfair-Richards’ front door wearing sombreros and throwing Taco Bell coupons, accusing Ally of appropriation as well. When you remember that just last episode, these people were complaining about President Obama taking their guns, their outrage seems even more hollow.
After Cult’s first two episodes portrayed Donald Trump supporters as villains, creator Ryan Murphy and episode writer James Wong seem to really target the left-wing in this episode. There’s the portrait of outrage as empty emotion, plus Ally attempting to quell protesters by saying “I am not the enemy, I am one of you” then, shortly after, calling them “motherfuckers” when they won’t listen to her. Then there’s this bit of dialogue, inspired when Ally and wife Ivy (Alison Pill) see son Ozy (Cooper Dodson) and nanny Winter (Billie Lourd) playing with a guinea pig an unwanted pet named Mr. Guinea.
“Sweetie, c’mon,” Ally tells Ozy. “You know we don’t like cis-normative pet names.”
“Why do you have rules about pet names if you never have pets?” Winter asks. Ally stammers that it’s “the principle.” The whole scene plays like a satire of über-sensitive Tumblr culture.
The same could be said for Ally’s laser-tight focus on the Wiltons. She blames them for everything going wrong, including posting a Craigslist ad that brings unwanted sex partners to Ally and Ivy’s door, as well as killing Mr. Guinea in a remarkably graphic microwave incident.
Cult’s problem is that Ally’s focus never rings true. You have to accept that she’s so angered by the neighbors’ outrage with her that she attributes every heinous thing to them. When they protest that much of what Ally accuses them of isn’t their fault, she doesn’t listen. She even goes so far as to attack Harrison, infuriating Ivy in the process and prompting her to leave with Ozy.
Of course, Ivy doesn’t get far, because another attack hits the neighborhood the third this season, all marked by blood-red smiley faces. This time, it’s Meadow who goes missing, and Harrison accuses Ally. Is this a real attack? Or are the Wiltons working with Kai (Evan Peters), who psychoanalyzes them both earlier in the episode?
Kai’s too removed from the main action of the show, appearing a couple times to help Ally with her protester problem, but seemingly advising the Wiltons in scenes set out of time. (There’s no indication as to exactly when they met with him, or why they did so separately.) During Kai’s session with Harrison, the gay husband admits he wants Meadow dead making both him and Kai prime suspects for Meadow’s disappearance.
Unfortunately, Ally’s too furious with Harrison to see the bigger picture. Some group is terrorizing this neighborhood, murdering residents and spraying chemicals on the ground. Once Ally gets out of her own neuroses and frustrations and looks at the signs, perhaps we’ll finally meet this season’s titular Cult and find out what they want with these people.