[PLEASE NOTE: This recap of American Horror Story Season 7: Cult, Episode 7: Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. It is assumed you have already viewed the episode. If you have not, it is recommended you do so. Episode 7: Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins, Scumbag can be viewed on FX, On-Demand or via your preferred streaming service.]
If you read my recaps of the last few episodes of American Horror Story: Cult, you’ll notice my referring to the tremendous forward momentum the series has gained. This said momentum is achieved through the recent and frequent use of a non-linear story structure, and mainly as it’s been used in the last couple of weeks. In a change of pace, this week’s episode, “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins, Scumbag,” takes a different tack. Of course, we remain in the present of our story, but also are told a story from the distant past. As the two are connected, both are shown linearly, cutting back and forth between each other.
On the dreary day that was June 3, 1968, A young woman named Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham) is prostituting herself in a car parked in a back alley and getting underpaid for it. Valerie is a creative but starving artist. Very recently, she was part of Andy Warhol’s Factory, but has since become disenfranchised, thanks to Andy Warhol’s (as portrayed by Evan Peters, giving him dual roles in the series) abuse of her contributions to his collective. You see, Valerie had written a screenplay for Warhol to direct. However, after deciding he didn’t like the script, finding it “too obscene,” Warhol disregarded it without telling Valerie. When she finds out about this, Valerie is livid, as she only had one copy. Fed up with being put down by the patriarchy, Valerie decides to take matters into her own hands, going to a gun store and buying a pistol and five bullets, with which she intends to assassinate Warhol. Later that same day, she follows through with her plan. However, despite shooting Warhol in the chest, he survives while Valerie is arrested for her crime.
Cutting forward to the present, we find that Ally has been arrested for last week’s attempt on Kai’s (Evan Peters’) life. As he planned, Kai only suffered a wound, from which he is recovering nicely. His quick and speedy recovery is probably also helped by the fact that he is 20 points ahead in the city council polls. No doubt, our favorite local news reporter, Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) is giving her cult leader, and soon to be politician, all the positive coverage he can handle. As part of this news coverage, Kai’s assassination attempt is explained as looking like retaliation for Trump’s presidential win. After a hard day of spewing fake news, Beverly leaves to make her way home. In the parking lot, the power-hungry reporter finds an old, cloaked woman is standing by her car and smoking a cigar. The woman reveals herself to Valerie’s former girlfriend, Bebe Babbitt (played in the present by AHS: Murderhouse (2011) alum, Frances Conroy). Bebe tells Beverly that she and the rest of the cult’s female members are suffering under Kai’s patriarchy. Adding that if Beverly ever wants the truth, sister-to-sister, that she can be found in a local motel.
Not wanting to believe the cloaked stranger, Beverly goes to see Kai. Upon her arrival, she finds that The Anderson house is beginning to look a bit like a compound. This is because the abode is now filled with aggressive volunteers. Oddly, these volunteers are clad head-to-toe in denim, looking like members of “The Canadian Tuxedo Mafia.” Barging through the hostile volunteers, Beverly finds Kai. Immediately, she tells Kai that they must maintain the cult’s streak of terror. Kai rejects this notion, claiming that the public wants stability and that he will provide them with such. Hearing this, Beverly’s upset that she’s not receiving equal power in their partnership and storms out. Like rolling thunder, Beverly goes and retrieves Bebe from the hotel she is staying in. After this, they meet with Ivy (Alison Pill) and Winter (Billie Lourd) at The Butchery. Beverly then introduces all the ladies to one another, telling them that they’re all being put-down by Kai. To illustrate this point, Bebe tells Valerie Solanas’ story.
Going back to a year before Valerie’s assassination attempt on Andy Warhol, we cut back to New York, 1967. Renting a room in The Chelsea Hotel, Valerie is hosting readings of what would become her life’s work, The SCUM Manifesto. SCUM stands for “The Society for Cutting Up Men”. The thesis of which is, “Men are the real problem in society.” These readings can be attended by the public for a nominal fee. Quickly, Valerie’s work gains a regular audience consisting of a group of six fellow disenfranchised women as well as two homosexual men. Interestingly, the men, Maurice (Ryan Alvarez) and his boyfriend, Bruce (Miguel Sagaz) are forced to degrade themselves. While, on the other hand, the female audience become Valerie’s devoted followers.
