Last September, I sat down eagerly on my couch in anticipation of the newest installment of American Horror Story. For those of you who may not know, American Horror Story is an anthology, meaning that each season tells a completely different story. This season, titled American Horror Story: Cult, attempts to make a commentary on the 2016 presidential election.
The show begins on the night of the election and focuses on a group of liberals who are awaiting the results. When the inevitable comes and
Trump is announced as the next president of the United States, the shock, and fear registered on the faces of the group mirror perfectly what many had experienced months before on the real election night.
A later scene, however, reflects a very different side of the story. Young Kai Anderson, played by cast veteran Evan Peters, becomes elated by the news of Donald Trump taking office. So elated in fact, that he humps his television screen and paints his face orange with Cheeto dust.
Fellow veteran Sarah Paulson plays the polar opposite of Peters’ character, being a middle-class lesbian who is terrified of Trump. Paulson’s character, Ally, has recurring phobias (one being of clowns, which seems fitting given our dear president Trump) that flare up in wake of the election.
It is with these two characters that the majority of the story is told. Kai’s empowerment over the election causes him to, given the namesake, start a cult that he believes will cause real change and fix our country. Meanwhile, Ally’s mental state continues to spiral out of control and causes her to lose everything. By having this contrast, it is clear that this season is trying to say something about fear, but what?
It seemed as though Cult was set on answering that question early on in a very cliche way. Obviously, the Trump supporters were bad and their cult was bad and they were going to do bad things in their cult. The simple message was Trump is bad and his supporters are bad and that we should fear them, which is elementary at best. These are things we already know.
However, as the show progressed, the message went from being unimaginatively simple to something that is impossible to make sense of. In an attempt to shake things up, the writers have Ally’s wife, a feminist, a gay man, a token independent black woman, and many other “unexpected” characters joining the cult. Then they all start to murder people while dressed as clowns as Ally continues to lose her mind.
What are they trying to say by having all these stereotypically liberal characters join the cult? Are they saying that everyone, no matter how “politically correct,” has some evil inside of them? If they are, then they are not doing a good job of portraying so. It just does not make sense for so many rational people to turn on their beliefs and join a cult lead by some insane twenty-something who worships a president that will not protect their rights.
I believe that the reason why this season’s message is so warped is because show creator Ryan Murphy attempted to use material that he has never worked with before. Previously, American Horror Story has been able to tell entertaining and haunting narratives that deal with the supernatural. Dealing with a real-world politics feels forced and out of place when compared to previous seasons, which may be why everything is so confusing. Real politics are scary enough, they don’t need to be retold in a horror movie fashion.
Despite this season’s flaws, the show is still American Horror Story, which means that there is plenty of suspense, insane plot twists, and gore, all of which remain entertaining. It is also worth mentioning that Cult retains much of its beloved stellar cast from previous seasons, so while the characters may be confusing, the acting is top notch. Even though this season has some redeeming qualities, American Horror Story should stop trying to appeal to the political masses and instead stick to what it does best, which is horror.