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Before the horror anthology began, the cable network explained its decision with a voiceover and title card. “In light of the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, the producers of American Horror Story: Cult have chosen to edit tonight’s episode for gun-related violence,” read the statement, which also pointed viewers to the unedited version. After its Tuesday-night debut, the original version will stream on VOD and FX Networks’ non-linear platforms, FXNOW and FX+.
The episode, which was filmed two months before the attack on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, opened with a scene of an active shooter descending upon a political rally led by Evan Peters’ campaigning character Kai Anderson. Though gun shots are heard as several of the show’s other main characters run to safety, the focus shifted to a waving American flag in the air instead of following the gunman or the victims on the ground. The sequence ended with several bodies laying lifeless, including Kai, and Sarah Paulson’s character, Ally Mayfair-Richards, stepping out as the shooter.
After a series of revealing flashbacks, however, the end of the episode returned to the opening sequence to reveal the true shooter to be Meadow Wilton (Leslie Grossman), who killed herself in order to frame Ally as a promise to Kai. Meadow is shown firing several shots at civilians in a scene that rang truer to the original version before leaving the gun in Ally’s hands. Kai survives and Ally is carted away by the SWAT team.
The Hollywood Reporter saw a screener of the unedited episode, which opened with a more graphic version of the active shooter sequence. The storyline, which will push forward a major plot point for Ally as an accused murderer, was initially intended to make “an obvious anti-gun warning about society,” showrunner Ryan Murphy had explained.
The co-creator of the long-running AHS franchise announced this past weekend that they made last-minute edits so the episode would be less graphic in wake of the Oct. 1 shooting, which claimed 58 lives and injured more than 500. On Twitter, some viewers expressed confusion over the mass shooting scene still airing, as several outlets had incorrectly reported that FX was cutting the scene entirely.
When discussing his decision, Murphy said he felt a “responsibility” to victims of gun violence. “Nobody ever talks about victims’ rights. That’s sort of a weird emotional discussion that’s never bridged,” he explained during an event attended by THR. “I felt great sympathy for people who were affected, certainly, and family members and loved ones and people who are upset about the way the world is.”
Though he said he believed he had the right to air the original story, he felt it was unnecessary to air something “explosive or incendiary” that could trigger something for victims of gun violence. Adding, “I just made the decision that I’m going to have all of that violence be shown for the most part off camera.”
“This opening, which was filmed two months ago and which portrays an occurrence of gun violence that has sadly become all too common in our country, contains a sequence that some viewers might find traumatic,” FX said of the decision made by Murphy and the AHS: Cult producers.
The seventh season of the horror anthology show follows the rise of a cult led by Peters’ fictional character. The post-election set season explores how someone can rise within a disenfranchised community. Throughout the season, Peters will embody five other notorious real-life cult leaders, from Charles Manson to David Koresh, to illustrate the consequences that can arise when societal paranoia, identity and fear-based politics take over. Though the season satirizes all ends of the political spectrum, it also has much to say about how such factors led to Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.
The season also stars Alison Pill, Billie Lourd, Billy Eichner, Adina Porter, Colton Haynes and Cheyenne Jackson. The next episode features a cameo from Lena Dunham as Valerie Solanas, and will see Peters playing Andy Warhol, to tell the story of her “Scum Manifesto.” Watch a teaser for the episode, titled “Valerie Solanas Died For Your Sins: Scumbag,” below.
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Head here for more on the season.
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