So we’ve come to the end of yet another season of American Horror Story – one that has proven to be fairly divisive amongst viewers. Anyone who was keen for squeamish, supernatural tropes would have been disappointed. Instead, we were given a nuanced critique of our society, our lives, and our most uncomfortable insecurities. ‘Great Again’ touched on all of these themes, bringing the story full circle and taking it back to its political roots.
Skipping 11 months down the track, we are treated to the classic AHS epilogue-style finale. Somehow Kai has ended up in jail, and has recruited both prisoners and guards alike to his cult. Meanwhile, Ally is profiting off her now-successful restaurant, has gained public recognition for escaping the cult, and even has a new girlfriend in tow.
It takes a little longer than desired to adjust to this new setting. But by jumping forward to this point in time we are reminded that, despite their hardships, both Kai and Ally are still powerful leaders. Should the episode have unfolded chronologically and bared their vulnerabilities straight away, this key characteristic may have easily been forgotten.
The preceding events are then revealed, with Ally’s plotting being conducted completely under the surface of her facial expressions and fake words. As she lurks in Kai’s shadow, offering a helping hand whenever she can, Kai is preparing for the “Night of One Hundred Tates” (a drastic reduction from his original, unrealistic goal of “One Thousand Tates”).
Kai’s guided walkthrough on how to kill a pregnant woman and her baby with one stab went to some pretty dark places, and may have crossed a line for many viewers. But AHS has never shied away from controversial, disturbing ideas before, so this isn’t exactly unexpected.
As the final remaining member of the original cult, Beverly shines in her secondary role this episode. To be honest, Adina Porter’s billing as a guest star for the second season in a row is a travesty. Whether she is sardonically praising Kai’s leadership, or dryly interrogating Ally over a glass of red, Beverly constantly reaffirms why she became a fan favourite this season. She is intelligent, witty, manipulative – everything that appeals to the AHS fanbase.
Then Ally’s final betrayal brings everything crashing down. The months of planting seeds of paranoia in Kai’s mind finally pays off. His fall from grace is suitably dramatic, with guns blindly shooting into a fog of tear gas, and his final words to Ally being sworn revenge.
As we move forward 11 months back to the episode’s start, we get to see more of how Ally has tried to deal her fame. Believing she has a duty to create a hopeful future with her newfound strength, she announces her run for Senator of Michigan in 2018. At the same time, Kai is planning his prison escape with the help of his new cult members.
And so the final confrontation reveals itself in the climax of the season. Ally presents herself as a Hillary Clinton-esque nominee – clear, articulate, and very conscious of how the public perceives her. Dressed in a pantsuit and armed with an acerbic wit against her political opponent, she exudes the kind of confidence that only a few episodes ago was non-existent.
Enter Kai, pistol in hand. His rhetoric has changed as well. Where he used to believe in the power of many working together, his delusions have led him to a new conclusion – that the leader is the key to a movement. Destroy a symbol, and you destroy its ideology. But of course, this isn’t completely accurate. Ally has become an icon for feminist politics in Michigan, but by no means does this mean that the movement rests on her shoulders.
It is in this key point we can see how far Kai has loosened his grip on reality. He has mistaken his petty desire for revenge for a law of the universe, and this is his real downfall.
But there is one other thing he didn’t count on too – that Ally could possibly be ten steps ahead of him. Through some double-crossing from his own followers arranged at Ally’s hands, the pistol he is holding is empty. And when it comes down to it, in those final moments, everything he ever believed becomes meaningless. He is not a Divine Ruler. He is not anointed with any kind of holy blessing. He is a mortal man, with human weaknesses.
Then in possibly my favourite line of this season, Ally delivers a callback to both episode 1 and the third presidential debate of 2016.
“You were wrong. There is something more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man. A nasty woman.”
Boom. Gunshot to the back of the head, and Kai is finally dead. Beverly’s blow is cathartic for everyone, including us, the viewers. Kai used to be a cunning leader, but even the most intelligent of people are susceptible to their own egos.
While we are left to ponder whether Kai’s cult continues to live on with a new leader or whether it dissipates completely, we also realise that this question is completely irrelevant. Humans will always want be part of a structured hive mind, and so hive minds will always exist in one form or another. Kai’s white nationalist pals from the jail may or may not continue his legacy, but there will always be some sort of xenophobic or misogynistic movement that they can put their weight behind.
Just as the well-meaning feminist ideology was corrupted into SCUM, Kai’s desire to help the disenfranchised was twisted into a murderous cult. As soon as a movement grows corrupt, it is fragile enough to be replaced by another. And this is all too clear in our final shot, as Ally raises a hood strikingly similar to Bebe Babbott’s. Kai destroyed the modern iteration of SCUM, and quite poetically, Kai was destroyed by it in return.
In this sense, AHS: Cult ends on a bittersweet note. Our big bad villain is dead, but we have also discovered a terrible truth about human nature in the process. When a victor triumphs over evil, their own arrogance may turn them into a greater evil than the one they defeated in the first place.