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American Horror Story: Cult went back to the beginning during Tuesday’s revealing episode.
Only four episodes into the seventh season of the FX horror anthology, Cult viewers found themselves once again revisiting 2016 Election Day, the backdrop of the season premiere. This time, however, different vantage points were explored, namely the one of Kai Anderson (Evan Peters).
The episode served as American Horror Story veteran Emma Roberts’ only hour of the season. The actress carved the cameo into her hectic movie schedule because showrunner Ryan Murphy said he offered her a role she’s long been dreaming of playing. Tying multiple characters’ storylines together, Roberts re-opens election night as a Michigan newscaster named Serina Belinda.
Serina will do anything to get ahead, which includes sleeping with her boss Bob, played by franchise fresh face Dermot Mulroney. His first Cult cameo came in under the radar during an earlier episode, and now his relationship with Serina helps to provide a foil for the broadcast journalist who Serina sticks her stilettos in while climbing the corporate ladder, Beverly Hope (Adina Porter).
As Serina and Beverly begin to battle it out at the Michigan town’s polling station, the rest of the Cult characters are seen waiting in line, eager to cast their vote for the next president of the United States. The episode follows each one into the voting booth.
“I can see me voting for the Emmys or the Golden Globes, but I’m not nearly informed enough to pick our president,” says Meadow Wilton (Leslie Grossman), who votes for a write-in candidate, Oprah. Her husband who is also her gay best friend, Harrison (Billy Eichner), casts his ballot for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.
Beverly votes Clinton and Serina, Trump. Therapist Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) votes for Clinton. Millennial Winter Anderson, and sister to Kai, takes a selfie of her Clinton vote after chanting with her college friends, “This pussy grabs back!”
After warning her wife, “No protest votes,” Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Alison Pill) votes for Clinton, while Ally (Sarah Paulson), as viewers know from earlier episodes, secretly casts her ballot for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Then Kai makes his entrance, with a bleeding Gary Longstreet (Chaz Bono) leaning on him for support. After they each cast their vote for Trump, Gary raises a newly severed arm into the air and screams out, “Welcome to Trump’s America, motherf——!”
Cult then picks up on Nov. 9 so it can fill in the holes from the first three episodes. Unbeknownst to viewers, the characters are all intertwined, leading back to Kai as he zeroes in on his recruits, the followers who will ultimately don the clown masks and begin to terrorize the show’s Michigan town.
Beginning with Harrison, Kai hires the fitness specialist as his trainer. During many intimate sessions, including one where Kai masturbates in the locker room shower while Harrison watches, the blue-haired Trump supporter reveals himself to be more layered than he first seemed. The once racist-homophobe preys on Harrison by relating to him as a fellow outsider. “I like pussy. But if someone is in my life, man or woman, and they are a part of my crew, one of my people. I will fight for them. I will kill for them. And if they wake up in the morning with a hard-on that won’t quit, I will find a way to make sure they know how much I love them,” Kai tells an intrigued Harrison.
When Harrison’s abusive boss gets on his case, Kai manipulates the financially strapped trainer and convinces him to kill his boss. Awakening Harrison’s rage by exploiting his weakness, and after cleaning up his mess, Harrison has officially been recruited.
“Nowhere is a great place to be. That means the shackles have fallen off your shoulders. You’re free,” says Kai. From there, convincing Meadow, the one who got them evicted from their house over her cancer medical bills, is easy. Kai gives her the task of designing the clown masks, making her feel useful for the first time in awhile.
“I’ve been watching you and the people around you for a long time,” Kai had revealed to Harrison. Borrowing a word from his idol, he said, “You are a part of something bigly. We are going to wipe out everything you know and build something bigger and better than you could ever possibly imagine.”
Beverly is the one who delivers the news report when the body of Harrison’s boss surfaces. While watching on TV, Kai notices an underlying rage in his next conquest and quickly discovers she recently completed a stint in the psych ward after suffering a mental breakdown.
“The world is set up to humiliate us,” Kai tells Beverly of her being a black woman after catching her vandalizing Serina’s car tires. Using his tactic of lighting a fire that had long been ignored, Kai explains to her that the fear in the small town of Michigan has the power to infect the country. “When fear finds more hosts it gets stronger, scarier.” What he needs her to be is a messenger to spread that message with her TV platform.
The conversation also reveals more of Kai’s autobiography. After telling Harrison he is a computer programmer, the 30-year-old tells Beverly he served a tour in Iraq, graduated in three years from Yale with a double degree in poli-sci and feminist studies. He’s also a brown belt in karate, has a 135 IQ and plans to run for city council (in the first episode, viewers assume Kai murdered the head of the council).
Though Beverly cops to her own mad anger, it isn’t until Serina is brutally murdered — by a group in clown masks — that she takes Kai up on his offer to join up. When she visits his campaign office, also his basement, he finds Meadow and Harrison scheming and bonding. After agreeing to equal power, Beverly begins to spread his fear through her nightly TV reports.
Kai’s final recruit of the episode circles back to explain Gary’s missing limb, but it also reveals the biggest twist. Reminding viewers of the tension between Ally and Ivy over Clinton, Ivy ends up going to a pre-election rally alone. While there, Gary assaults Ivy and Winter comes to her defense. Looking for revenge against bigoted white men, the pair ban together and tie Gary up in a basement so he can’t cast his Trump vote.
The alliance reveals Winter as a secret key player, and Ivy as a two-faced villain.
When Winter first appeared to interview for a nanny job with Ivy and Ally, Ivy pretended the pair had never met. Kai also knew the pair had trapped Gary in the basement, proving that Winter has long been working with Kai towards their larger goal. Kai uses the opportunity to recruit Gary by preying on his liberal hate.
Now, with the town’s murdering clown posse officially unmasked — Kai, Harrison, Meadow, Winter, Gary, Beverly and potentially Ivy — it’s only a matter of time before Kai’s master plan of recruiting Ally is revealed. The followers, who hail from both the red, the blue and even the green, prove Murphy’s words that the season is not an attack on Trump.
“The season is not about Trump or Clinton,” he had warned ahead of the season. “It really is about the cult of personality that can rise in a divisive society — and I hope that people can figure that out.”
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