AHS: Cult’s Penultimate Episode Has Charles Manson As Its Muse

by Ben Martin

[PLEASE NOTE: This recap of American Horror Story Season 7: Cult, Episode 10: Charles (Manson) in Charge DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. It is assumed you have already viewed the episode. If you have not, it is recommended you do so.  Episode 10: Charles (Manson) in Charge can be viewed on FX, On-Demand or via your preferred streaming service.]

Throughout American Horror Story: Cult, history, notably that of cults has informed the narrative. As I wrote in previous recaps both history and the cults that have sprinkled themselves throughout it have recurring trends. One of these is that people in power, particular men, gain too much of it at some point, which can result in only so many outcomes. Much of the time, the vast level of power can be handled responsibly by the individual. However, it is common for some to go mad with power. I’d cite a particular leader who looks like a pumpkin as the latest example of this.
Lastly, there is the possibility that a leader, particularly if they suffer from mental instability, will become paranoid after attaining a certain amount of power. After this paranoia takes hold, these individuals unravel, which unfortunately leads to violent outcomes. This latter result has proven to be the fate of most every cult leader throughout history. The most infamous example of which is arguably Charles Manson, from whom this penultimate episode uncoils.

Like many of the previous episodes in this series, “Charles (Manson) in Charge” opens before Trump became the sitting president of the United States. It’s the night of the final presidential debate, October 19, 2016.  Winter (Billie Lourd) and her two girlfriends are watching the debate while Kai (Evan Peters) is listening in the distance while working on the computer. The ladies are discussing the importance of Hillary Clinton winning the election, as they are certain she will. Kai counters them, maintaining they’re wrong because the world is full of rage and hate. Besides, he believes people hate Hillary and feel she’s weak.
Not surprisingly, such claims aren’t taken lightly by the ladies and Kai becomes enraged when one of the girls, Riley (Sarah Yarkin) makes fun of “The rage of the disenfranchised white man.” Riley’s comments cause the future cult leader to lose control and slap her. In, turn she presses charges against him. Two weeks later, Kai is in an anger management session to which he was sentenced. His anger management counselor is none other than Bebe Babbitt (Frances Conroy). After listening to Kai, Bebe reveals that her favorite politician is Trump because he unleashed rage. She convinces Kai that he has a purpose as well, to unleash female rage. Bebe wants the dam that has been built up by the patriarchy to restrain such fury to be broken down, believing Kai is the man to help so. The future city councilman is then made to degrade himself ala the old SCUM method.

After seeing the origin of Kai and Bebe’s relationship, we come to the present. Kai is holding yet another one of his rallies. Unlike the last one, there is thankfully, no active shooter. However, there are protestors, thanks to the councilman trying to enact his proposed internet restriction. In retaliation for such an attempt, Kai is attacked by a protester who pepper-sprays him. To neutralize the spray, Speed Wagon (Cameron Cowperthwaite) pours milk in his leader’s eyes. Kai’s bad day turns into an even worse night. In a fit of paranoia, he demands that Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Winter help him dismantle the ice cream truck. They do so because Kai believes it’s been bugged by the feds. After their leader leaves, Winter asks Ally if Ivy died painfully. She’s asking because  Kai told her that Ivy abandoned them. Winter doesn’t believe her brother, knowing the truth deep down. Even-so, Ally won’t admit to the murder of her late wife.
Looking to wind-down, Kai decides to tell his male followers a bedtime story. Claiming he has saved the best story for last, he recounts the story of the Tate murders perpetrated by The Manson Family. For the few of you who might not know, after developing a cult out in the desert, Charles Manson ordered his followers: Susan Atkins (also portrayed by Sarah Paulson), Linda Kasabian (dually played by Billie Lourd), Patricia Krenwinkel and Tex Avery (performed  by returning series cast members Leslie Grossman and Billy Eichner, respectively), to perform a terrible act.
On the night of August 9, 1969, Manson’s followers invaded a home that had previously belonged to Terry Melcher. Manson was embittered towards Melcher after their relationship went south. Despite knowing that Melcher no longer occupied the home, Manson ordered his members to kill whoever was there. The homeowners at that time were director Roman Polanski and his wife, model, and actress Sharon Tate (Rachel Roberts). That night, Polanski was out of the country shooting a film. Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time, had three friends staying with her. Sadly, all the house’s occupants were brutally murdered. Surprisingly, Kai’s telling of the events is accurate. (Although, he and the show ignore the murder of the Labiancas, which occurred the following night.) Upon the conclusion of this morbid story, Kai reveals that he’s now planning to follow Manson’s playbook. He wants to give the people what he calls, “The Night of 1,000 Tates.”

