Review: American Horror Story: Cult “Election Night”

I’m not a political person. It’s a weird thing to say, even though I believe it’s true. I don’t really engage in politics, and barely follow the news (except entertainment news that is). I’m not proud of the fact, but it is a fact. However, I also recognize that it is impossible to disengage media from politics. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about media, I spend some of that time inherently thinking politically. So, I guess when I say I’m not political, I’m kinda a dirty liar.

It’s a tricky situation, and one I mostly ignore. American Horror Story: Cult, however, is probably not going to let me deny a political identity. By focusing on the current political climate of the U.S., I can’t even hide in historical or cultural distance. There’s no denying that thinking about Captain America’s role as propaganda isn’t political because WWII is long over, or thinking about how the liminal state of Hong Kong’s national identity informs John Woo’s action films doesn’t count because I’m not Chinese (or British). However I look at this season, it’s going to be political (even if I strive to remain fundamentally apolitical).

So, what did I think of the season premiere? Clown coitus in the produce section, that’s what. That’s what stands out the most to me when thinking about the episode. Even with a Cheeto-inspired impersonation of the Donald in the first five minutes (I’m high key excited that Evan Peters’ Kai is malicious and bat-shit crazy–the hallmarks of the best Peters’ AHS performances), I keep returning to those damn clowns that decided to boink on some watermelons. It’s weird and despite the hallmarks of horror, not really scary. Classic AHS!

Beyond clown coitus and Cheeto-face, the episode didn’t leave much of an impression. Sarah Paulson’s Ally just screamed and panicked a lot (classic Paulson on AHS!). Although I am interested in seeing how her fear of porosity comes into play. While most people are probably focusing on the coulrophobia, the coral and bloody crumpet were intriguing to me. It’s not something most people would find scary, and the idea of porous borders certainly ties into certain contemporary political debates. It is especially relevant in an episode that features blatant manipulation of traditional fears about immigration. Ally may not be as liberally minded as she thinks, or I may just be reading too much into it.

It’ll also be interesting to see exactly what Kai’s plan is. He seems to be feeding on traditional right-wing fears but recruiting left-wingers at the same time. Curious and curiouser. It’s refreshing that both sides of the political spectrum are getting dragged through the AHS satire/horror machine. With Ally brandishing not one but two bottles of rosé at creepy clowns and Winter (Billie Lourd) calling for a trigger warning before the announcement of Trump’s victory, affluent liberals are clearly in the show’s crosshairs.

Returning to spooky clowns for a moment, I’m torn about the reappearance of Twisty. I kinda adore that killer clown and found his backstory to be one of the most impactful parts of Freak Show. Using him as the poster boy for scary, psycho clowns in Cult is either brilliant commentary about how the media can misrepresent individuals (especially those with mental illness) or the creative team just wants to capitalize on the fact that people think Twisty’s the scariest thing AHS has even produced. It might be something really smart, or it might dismantle something great the show did in the past. I’m not sure which way I’m leaning.

But most everything in this review seems to falling into the category of “we’ll see how it plays out.” AHS isn’t always the best at payoffs, especially when tackling weighty or important subjects. A lot of the time it’s weird, silly and not scary (like clown coitus!). Maybe that’s the perfect platform for dissecting the current political climate, or maybe it’ll be a disaster. But, for the moment, I’m excited to watch what happens next.

Cake Rating: It’s impossible to tell this early into a season of AHS. I imagine there will be moments that require use to gorge on Great British Bake Off levels of Victoria sponge and Mary Berry’s cherry cake. But there will also be moments that will take us to a place where cake is a distant memory, and we subsist on challenging genre conventions and poignant social commentary. That is the beauty (and curse) of AHS.

Note: That H.O.N.C. promo for Baskets was probably my favorite moment of the evening.

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