This week’s American Horror Story goes at lengths to add some humor to the typically grim show. Somehow, the result is even more eerie and unsettling. This is either some master craft from Murphy and the show’s writers, or more likely just the fact that Billy Eichner is usually uncomfortably trying hard all the time.
‘Neighbors From Hell’ opens with a couple going through therapy, adding to some suspicions toward Cheyenne Jackson’s character, Dr. Rudy Vincent, being in on the clowns that are now established as being real. The clowns mark the couple’s home, shutting them in caskets to die. The interesting twist is that the woman has a phobia of caskets — how else would clowns know to terrorize her like this? The show is leading us down the road that Dr. Vincent is either feeding the clowns information or is behind one of the masks, but it’s also likely this is just a red herring, so early in the season.
Ally (Sarah Paulson) is going through some trauma after shooting a hispanic man point blank in last week’s episode. Society turns against her — especially her neighbors (played by Eichner and Leslie Grossman.) Ally finds an unusual and uncomfortable ally in Kai (Evan Peters.) Kai appears to be organizing the titular cult, if mysterious cut scenes are any indication. His choice to show affection towards Ally is somewhat out of character, and it’s likely there are some ulterior motives that will be coming back to haunt her.
A mysterious chemical truck is also spraying the neighborhood at night, of which little is revealed. It’s an ominous presence, and American Horror Story continues to set up its pieces that it will explore in later episodes. The truck is a menacing character in its own right, and the resulting animal deaths occurring after its nightly visits is equally worrisome.
Ally and Ivy find themselves being terrorized by their neighbors indirectly — through Craiglist ads soliciting men come to their house without warning and ‘satisfy’ them. American Horror Story is ripe with its critiques of modern society and culture this season, and acts like this are very common in the digital age of anonymity. Other, somewhat funnier, instances of Horror Story‘s culture commentary include the lesbian couple arguing over giving a pet a ‘cisnormative’ name, and Ally’s unfounded ‘dander allergy.’ The show is unafraid to pull punches on both sides of the political spectrum’s stereotypes.
The Mayfair-Richards quickly find themselves at odds with their would-be comedian neighbors, who are revealed to be in close contact with Colton Haynes’ Detective character. The neighbors delight in adding conflict to the Mayfair-Richards’ household after learning about the murder, from taunting them at their doorstep while wearing sombreros, to sending their son a pet guinea pig knowing that his moms won’t let him keep it.
Many of the scenes with Eichner and Grossman in this episode are unnerving, unlike past episodes where their comedy was a relief to the show’s dramatic nature. When it comes to issues like death and torture, the comic lines take an extremely dark turn, and the characters’ true natures are revealed. These might be jokes being uttered, but they’re spewed with hatred.
This hatred builds to the episode’s climax where a lot happens in a short amount of time. Both the Mayfair-Richards and neighboring WIlton houses are ‘marked’ by the killer clowns. The pet guinea pig is murdered, which Ally blames on the neighbors, threatening Harrison to murder him and his wife if they step foot on their property. The chemical truck returns, and Ally rips off the gask mask to reveal a smiley face mask underneath.
Then, shit hits the fan when a voyeur camera uploaded to the internet shows Winter (Billie Lourd) fingering Ally in the bathtub the other night. This raises some real, intense questions. How did the camera get there? This adds some credibility to Ally that she is not hallucinating these clowns. How else would they know when to record? This was right before the power went out and she was terrorized by clown figures. Winter’s out-of-character sexual attraction to Ally is also suspect — she was at the house during the blackout and could easily have known the camera was there and put on a show to lead to Ally and Ivy’s arguing when the video was discovered. Also — how did Oz know where to find this video on the internet?
Ally and Ivy have a tense argument about the video, with neither one wanting to stay with the partner or at the house after it’s been marked. The argument spills out onto the street, where Harrison and the police are having an argument of their own…his wife Meadow is missing. The Mayfair-Richards’ ever-stealthy son, Oz (Cooper Dodson) manages to sneak into the Wilton’s house and see the Clown marking in blood on the walls as the episode draws to a close.
Tensions were high at the end of this Cult episode, a trend the series has been using this season. With a lot of drama unfolding in the episode’s last few minutes, the show has been taking its time to explore its characters and their motivations with the rest of the runtime. There weren’t many killer clowns visible on screen terrorizing the city in this episode (except for at the beginning,) but they were behind the scenes the entire time, and American Horror Story has slowly been dropping all the clues and cues it needs to ramp up for some intense and chilling scares to come.