What is so inherent in humans that makes us crave leadership? How far can this desire push us? Theft? Murder? Suicide? Even though we are getting to the tail-end of the season, ‘Drink the Kool-Aid’ is the furthest we have delved into individual explanations as to why joining a cult seems like such a great idea at the time.
The episode’s prelude takes a step back in time, revisiting cult leaders of decades past. Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh both get their time in the spotlight, but it is Jim Jones and his cult of Jonestown that gives this episode its title. Evan Peters has masterfully adopted the personas of several different cult leaders this season, but it is his portrayal of Jim Jones that leaves a hauntingly creepy mark throughout the rest of this episode. His slow drawl and unwavering conviction underlies the images of his 900 plus followers committing mass suicide through poisoned Kool-aid, heavily foreshadowing the characters this episode who trigger their own downfall.
After announcing his run for the Senate in 2018, Kai tests the loyalty of his new militia of armed white men. Starting with a heavy-handed reference to the episode title, Kai convinces all his followers to literally drink poisoned Kool-Aid. Using this as a mechanism to weed out the false from the truly devout, the not-so-surprising twist is that it wasn’t actually poisoned. Regardless, the women are traumatised – especially Beverly, who lets out a soul-crushing scream of distress.
As for the recently inducted men of the cult, it isn’t hard to see why they have gladly jumped onto the bandwagon. Their attitudes are incredibly similar to the frat bro’s of the 2016 election who sided with Trump’s brand of far-right populism. Hyper-masculinity is everything – the very core of their identity rests shakily on whether other people perceive them as tough, fearless men. Their deep insecurities can be kept at bay by being part of something that encourages them to keep up this patriarchal façade.
For Ivy, the attraction of being part of a cult came from a desire to relinquish control over her life. Frustrated with having to lead every single decision for her son, her wife, and her restaurant, she simply wanted to let someone else make those decisions for her. As it did with the men, the cult filled a void for her too.
Then we get to see the reunion between her and Ally, who is actually taking everything pretty well at this point. She is even willing to look past Ivy’s betrayal for the sake of getting her son back. Teaming up to leave the cult, their escape culminates in one final dinner before reclaiming their old lives. From the offset something seems off, and as soon as Ivy lays into her meal we see the shift in Ally’s disposition. Her weeks in rehab changed her. Just as a cult fills a void for its followers, aspirations of revenge helped Ally fill the hole that her fears had previously occupied.
Ivy comes clean about everything, bluntly telling Ally that she isn’t as strong as she thinks she is. But Ally most definitely is, because the revenge has already happened. Ivy falls to the floor, coughing blood and clutching at her throat with a smiling Ally leaning over her.
When Kai finds out, he’s pretty impressed with this new confident version of Ally. Ally could have very easily poisoned Kai just as she did to Ivy, but she also realises that this isn’t a proper solution. Killing a cult leader is only a temporary solution if his vengeful fanatics are left behind.
The down-to-earth, scheming Kai we recognise from earlier this season is getting carried away by his own narcissism. Ally easily fools him into thinking that he possesses supernatural abilities to shape reality to his will, turning him into a delusional cult leader who, like those before him, is the reason for his own downfall.
Drinking the Kool-Aid is simply physical act at the beginning of this episode, but by the end we are seeing Kai take a metaphorical spin on this. While he is soaking in the sweet juices of his victory, he is poisoning himself with arrogance, paving the way for a spectacular fall from grace.
Unless we are thrown another curveball, it looks like the end of this season is pretty clear-cut. Ally is set to bring an end to the cult once and for all. Then again, we would be wise to remember what we have learnt: ideas are immortal. Even if its original followers are dead, can a movement really be killed?
What did you think of the episode? Tell us in the comments below!