Review: American Horror Story (Season 7, Episode 1)

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American Horror Story is back and it's certainly worth continuing to watch to see how the show unwinds.

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The one of a kind anthology horror TV series, has returned for yet another attempt at the debauching the American dream, and this time it’s set in the present day of Trump era.

Creators of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, really didn’t have to stretch far into their imagination for the latest season, Cult. Ironically they open the season with real life footage and news reports of the 2016 Presidential race: taking us all back to that horrific moment in recent history – Trump’s election!

“The revolution has begun”

The casts opening scene cuts back and forth between the victorious reactions of Kai (Evan Peters) a blue haired Trump supporter who screams and humps his TV alone and Ally (Sarah Paulson) a lesbian, mother of one, surrounded by her friends and family and suffering from severe anxiety that is triggered by the results. The show has a clear aims from the get go to emphasis the political divide that ripped apart America during the election.

Everyone in Ally’s home is in fear, anger and panic mode. Their housekeeper doesn’t know if she can stay in the country now and their neighbour yells at his own wife that she is to blame for Trump’s win because she could not find time to vote. He even says that because of her their married friends (Ally and Ivy) might not get to have a legitimate marriage anymore.  The scariest part of all is that these were and still are legitimate concerns for American citizens.

“What is wrong with CNN for not giving us a trigger warning before announcing the results?”

A light moment of relief follows when Kai starts blending up cheetos, he then pops up orange faced to break-up his distressed sister, Winter’s (Billie Lourd) phone conversation. This is finally when reality begins to turn into fiction as the two share an intense pinky shake that is presumably a significant symbol of the mysterious ‘cult’.

After the credits our favourite clown from Freak Show, Twisty, makes a reappearance. He does what he does best and brutally kills a couple getting frisky during their picnic. We then cut to Ally discovering her son Ozzy, reading about this murder in a Twisty comic book late at night. This is when we find out just how extreme Ally’s fear of clowns is as the creators even go full Hitchcock Vertigo and use a dolly zoom visually.

“Everyday we are choosing fear over freedom – fear is currency, it has value”

During a local government panel, Kai steps up to rant against the notion of placing more cops outside the Jewish Community Centre. He goes on about the chosen few and how they will shepherd the weak into the promise land. This kind of speech heavily implies that Kai is indeed the titled ‘cult’ leader, although considering how twisted American Horror Story narratives’ tend to be, I do think this will be unlikely and he’s probably just a puppet on someone else’s string.

Ally’s neighbour, Mr Chang, just so happens to be on the panel, and he personally turns around and rebuffs Kai’s craziness with a sarcastic statement: ‘You want us to let chaos rain in our community so everyone will get so scared that they will give us unlimited power to protect them?’ Ironically, despite Kai’s extremist notions, he actually makes some sense when he points out that this is exactly what goes on in the world and with that said I believe the show is addressing our world, not just their fictional world.

 “We don’t know if she went back to Guatemala or was rounded up?”

Ally takes her anxiety to therapy where her self-absorption takes centre stage. Despite the fact that her housekeeper has likely fled in fear, she only uses this as example about how Trump’s election is effecting her. She even makes a statement about her past reaction to 9/11 which again seems to highlight a very self-absorbed streak in her nature. She uses other peoples’ tragedies and distress as a reinforcement of her anxieties and fears. I think Ally’s reactions can be seen as a direct example of the point Kai makes prior to this scene, about how fear has value, and once society is scared enough the Government can cash in on that fear to have unlimited power to do as they please.

“We finally have a real leader in Washington”

After Trump’s election there was definitely two distinct types of Americans, those who loved him and those who absolutely did not: he is their version of marmite and Cult put that across with very few words. Ally crosses paths with a cashier ‘Trump Supporter’ in an isolated store, who she quickly avoids. Soon after clowns suddenly start appearing everywhere. I personally thought this was reminiscent of another real life event: the scary clown epidemic that also occurred in autumn 2016 just around the time of the election.

As Ally’s Coulrophobia becomes manic, you can’t be entirely sure whether or not she is just imagining these clowns having sex in the shop and chasing her around isles. By the time Ivy gets her back home, we are told that the CCTV only shows Ally throwing bottles of wine at thin air, which means that either someone is lying or she has indeed hallucinated the whole thing. Since it’s American Horror Story, I would presume someone is lying, but whether that it is the police or Ivy, is yet to be established.

‘When I got into the booth I couldn’t do it. I tried, as much as I hate him, I didn’t trust her!’ 

The next day as the couple walk down the street they begin bickering, due to Ally bringing up the fact that despite her devastation and meltdown over the election night results, she was in fact one of the many who decided not to vote for Hilary. There is massive hypocrisy here as the audience retraces Ally’s reactions so far, and all in all it makes her become quite a dislikable character. Now she is just as responsible for the consequences of the election, as her neighbour that didn’t vote at all. Unfortunately before they can get to the good part where Ivy calls Ally out, they are rudely interrupted by Kai’s character throwing a latte on them both, in what is clearly a homophobic hate crime. This is probably one of the most distressing parts of the episode as it echoes real life hate crimes that took place following Trump’s election.

‘Just not enough to elect the first woman president’

The show cuts back and forth between contrasting scenes which answer each others questions: the first is follows Winter (Kai’s sister) as she interviews for the role of Ozzy’s new nanny, whereas in the second scene it shows  Kai and Winter sharing a little too much personal information during an intense pinky promise. She’s successful and quickly proves to be the worst nanny in the world: as she shows Ozzy real dead bodies on the dark web and encourages him to go outside and watch as his neighbours, The Chang’s, get murdered by clowns.

We see Kai up to his antics, as he pisses in a condom and launches it at a group of non-american immigrants. Once they start beating him senseless we are shown that Kai is setting them up and has a friend filming the whole thing. Clearly this is a comment on how the American media chooses exactly what part of the story they show the world. To demonstrate the injustice, Kai even ends the episode as being interviewed as the heroic victim that is going to keep everyone ‘safe’, by conveniently taking the council position of the recently murdered ‘Mr Chang’.

Probably the best line of the show is when Ally is scrolling Twitter and yells what we’ve all been thinking for this last year about Trump, ‘Stop Tweeting!’ aside from that, the entertainment aspect of the opening episode is less glamorous and gory than any of the prior season. I found the central topic hits far too close to home to find any real amusement out of the situation. Without a doubt this will be the biggest political statement the show has tried to make, and in saying that, I’m not entirely sure what agenda of American politics they are really pushing since both Kai and Ally are far from one dimensional or likeable. It’ll be worth continuing to watch to see how the show unwinds, who is the actual cult leader and whether the ending predicts the future of our own reality?

American Horror Story Cult continues tonight at 12.00am on Fox. 

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I have an obscure amount of useless film knowledge, hate musicals and yet I've seen most of them and I listen to an unhealthy amount of Taylor Swift. Current MSc. International Politics | Editor-in-Chief at Wessex Scene for 2017-18.

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