Using fear to control in AHS: Cult

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Most of us have an irrational fear of something, whether it be clowns or spiders or the dark and anything in between. Some of those things could actually do us harm while others are very real for the sufferer but hard to understand for others. Like clowns. I can’t begin to understand why someone would be afraid of a clown to such a degree that it can be paralyzing for them, but I can understand since most bugs and snakes can have the same effect on me.

And as we get into the second episode of the seventh season of American Horror Story, we’re learning that Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) has a whole Rolodex full of phobias, not just clowns. She’s got a fear of blood, a gear of holes and just a general fear of the unknown. And this week, all that comes into play but the big question is why is Ally suddenly seeing clowns everywhere? Are they really there or is she losing her mind? Is she feeling guilt from her casting a “protest vote” for Jill Stein, which helped Donald Trump win the election? That was the moment she started to come unglued, but there really seems to be a lot more at play here.

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From where I’m sitting, everything that’s happening to Ally is being orchestrated by Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). But why? How does he know Ally well enough to target her? He’s already just casually thrown a latte at her and her wife Ivy (Alison Pill), and he’s staged his own beating by a group of possibly undocumented workers as a way to prove to the town and the country that Trump is right, using that incident to run for the newly vacant space on the town council (of course, omitting that he’s the one who started the incident with the urine bomb).

It doesn’t seem coincidental that there is a vacancy on the council either as Kai told the chairman that there was nothing worse than a humiliated man. Kai was “humiliated” by Tom Chang, and suddenly he and his wife are dead in an apparent murder/suicide … by clowns that only Ally’s son Oz saw (and poor Ozzy is having his own clown issues, but at least his seem to be only of the imagined variety … well, except for the ones that murdered the Changs). Running for the town council also gives Kai a chance to canvas his district and of course he shows up on Ally’s doorstep, seeming to pretend that he had no idea he would find her there, but then preying on all of her fears of being unsafe while pointing out her newly fortified home (her shrink thinks that she’s becoming agoraphobic, so one more to add to the list). The visit was certainly enough to rattle her already fragile nerves.

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Meanwhile, the Changs’ deaths also freed up their home and new neighbors have moved right in, and what a pair they are. Harrison and Meadow Wilton (Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman) are an interesting couple, he into beekeeping (one look at the holes of the honeycomb almost caused Ally to faint) and she’s into Etsy and not being in the sun (she also can’t help but think of Beyoncé whenever she has lemonade). And they’re co-vice presidents of the Michigan chapter of the Nicole Kidman fan club. Did I mention Harrison is gay and they’re really just BFFs who got married because of a pact they made in high school that if neither was married by 35, they’d tie the knot? Meadow lets him go to Detroit once a week to do “whatever”. They are an odd pair and not put off in the least by the large blood stain on the floor or the badly painted over smiley face on the door. And what are they storing in those large plastic barrels? Honey?

Okay, about that smiley face … Ally and Ivy saw it when they went to retrieve Oz after nanny Winter (Billie Lourd) left him there. And somehow she still has a job. But back to the smiley face. It was obviously painted there by the killers of the Changs, no? If it was a murder/suicide, why would whoever did the killing paint that face on the door? That’s Serial Killer 101 stuff. It seemed to unnerve the women for a moment, but it was never brought up again probably because that large blood stain was even more distracting. It just seemed an odd thing that no one talked about (of course, we did see in the preview for next week that a similar smiley face shows up on a door at the Mayfair-Richards home). The question is what connection do the Wiltons have to Kai? We saw them on the TV news report about his beating — they were credited with shooting the video of the incident — and announcement of his political aspirations, so they and Winter seem to be in on whatever he’s planning (this season is called “Cult” after all).

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An incident at Ivy’s restaurant that left one of her (racist) employees dead … well, almost dead until Ally decided she’d be the best person to go check the alarm — only because Oz doesn’t want to be left alone with her — and discovered the man hanging on a meat hook. Trying to lift him off alone caused him to fall further down on it, spewing blood all over her, and now blaming herself for his death. Feeling unsafe, Ally actually confided in the Wiltons and Harrison let her borrow one of his guns … just not the one used by Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain. After Ivy just happened to run into Dr. Vincent on her way home, Ally showed him the gun. He didn’t think she was in the right frame of mind for such a thing, but he can’t tell Ivy about it either. No good can come of this.

And it doesn’t. At home alone with Oz and Winter, Ally tries to relax with a hot bath that starts going to uncomfortable places as Winter gets a little too cozy with Ally. Just before things go past the point of “oh no she didn’t,” the power goes out in the whole neighborhood. Ally and Winter run around lighting candles and Harrison appears at the window telling Ally that power has gone out in eight states! Is it an invasion? Is it the Russians? ISIS? North Korea? Clowns? Who knows, but just stay in the house! And why is that creepy ice cream truck parked outside again? Winter, however, decides she needs to go home and protect her ceramics leaving Ally and Oz alone, but barricaded behind the newly installed bars and some chairs placed under door knobs. Of course the home security system is out, and Ivy can’t leave the restaurant until she gets a generator going to keep all the newly delivered meat cold. So she sends her co-worker Pedro (coincidentally the one accused of killing the other employee because he was the target of the man’s racist rant, even though he was born in San Diego but brown skin will have that effect on people these days, just ask Sheriff Joe) to the house with candles and a phone charger. Not sure how that will help with the power out but I guess it’s the thought that counts.

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But the panic has set in now and Ally is encountering clowns in the house yet again — that seem to disappear whenever someone else is with her, in this case Ozzy — and she discovers all the wiring in the electrical panel has been cut. That’s curious, but the power is out everywhere, at least in their town (we have no idea if Harrison’s story is true but I’m willing to bet it’s not), so why would all of that wiring be cut (or maybe that was the security system, which would explain why it wasn’t working even with a battery backup)? Between the clowns and the possible hostile invasion of the country, it was all too much for Ally who forged a plan to get Ozzy and run as fast as they could to the Wiltons’ house. Opening the door, a figure appears and she shoots … Pedro. I told you this would not end well.

I don’t know about you, but this episode was pretty intense, really making me anxious perhaps because of my own fears about people breaking into my house and jumping every time I hear a noise that sounds like a door closing … which is usually just the next door neighbors. I can deal with the ghosts of season one (the ghosts that live with me and I have an agreement that they won’t bother me at night when I’m trying to sleep), the asylum of season two, the freaks, the vampires and the murderous pilgrims, because most of that is just the stuff of fantasy or old tales told over time. The terror in this season of American Horror Story is all too real, making this the most frightening season yet.

What did you think of this episode? Is Ally losing her mind? Is Kai behind it all? What part, if any, could Ivy have in all this? Sound off in the comments below!

 

 

American Horror Story: Cult

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