[PLEASE NOTE: This recap of American Horror Story Season 7: Cult, Episode 1: Election Night DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. It is assumed you have already viewed the episode. If you have not, it is recommended you do so. Episode 1: Election Night can be seen on FX, On-Demand or via your preferred streaming service.]
Remember last year around this time when “creepy clown sightings” started popping up throughout the country? Everyone was convinced they were going to encounter one of these bozos. Some people did, I, thankfully, did not. Nevertheless, the idea of such a sighting was a terrifying notion. Then, last November, possibly the most unusual and divisive presidential election came to a close with the election of Donald Trump. (Some might say that conclusion was the ultimate culmination of a “creepy clown” taking over, which could be even scarier.) The newest season of American Horror Story, entitled, Cult uses clowns and politics as the catalysts for its tale of terror.
FX’s American Horror Story is TV’s first long-form anthology series. Each season encompasses a different storyline, featuring different characters, with writers as well as certain cast members recurring. I’ve followed this series since its premiere in 2011 with varying results. A couple of the show’s seasons have worked for me; like Season 1: Murder House and Season 3: Coven. However, the other seasons have never quite caught my attention the way those others have. No matter my interest in the season’s story, AHS has never failed to push the limits of horror, sex, and violence and the themes with which it deals. This current season seems to be no exception.
The Season Premiere opens on November 8, 2016, Election Night, with a montage of real election coverage and the speeches given throughout it. Also featured are actual news coverage and cell phone videos of the violence and disarray that currently looms over the country. This opening montage culminates with the results of last year’s presidential election. Immediately, we see two sets of characters in Michigan have vehemently violent and disparate reactions to the results. Ally (Sarah Paulson) and her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill) are devastated. This outcome leads to Ally having a breakdown and crying while Ivy attempts to comfort her. As all this happens, the couple’s young son, Oz (Cooper Dodson) sits in a corner being scared, confused and quiet. Their neighbors are also upset by the electoral results.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, Kai (Evan Peters) is thrilled by Trump’s victory. In elation, he begins shouting, “U.S.A!., U.S.A.!”, cursing and dry-humping his TV. No doubt, immediately coming off as unstable and disturbing. After this, Kai puts his hair up in a Trump-esque do. He then goes to his kitchen, blends up some Cheese-Puffs and smears them all over his face. Looking even more like an Oompa-Loompa than the commander and chief does, he then goes to gloat about the win to his sister, Winter (Billie Lourd).
She seems none too thrilled by the result but is not outraged about it either. We’re then treated to this season’s opening credit sequence which features bees and plenty of gore, including a blood-soaked couple making-out, out of focus in the background. There are also images of people in Hillary and Trump masks, American flags, and for some ungodly reason, a dead dog. Also, we are given a new version of the series’ theme song, which changes every year.
From there, we open on a field where a young couple is in the throes of passion. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong place to suit their needs as they’re on Twisty the Clown’s (John Carroll Lynch) turf. The lovers’ fun is cut short when Twisty slaughters them both. Suddenly, we cut to Oz’s room to discover that we were seeing what he was reading, a Twisty the Clown horror comic, which his parents find. The comic quickly gets taken away from Oz by Ivy, as she’s scolding him. Rightfully so, considering the kid knows Ally suffers from severe Coulrophobia, a fear of clowns.
Ally’s general anxiety and Coulrophobia have been on an uptick since election night, having caused her to neglect the small business she and Ivy own. Understandably, this has put a strain on their marriage. During an argument just outside their small business, Ally and Ivy have a latte spilled on them by Kai. Seemingly, the characters are all strangers, at least at this point. The couple is obviously a bit taken aback by this occurrence; especially when Kai half-heartedly apologizes and then immediately insults them. To battle her issues, Ally is attending therapy and is prescribed a mild anti-anxiety medication. However, Ally’s Coulrophobia is still in full-swing. While at the grocery store, she sees a gang of clowns, all of whom are terrorizing her.
In the midst of all this, Oz’s nanny has bailed, so the couple must find a new nanny. Winter applies for the position and gets it because her political views seem to alight with those of Ally and Ivy. Winter immediately proves to be the worst nanny in history by showing Oz sites on The Dark Web. Oz shortly becomes distracted however when he sees an ice-cream truck full of clowns pull up at his neighbor’s house. After telling Winter about it, they go to investigate. Upon doing so, they see this group of clowns murder the neighbors. Oz tells the police about the killer clowns, but Winter will not reaffirm his story. Thus, calling into question the fact that he may suffer from similar issues and hallucinations as his mother. The episode then closes with Ally being surprised by a clown beside her bed. All this leaving us to wonder, are these clowns real or a hallucination, and what seeds of destruction is Kai planning?
As you have read, this Season Premiere gives us a lot to go on. I found this episode to be highly engrossing and entertaining. Not to mention, very unsettling. So I’m hoping it doesn’t lose steam as many of the show’s previous seasons have. I’m intrigued by the elements being set in motion here more than anything else. Politicians and clowns go together like peanut-butter and jelly. Either of them can be buffoons, scary or straight-up killers. The most unsettling thing of all being that this season is playing with the disturbing uncertainty of our current times. I’ll just say, re-living the outcome of the election in the cold opening was scary enough, and instantly had my attention. I will also commend the episode for taking shots at characters on all sides of the political spectrum.
This episode, however, did have one shortcoming. All of the characters seem to be stereotypes on some level. Not merely horror genre stereotypes. More so, these characters seem to be political stereotypes. Now, I realize that horror is the perfect place to play with stereotypes; but to be successful, the show must go deeper than that. It is my hope that it will, and I have a fair amount of faith that it will do so. Outside of that, I found that the political themes and commentary were handled quite well.
My concern is that series creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy may go overboard with those themes all as this progresses. The duo has been known to push things as far as possible; not only with AHS but also their freshman effort, Nip/Tuck. I’m also torn and fascinated by the subject matter of this season at the same time.
On the one hand, I can’t help thinking, “Is the current political climate just fodder that’s too easy for the genre?” Then again, throughout the history of the horror genre, the best of the genre has made a habit of commenting on politics and society. Personally, I very much look forward to seeing where this all goes.
Episode 2: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark will air on Tuesday, September 12th at 10:00 PM only on FX.