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Evan Peters wasn’t the only one to play a dual role in American Horror Story‘s version of the infamous Manson murders.
Ryan Murphy had announced that his star was going to play six cult leaders over the course of American Horror Story: Cult‘s season. Saving the most infamous of all the real-life leaders for last, however, the showrunner also delivered a few surprises.
The penultimate episode of the FX anthology’s seventh season, which aired Tuesday, recreated the 1969 murder of Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson Family, who killed the actress, among others, at her and Roman Polanski’s Cielo Drive home in Beverly Hills. They hoped the heinous act would ignite a fear that would come to be known as Helter Skelter. Manson, in a failed prophetic vision, had preached of an apocalyptic war and the retelling of his intentions tied together a key plot development in Cult‘s current timeline.
In the flashback — which was narrated by Peters’ fictional cult leader Kai Anderson — Sarah Paulson and Billie Lourd took on dual roles to play two of Manson’s most-trusted lieutenants, famed Manson girls Susan Atkins (Paulson) and Linda Kasabian (Lourd). Cult also brought back Leslie Grossman and Billy Eichner, who had each been killed off, to play Manson girl Patricia Krenwinkel, aka “Katie,” and Manson’s right-hand man Tex Watson, respectively.
The episode took six minutes out of its hour to recreate the murders in gruesome fashion, detailed down to the bloody “Pig” note left by deranged ringleader Atkins, played with precision by Paulson. In both the alternate and current timeline, Lourd embodied the “Judas” role, as Kasabian would go on to testify against Manson, who is currently imprisoned for life. In present time, Ally (Paulson) frames Kai’s sister, Winter (Lourd), and Lourd makes her exit from the season when her brother kills her with his own two hands.
Since Manson wasn’t present for the murders, the serial killer came to Kai in his mind. The actor played opposite himself in several scenes, ultimately appearing as Manson in a vision, complete with his signature forehead swastika tattoo, and pushing Kai to kill his sister.
Peters prepped for the role by immersing himself in books and documentaries, like 1973’s Manson, and has referred to his researching process as “heartbreaking.” In an interview about this season’s challenges, he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I’ve never worked this much in my life, period, and I’ve never been in the show this much and had so much thrown at me.”
When retelling the story, Kai had told his followers that the killings would be remembered and repeated in 50 years’ time. Ahead of the AHS season, Murphy had said he was trying to come up with a story focused on Manson since the 50th anniversary is approaching, and that Manson has been the runner-up idea for the last three seasons. “I had been working on it and researching it, but it never felt right to me because it’s been done a million times and I didn’t know how to make it fresh,” he said about Manson eventually giving way to this year’s larger theme. “But the thing that I just kept being drawn back to was the idea about cult of personalities,” he said of exploring how somebody like Kai, David Koresh, Jim Jones or even Andy Warhol — or Donald Trump — can rise within a disenfranchised community.
The finale of AHS: Cult airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX.
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