Making American Horror Story Great Again In “Cult” Episode 11
by Ben Martin
[PLEASE NOTE: This recap of American Horror Story Season 7: Cult, Episode 11: Great Again DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. It is assumed you have already viewed the episode. If you have not, it is recommended you do so. Episode 11: Great Again can be viewed on FX, On-Demand or via your preferred streaming service.]
I think it’s safe to say that 2017 has been a long year for everyone. No matter which side of the voting box you came down on, this year has been one of unease. There seems to be a quiet, constant chaos that is permeating the culture. Politics are just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, the tragedies of recent weeks have proven that this country is filled to the brim with anger and anxiety, thus resulting in chaos. On the upside, this year has been much worse in the world of American Horror Story: Cult. After months of seeing horror inspired by our current sociopolitical climate unfold, this series comes to a close with the episode, “Great Again.”
The finale opens in the not too distant future of 2018. Former city councilman and cult leader, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters), now resides in a maximum security prison in Jackson, Mississippi. He is far from Michigan and has fallen from grace. But, as we know Kai is a go-getter, so he is making the most of his situation. Not only has he allied with a correctional officer named Gloria (Liz Jenkins), he has also built up a crew of his own. Ironically, this prison crew consists of a racially diverse group of eleven men. This is much different than Kai’s former white-washed crew of alt-right homicidal extremists.
Interestingly, it’s implied that Kai was able to cherry-pick the members of his crew using the same techniques he used to construct his following on the outside. This proves that “The Divine Leader’s” charisma and power is still strong. Any former alliances Kai’s prison family had be damned. To Kai and his men, they aren’t just a crew. Instead, they are an army with a sole mission; unleash chaos in the world and ensure that women will never lead. Kai hasn’t risen through the jail ranks on his own, though. He is still taking inspiration and orders from his hallucinatory mentor, Charles Manson whom Kai now affectionately refers to as “Chuck.” (Portrayed in a cameo once again by Peters.)
One afternoon in the yard, a young prisoner comes seeking refuge within Kai’s crew. His name is Trevor Geary (Ian Bamberg), and he’s serving 25 years for the hit and run murder of a child. Kai agrees to let him join on a probationary basis, despite the fact that he thinks Trevor is a coward. Trevor is grateful, but can’t resist asking Kai how he ended up in prison.
With that, we go back eleven months, to a couple of nights after the previous episode ended. Kai’s paranoia continues to grow as he has not heard from his right-hand man, Speed Wagon (Cameron Cowperthwaite). Kai must not be shaken, though, as he and his followers are preparing for the impending “Night of 1,000 Tates.” Thankfully, however, this dastardly plot had to be scaled back. Now, it has become “The Night of 100 Tates,” because as it turns out, 1,000 pregnant women are hard to find. The plan is horrific and simple, kill one hundred pregnant women and the babies within them. To carry out these mass executions, each cult member has been given a specific hitlist and “A kill kit,” a bag consisting of a pistol, knives, Chloroform, and rags.
While the men stab watermelons, Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Beverly (Adina Porter) are in the kitchen, where their leader believes women belong. As they are preparing meals, it becomes clear that Beverly has lost all mental and emotional stability. In fact, things have gotten so bad that she wants Ally to kill her. Ally refuses, assuring her that everything will be alright and to hang on a little while longer. Once she manages to calm Beverly down, Ally turns her attention to Kai. In his paranoia, Kai has torn himself away from the meeting. Ally chooses this moment to refocus her leader as she reveals that Speed Wagon was the rat. He had been working for the state police, getting information on Samuels and the cult, in exchange for a dropped drug charge. She goes on to tell Kai that she killed Speed Wagon for his betrayal.
Up to this point, everything she said was true. That is until Ally adds that Speed Wagon set Winter (Billie Lourd) up for the fall. When Kai finds his sister was innocent, it crushes him. However, Ally calms him down again, insisting that he continue with his plan. Kai buys in, and so Ally continues with her plan as well. She exits the Anderson house for the final time, as she turns the cult over to the feds. In the house raid that ensues, a vast majority of the cult members are killed. However, Beverly is saved and taken to safety along with Ally. The Divine Leader comes out unscathed but screaming. In a string of curses, Kai proclaims he will kill Ally.
Back in the present, we find that Ally is finally living a happy life, again. She has Oz (Cooper Dodson) back, plus she has a new girlfriend named Erica (Annie Ilonzeh). In addition to all that, Ally has rebranded The Butchery and is running it very successfully. She takes a break from her responsibilities to have dinner with Beverly. Over which, it’s revealed that Kai pled guilty to all charges and thus, isn’t going to trial. However, in doing so, he will be able to avoid the death penalty.
