If you’ve been following our NYCC coverage this year, you probably saw that I had a pretty busy weekend. I got to check out some really fun panels, met a lot of people wearing amazing costumes, and had a great time meeting the artists, writers, directors, and actors who are doing some of the most creative genre work in the business right now. But, all that excitement meant I had almost no time to watch any of my shows, so let’s get into the last two episodes of AHS: Cult, which may be the best I’ve seen all season!
Much like its immediate predecessor, “11/9,” “Holes” takes the focus off of Ally to shed more light on the man behind Kai’s curtain – the charismatic, if unknowable, leader of this ragtag group of ruthless killers. We learn that Ivy is, in fact, a part of Kai’s operation, something that fans have been speculating about since day one. From there we dig into a more detailed look at how Kai and his followers execute these acts meant to incite fear around town. Kai’s encounter with the group of Latino men that was being secretly filmed, Serena’s on-camera murder, the fact that Beverly is always the first reporter on the scene of any major crime in town: it’s all part of the plan.
When Beverly mentions that co-anchor Bob Thompson is starting to get suspicious of her “sources,” Kai proposes they kill him, but the group gets more than they bargain for when, after showing up at Thompson’s house, he admits to having a gimp tied up in the attic, who they ultimately end up doing away with, as well. Meanwhile, Ally’s time away from the family has triggered more acute trypophobia, including dreams of bugs that crawl through tiny holes in her skin. Paulson’s performance continues to be top-notch, but I’m worried that she’s gone from protagonist to underused side character rather quickly, and I’m hoping to see much more her character in the weeks to come.
Truthfully, I was actually kind of okay with Paulson’s relative absence in this episode; in fact, I was so distracted by how fun the cult scenes ended up being, I almost forgot about Ally completely. I never thought I’d want/need/see a day where Billy Eichner, Allison Pill, Adina Porter, Chaz Bono, Evan Peters, and Colton Haynes team up as a motley crew of serial killers. But here we are, and I love every minute of it. Cult continues to be full of surprises and finds itself on much surer footing with every subsequent episode. “Holes” – which is titled in reference to the holes these characters face in their spirits, their relationships, and even their own skin – is definitely a season highlight, functioning well as a contained story and yet another piece of this seemingly unsolvable puzzle.
The episode caps off with a truly disturbing sequence in which each member of the cult is forced to shoot one of their own (James Morosini) in the head with a nail gun after demonstrating weakness during their last few group outings. We also get a look at what happened to Meadow when Ally spies on Harrison to try and figure out what he knows about the string of murders in their neighborhood. When she manages to sneak into their backyard, she sees Meadow waking up in a makeshift grave and begging for help. Somehow, Meadow manages to get across to Ally’s house and inform her of just the right plot points before inevitably being pulled back off-screen. It’s definitely the least effective moment in an episode that’s built on providing a surplus of much better ones, but I’ve come to learn that nobody on American Horror Story is dead until we watch them die.
Finally, there’s the matter of Kai and his parents, who died in a murder-suicide just a couple years prior. After seeing how his family’s dysfunction lead him to become involved with fringe political groups like Reddit’s hopelessly toxic Red Pill community, it’s revealed that Kai’s brother is actually Ally’s psychologist, Dr. Rudy Vincent, who convinces Kai to make sure nobody finds out what their parents did to each other; the tragedy would interfere with Winter’s college and Rudy’s new practice. The twist definitely got me, and all but confirms Rudy’s place within the cult, putting Ally at risk to be one of the next victims once Kai manages to completely rid Ivy of the residual feelings she has for her wife. All in all, “Holes” is one of Cult’s most genuinely terrifying episodes. The repetitive music, the cinematic camerawork, and the increasingly unnerving performances; all of it is kind of perfect, and the episode continues to position Cult as one of American Horror Story‘s most daring seasons.
GEEK Grade: A-
This week’s episode works well as a companion to “Holes,” filling in the story gaps that revolve mostly around Ally and Meadow. Unfortunately, the entire episode is bookended around a mass shooting, and it honestly couldn’t have come at a worse time. But the controversy surrounding the real-life counterpart – specifically how much truth is or isn’t reaching the American people – further legitimizes Cult‘s lofty ambitions, and insistence on confronting viewers with the worst reality it can create. And while the episode does use the shooting as a way to frame the entire episode, the most shocking moments of “Mid-Western Assassin” aren’t necessarily the most violent ones.
Annoying voiceover aside, it’s encouraging to see the episode fill in the gaps on how Meadow’s managed to stay alive all this time. The character continues to defy expectations, and Leslie Grossman’s portrayal deepens with each episode, especially as we see how Meadow has allowed herself to be used by the men in her life, searching desperately for something that resembles love even if it continually comes up short. Ally, on the other hand, is finding herself as a strong and capable individual for the first time, and we get a much more detailed look into the disintegration of her marriage with Ivy in the months leading up to the election. Knowing what we know now, it’s kind of surprising that Ivy hasn’t tried to kill Ally sooner. Or vice versa, for that matter.
I much prefer the Ally who’s kicking ass and taking names instead of waiting around to be slaughtered, and Paulson weaves her way in and out of the different layers of this character with an effortlessness that’s just so compelling to watch. However, the scene stealer here is undoubtedly Mare Winningham’s Sally Keffler, a brave local citizen who stands up to Kai’s fear-mongering rhetoric at a campaign event and announces her write-in candidacy, leading Ally to believe that the two might be able to pair up in the name of exposing Kai for who he truly is. Unfortunately, Sally is discarded almost immediately when Kai and his goons show up to stage a suicide, but Winningham offers a comforting, hopeful presence that “Mid-Western Assassin” needed to ultimately fill viewers with the same dread that Ally feels more and more intensely with every waking moment.
We leave things this week with the tragic tale of Meadow’s journey into darkness, wherein she allows herself to be controlled by the promise of eternal love at the hands of someone who, deep down, she knows could never truly love her. I thought the cops framing Ally at the end was kind of a silly direction to take at the last second, but Cult has proven its ability to both write itself into and break itself out of narrative corners at a moment’s notice. Seeing Kai slowly position himself as a hero of the community, one who fights for truth in the sea of Washington lies and Fake News reports, is truly terrifying now that we’ve also seen the extent of his ego, psychosis, and propensity for extreme violence. The plan is set in motion, and there might not be anything Ally (or anyone) can do about it.
GEEK Grade: B+
Next week, we deal with the aftermath of Meadow’s death and the erroneous charges leveled against Ally after the shooting. The episode also guest stars Frances Conroy and Lena Dunham!