Proceed with caution… American Horror Story: Cult spoilers below!
American Horror Story: Cult premiered tonight, and with it comes the anthology’s twisted take on the recent presidential election. In the new season’s premiere, the show uses the election as its basis for scares, making the supernatural horror series seem all too real as it conquers its characters’ fears (and for others, excitement) of a Donald Trump presidency.
Sarah Paulson leads the cast as Ally Mayfair-Richards, a lesbian mother who finds herself suffering from panic attacks and what appear to be clown-driven hallucinations following election night. The show handles clowns in its ever eerie way, juxtaposing disturbing images with Ally’s sheer terror as she tries to shop in the supermarket, seeing clowns having sex, chasing her on scooters, and following her to her car. The hold the clowns have on her is something that’s causing strain on her marriage to Ivy (Alison Pill) and also their son, Oz (Cooper Dodson.)
The show pays homage to itself and the Freakshow anthology by making Twisty the Clown a comic book character that Oz is obsessed with. His fixation on clowns begins to cause him anxiety by the episode’s end, when his babysitter, Winter (Billie Lourd), claims he too was imagining the clowns when there was a crime scene outside the house.
Speaking of Lourd’s character, Winter is a typical millennial Tumblr girl, one who says things like ‘triggered’ and loves to talk about how she put her college career on hold to campaign for Clinton. It’s also mentioned that she’s been driven to self harm in the past, which is certainly something the show will be delving deeper into as the season continues. Winter is a stark contrast to her brother Kai (Evan Peters) who was elated that Trump won. Peters’ character comes across as unhinged and questionably stable, and it’s likely that when the season gets off its feet and into its titular cult, Kai will be heavily involved, if not the leader.
The tension between Kai and Winter is palpable in the scenes the two share. Winter’s new job as the Mayfair-Richards’ babysitter will undoubtedly come to be something the lesbian mothers regret if what we’ve seen so far of Kai is any indication.
The season opens with the spooky clowns being the main antagonist for both Ally and Oz, but the show will certainly be pitting its characters against each other as the season unfolds. Whether these clowns are real or hallucinations is yet to be determined — although some supernatural entity playing a role isn’t off the table yet, either. How else would Ally and Oz both imagine the same clowns, without having told each other what they look like? If past seasons are any indication though, American Horror Story will likely teeter between the clowns being real and imagined without ever giving the viewer closure.
As terrifying as the premiere’s clowns are, this episode finds its true chills when it grounds itself in reality. In that regard, the presidency being the central tie that surrounds these new characters is chilling and truly frightening. It’s also worth noting that Cult will likely be taking many cues from pop culture and the media; an imagined comic scene where Twisty the Clown chases after a woman resembles a viral video of a clown chasing someone over a bridge that made its rounds on the Internet last Halloween.
American Horror Story: Cult gets off on a much better footing than past season, Roanoake. It’s good to see the show abandon its documentary style clunker and return its focus to being as lavishly disturbing as possible. The signature Horror Story grandiosity is still present, with the show’s imagery being both terrifying and borderline obscene. The clowns make for good jump scares, but so do the characters, particular Peters’ Kai, as he shows no remorse for walking into a woman rather than going around her and later urinates into a condom before throwing it at some men and singing “Wetbacks aren’t welcome here no more!” A quick glance at recent news headlines shows that American Horror Story: Cult isn’t as fictionalized as it should be. And that’s truly the most terrifying thing of all.