Beverly is curious as to why she was not prosecuted for her actions. In answer, Ally reveals that she told the feds that she never saw Beverly do anything. It turns out; Ally had been working with the feds since they came to question her after she was committed by Dr. Rudy (Cheyenne Jackson). All the answers are given freely until Beverly goes fishing for answers about Ivy’s (Alison Pill) death. When it comes to that subject, Ally still won’t admit anything. In a pivot of sorts, Ally reasserts that she joined the cult to save Oz and Ivy.
Riding high on the momentum of her new life, Ally decides she needs to do something significant. In an effort to make sure people like Kai don’t gain power again, Ally announces her bid for Senator-Elect of Michigan. Her campaign proves to be a success. A significant amount of the campaign is built on her surviving the cult. Thus, reminding voters that people like Councilman Anderson, must not gain such power. Ally maintains she will, “Take a sledgehammer to the system,” feeling that the two-party system must be dismantled.
To bolster her point, Senator-Elect Mayfair-Richards compares the Republican and Democratic parties to cults themselves. Kai sees all this coverage and knows he must escape prison. After all, he can’t live in a world in which a woman holds such power. With Gloria’s help, Kai’s escape is simple. The pair kill Trevor, mutilating his corpse to make it look like Kai’s. After Kai dons a guard uniform procured by Gloria, they walk out of prison; thereby crafting the least elaborate, most-efficient prison escape in TV history.
Later that night, during the senatorial debate, Kai takes the candidates and the audience hostage at gunpoint. He makes a speech about how “America loses their shit when you go after their symbols.” Crazed, Kai goes on to say he’s going after Ally because she’s a symbol of the hope that women can lead. Of course, he must prove such a belief and symbology wrong. However, when Kai attempts to shoot Ally in the head, he finds his gun is empty. To his shock, Gloria had given him an unloaded weapon, as she was a double-agent for Ally. Then as the former leader and follower stand face-to-face, Beverly kills Kai, shooting him in the back of the head. Ally is on track, by a landslide, to win the seat for Michigan Senate after ending the debate with a bang.
Finally, the chaos of the series seems to have subsided. Her day done and her win in the bag, Ally gets a quiet moment to be a mother. As she tucks Oz in that night, the mother and her son seem entirely at peace. In fact, you get the idea that neither of them has thought about Ivy in months. Bidding her young son goodnight, Ally tells him that she and many other good women are going to make the system and the world better. As this final episode comes to a close, Ally looks in the mirror. Staring into it, she touches up her makeup and dons a cloak. In these last moments, we realize that Ally now leads SCUM. Leaving us to wonder, what chaos will that cult unleash?
Let me just cut to the chase here. For me, this finale was a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I did find the conclusion to be satisfying overall. I particularly enjoyed the points the episode made about political parties and America’s obsession with its symbology. However, I think what this episode lacked was horror, at least overtly. Instead of being a sociopolitical political commentary through a horror genre prism, this episode diverted significantly. Straying away from the elements that made the preceding episodes successful, “Great Again,” plays more like a political thriller and escape movie. One could almost call it, “The Great Escape Debate.” As I said, the episode ultimately works, I just found this tonal shift to be unsatisfying.
In closing, I would like to look at Cult as an overall series. You may recall that when I started these recaps, I stated that I was hit and miss when it came to previous seasons of AHS. Well, Cult falls into the hit category for me. In fact, I think it’s the best and scariest season in the series, thus far. Sure, you could roll your eyes at the subject matter, just like I did in the beginning. However, Cult proved to be scary because it’s rooted in reality. Much of the best horror is, as it takes real-life and exaggerates it for genre purposes. I also enjoyed the fact that this series took shots at both political sides. That was only fair as neither one is perfect and like Ally, I believe the political system needs an overhaul. I do not doubt that before the era of the Trump administration ends, there will be plenty of art and entertainment that comments on it.
While AHS: Cult will most likely serve as a kitschier example of such, I believe it will still have its place. Hopefully, it will even remind some people that maybe we should think about how real some of the things depicted are. At the very least, it will serve as horror entertainment for those who don’t to think into it too deeply. Personally, I hope the world and its sociopolitical climate improves, though I have my doubts. One thing is for sure though; I will revisit Cult in a few years to see how it plays. That isn’t something I can say for the other seasons of American Horror Story. The eighth season is set to premiere in Fall 2018 on FX. At this time, no plot or cast details are known. However, after this season, I look forward to whatever the AHS crew has in store!