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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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How Necessary is "American Horror Story: Cult"?

By Spencer Coile 

A Ryan Murphy production is anything but subtle. They rely on over-the-top scares, extravagant set pieces, and his usual band of actors (notably Sarah Paulson). American Horror Story: Cult is no exception. It begins with the bleakest opening imaginable, a night that will live in infamy: 2016 election night. As characters rejoice, cry, vent their frustrations, it felt as though Murphy was attempting to hone in on the social panic that swept the country in the wake of the election results. It was a bold opening, one that hit close to home. 

And then the rest of the episode happened. 

After seven spooky years, American Horror Story returned to FX with much fanfare, including a slew of advertisements showcasing 2016 presidential candidate masks, creepy clowns, and bees (Oh my). But two episodes in (to an eight episode season)  Cult is already being pulled in too many different directions. The plot is already veering off the rails. 

Sarah Paulson plays Ally, wife and mother, proud restaurant owner. She harbors various phobias (clowns and different types of holes -- like honeycombs) and takes Clinton's loss for the presidency the worst of those around her. When a barrage of clown-like images begin popping up, it is clear the series is interested in exploring Ally's descent into madness. In a country that's unhinged, it only feels natural that she join that spiral.

She is joined by fellow AHS cast members Evan Peters and Cheyenne Jackson, as well as newcomers to Murphy's world Alison Pill, Billy Eichner, and Lena Dunham. What we are left to believe is that the world is a miserable, bleak place to live, and that even those who believed themselves to be politically aligned with the right candidate still fall victim to the chaos that ensued after that fateful night. 

That truly is a menacing thought.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with AHS, Murphy does not seem interested in diving into the complexities of the premises and exploring those emotions. Rather, the real-life stakes of that night are shoe-horned into another story altogether. Implying that our current political system is a nightmare unto itself is a compelling story worth telling, but instead Murphy reaches back into his old bag of tricks and tries toshock his audience. Yes, clowns are creepy. But what about exploring what gets under our skin even more? Each other.

What's at play here is a dance between liberals and conservatives, between those who incite fear and those who dwell in it. Unfortunately, as the first two episodes indicate, the series does not invest much time in these themes aside from the occasional spat between Ally and Evan Peter's Kai. Ultimately we have to ask ourselves: what does this achieve? For many who were outraged by the election of Trump, anger is reignited. For those who celebrated, this serves as a spooky allegory for a world in which we might someday live. There is still so much potential ahead in this season (we've only seen two episodes), but currently, Murphy's world is simply another loud, brash, concoction of evil. But if he wants to tackle something that hits close to home for everyone, perhaps exploring that should be the first priority.  

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Reader Comments (8)

I thought the season is going to run for 11 episodes? Anyways, I'm loving it so far

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBhuray

According to Imdb, this season of American Horror Story is 11 episodes. I do not know if there has been any change.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHarmodio

Wikipedia has eight episodes for this season.

September 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHarmodio

So far, I`m getting the feeling that AHS Cult is gonna be great, it`s a messy but gripping document of political paranoia , a tale of a provincial town enveloped in chaos, where madmen run wild.The question is- How big will this get? Is Cult, in the end, going to give us a full dystopian tyrannical future born out of fear? BTW is it just me or David Fincher's The Game springs to mind ? The cast is flawless ( Sarah Paulson can pull off virtually anything ) and I was delighted with the eccentric creepy new neighbors across the street huge Nicole Kidman`s fans ( Have you seen BLL, She`s transcendent , FUN ). All in all, I`ll keep gladly watching it, who knows, maybe Ryan Murphy may make up for the dreadful Feud.

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEder Arcas

This series is getting very tiresome & over-the-top.
Will be skipping this season.

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

So far, I'm intrigued. But his shows always go off the rails at one point, but right now, I genuinely don't know what direction this will take.

The politics stuff has been played well so far, I think. I mean, it takes place in Michigan, which I'm sure is still fraught with tension.

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBia

The threat in the first two episodes still seems too vague and too big. Everyone is suspect, but the use of the current social climate is so far on the nose, sometimes blatantly so. This touches on a lot of fears, and when it IS subtle (which isn't as rare as it's reputation would have you believe), it really hits. One huge instance was the opening of episode 2. It ended with a gut punch when Oz pushed Ally away, protesting "I want mom!" So far AHS needs a little more of those "ooh moments" this season.

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoey JoJo

Rod Serling was very good at using fantasy to explore contemporary issues that's why his best episodes from "The Twilight Zone" are timeless. The problem I had with the new AHS: Cult - it that it feels heavy handed and obvious.

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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