The first step in Kai’s plan is to find more female victims to serve as his proverbial, “Tates.” To ensure that can be done, “The Divine Ruler,” tasks his one-armed, right-hand man with the job. Gary (Chaz Bono) and the goons break into Planned Parenthood in order to steal the patient list. Before that can be achieved, however, Gary is betrayed by his compatriots and locked inside the building. Of course, things only get worse for Gary when the clown cult suddenly surround him. Befuddled, Gary questions what his leader is doing and why. Kai puts his hand on Gary’s shoulder and calmly explains that the purpose of this betrayal is so that Gary can serve as an example as well as political leverage. As if he’s receiving a gift, Gary accepts his fate and is stabbed to death by his former leader and fellow members.
The next morning a nurse finds Gary’s disemboweled body outside of Planned Parenthood with “Stop the slaughter,” written in his blood on the wall. Well, when it bleeds, it leads, so of course, Beverly (Adina Porter) reports on the story but does so flatly. It’s as if the previously confident reporter has lost all confidence and personality. She has Kai there to comment, who blames Gary’s murder on his senatorial competition, Senator Herbert Jackson (Dennis Cockrum) and an organization called The World Warriors. He then tells Beverly that she better get back on her game. Her leader’s commands don’t take effect though. Later, we find  Beverly is sitting dazed at The Butchery. Winter takes this opportunity to apologize for her betrayal. As such, she offers Beverly a one-way Amtrak ticket to Butte, Montana. The now brainwashed reporter refuses, believing that it is a test, she wants to prove that she is a loyal follower.
That night, it’s shown that Kai’s paranoia is getting worse. He’s hearing a low buzz and tearing apart the basement trying to find a bug. Ally tries to calm her leader to no avail. It seems that the only room the frazzled leader can find solace in is the mausoleum/bedroom. That is until he begins to hallucinate Rudy (Cheyenne Jackson) talking to him. Fantasizing his slain brother is a walk in the park compared to what Kai sees next, though. In the blink of an eye, Kai begins to see a young Charles Manson, circa 1969 (played wonderfully by Evan Peters) and Linda Kasabian. Charles tells Kai to “Identify the Judas,”  and with this, Kai becomes sure that he can’t trust anyone but his hallucinatory muse, Manson.  
Kai’s hallucinations are cut short when Ally knocks on the door, revealing that she found a bug. This revelation is cut short by another knock, coming from the front door this time. The one who knocks is Bebe, and she’s making a house call. She’s furious that Kai has not properly unleashed female rage. Instead, he just managed to unleash the rage of everyone. Taking instruction from Manson, Kai reveals that he never intended to follow her cause. He maintains that women can never lead. In response to this revelation, Bebe slaps Kai down, putting him at gunpoint. Thankfully for the divine leader, he is saved when Ally shoots Bebe in the back of the head.  Bewildered by all this, Kai sees Manson pop up once again. Cracking a smile the imaginary figment says, “Far out man, that one (Ally) definitely ain’t no mole.”

After he cleans himself up, Kai decides it’s time for a makeover. Winter shaves her brother’s head as he’s looking to channel that era of his muse. While  getting his hair cut, Kai recounts the bond he and his sister have always had. Winter agrees fondly, reiterating her loyalty to her brother. However, she reveals that she feels she must get away from him because all she feels is terror. In an act of brotherly love, Kai says he will let her leave. That is before he quickly turns the tables on her and shows her the Amtrak ticket, telling her he knows everything.
The next time we see Winter she’s on her knees surrounded by the cult. Winter is questioned by Kai about her disloyalty. Her brother reveals that he thinks she is the mole though she adamantly maintains she’s not. As proof of his sister’s lies, Kai pulls out the bug that Ally found, along with a digital audio recorder she found in the truck. Winter denies responsibility, saying this is Ally getting payback. Kai denies his sister’s truth, buying into the lie. Then, he strangles his sister to death and sobs as he does so. In the final scene of this episode, Speedwagon is revealed to us as the mole as he runs out to his car and removes a wire. He’s frustrated and fears that he will be caught. His fears come to fruition as Ally jumps in the car with him. With that, the episode ends on the ultimate cliffhanger.

I’ll cut to the chase here. In my opinion, this penultimate episode has been Cult’s best thus far. Peters, who has been quite impressive throughout this series, proves to be a tour de force here. His paranoid performance adds another layer to Kai Anderson to the point where I’ve never been more engrossed in watching a character unravel. Beyond that, the actor’s brief appearances as Charles Manson are chilling and disturbingly accurate. In fact, while I still prefer Walton Goggins (of the upcoming Tomb Raider and Ant-Man and the Wasp) be cast as the infamous cult leader in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming untitled Manson Family film; I wouldn’t mind if Peters were a front-runner for the role. But regardless , the actor deserves an Emmy nomination for this performance.
Aside from Peters, this episode is just well-crafted. More so than any other installment in this series, the tension was tangible. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Not to mention, The Tate Murders portion of the episode was fantastic. However, it should be noted that this section of the episode was done in a slightly late 60s-early 70s grindhouse style. That approach worked better than it should have; though it does help that I’m a fan of that subgenre. Frankly, as you read, I have only praise for this episode. Needless to say, I cannot wait to see what this week’s finale of the series holds!

American Horror Story: Cult’s Finale Episode will air Tuesday, November 15 at 10:00 PM on FX.

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