By ‘68, SCUM relocates to San Francisco. Once there, they begin doing much more than just reading their manifesto as their sacred text. Much like Kai would in the show’s present, Valerie ups her game. She convinces the ladies that SCUM must start killing couples. The purpose of the homicides will be to increase the divorce rate in America eventually. Valerie believes that once that happens, women will be able to break away from the patriarchy and create a matriarchy. To commit this reign of terror, the group dresses in black hoods with the Zodiac symbol on their chests. After Valerie is institutionalized for shooting Warhol, Bebe & the the rest of SCUM begin committing a string of brutal murders.
These homicides range from shootings to brutal stabbings and dismemberments. Their crimes and the imagery associated with them would become known as The Zodiac Murders which were committed by The Zodiac Killer. These killings continue into 1969 and become sporadic in the early 70s. During this time, someone begins to send letters to the newspaper, claiming to be The Zodiac. This development infuriates Valerie, who doesn’t yet want to claim SCUM’s responsibility until they “Kill a thousand people!” Valerie’s mental instability and behavior are becoming more unhinged as she’s beginning to suffer from Schizophrenia.
Upon her release in 1973, Valerie reunites with her SCUM sisters in San Francisco. In an effort to make up for lost time, she takes the opportunity to reinstate her cult’s mission. During a SCUM meeting Valerie outs Bruce as being responsible for submitting (at least a couple of) “the Zodiac letters” to the newspapers. Together, she and the other ladies stab Bruce to death as his beau flees in fear in a scene reminiscent of 70s exploitation films. Following that, the ladies dismember his corpse. In a garish display, Bruce’s head and limbs are put in the formation of the Zodiac sign, and his genitals are placed in his mouth. Shortly after this, Valerie tells the local police that she and SCUM are responsible for the Zodiac murders. The cops don’t believe her; calling her crazy and laughing her off. Their reaction, unfortunately, isn’t surprising based on the era. Alas, this failed confession proves to be the final straw for Valerie, causing her to snap. From there, Valerie’s Schizophrenia gets worse, causing her to unravel quickly. Their mistress’ unraveling causes SCUM to dismantle with even Bebe eventually leaving her. In the end, Valerie ends up dying, crazed and alone. Back in the present, after hearing all this, the ladies of the clown cult are convinced they must rise up against their leader.
The following day, Winter finds Kai visiting their parents’ corpses’. As if he knows what is going on, Kai makes an effort to keep Winter in his pocket. He tells her that she is the most important member of the cult because she’s his family. Following that, he also lets her know that he found and read The SCUM Manifesto. To Winter’s surprise, her brother thinks it’s brilliant and wants to incorporate it into their operation. Later that night, the girls take their first step in their coup against Kai.
Luring Harrison (Billy Eichner) to The Butchery under the guise of throwing a celebratory dinner for their leader, the girls turn the tables on him. It turns out, Harrison is the guest of honor, and his particular honor is getting killed by the women with an electric meat saw. Ivy executes Harrison with a high level of vigor after they find out that he knew Meadow was going to commit suicide. As she does so, Ivy proclaims, “WE ARE SCUM!” The following day, Beverly delivers a news report about Harrison’s dismembered corpse being found in a pond. The episode ends with Kai watching this news coverage. Then, he directs his attention to the other person in the room. His compatriot is shown to be none other than Bebe Babbitt.
I must say that my reaction to this latest episode was a bit mixed. Overall, I very much enjoyed it, though. For about the first quarter of the episode, I missed the kinetic momentum of the previous weeks’ installments. However, soon after that, the apparent symmetry between Valerie Solanas and the madams of the series’ modern day cult was something I came to appreciate. As a viewer, I thought it was nice to take a break from the horror the show provides; which was beginning to feel a little too real. I also enjoyed the historical portion of this episode; notably, because I was not very familiar with Valerie Solanas.
However, I found one drawback in the 60s portions of this episode: Lena Dunham. Now, I will admit to a little personal bias here. I have never been a fan of this actress ,as I don’t find she has that much range or ability. (Though I have given her a chance, I watched a few episodes of the first season of Girls before giving up on it. Doing so because I found the majority of the characters irritating and obnoxious, with Dunham’s the worst of all. And yes, I realize that is part of that show’s point.) The problem is that no matter what, be it as a performer or as a writer and personality, I just don’t care for Lena Dunham. In my estimation, she is much like her Girls heroine and vice-versa. Ultimately, I thought Dunham did fine as Valerie Solanas. Alas, I couldn’t help but see through the character, straight to Dunham. Despite my dislike of the actress, this episode worked quite well overall and moved the present story forward nicely. Thus maintaining the momentum that Cult has built-up while changing the delivery. I look forward to what Horror will unfold next time.
Episode 8: “Winter of Our Discontent” will air on Tuesday, October 24 at 10:00 PM on FX.