Believe it or not, Ally is becoming a bit more bearable. Maybe this is because she’s wising up a little, or maybe it’s because we’re spending less time on her irrational fears. Whatever it is, we are starting to see her step up and take action against Kai and his cult, and this is pretty exciting stuff.
Opening on a single, long camera shot moving through Kai’s rally for the city council election, and then hearing those gun shots resonate through the panicked crowd makes for a deeply distressing and saddening pre-credits scene. It also demonstrates something that this season has absolutely nailed so far – the real terror that exists in the lives of ordinary people. The camera positions us as if we are wandering through the crowd with the victims, making it gut-wrenchingly intimate. And so I would go so far as to say that the mass shooting depicted in this episode reaches deep and evokes a more personal sense of horror than any other scene in AHS history.
Slowly, a broken Ally is revealed to be holding the gun, with an unconscious Kai on the stage. But what isn’t revealed upon first viewing is that the body of Meadow lies next them, a gunshot directly through her mouth and out the back of her head.
A lot happens in this episode, and we will get to that – but let’s take a moment to appreciate how beautifully this is all tied into Kai’s master plan. Skipping right to the end, the major reveal of the episode is that Kai had this all mapped out. Meadow’s disappearance, her telling Ally of the cult, Ivy’s involvement – and even the plan for his own apparent downfall. Kai theorises that surviving an assassination attempt would not only give him publicity, but would launch him to cult-like status as a leader of the disenfranchised people of America.
Mare Winningham also makes her guest appearance in ‘Mid-Western Assassin’ as Kai’s political rival. She is the only voice of sanity in a town of fanatical killers, and so her common sense helps keep the episode grounded in a world that we recognise. Sadly her rationality marks her as a target for the clowns, and so she leaves us as quickly as she came.
We also get a bunch of explanations for questions we had towards the beginning of this season, but eventually forgot about. Ivy’s hatred of her wife has been going on for years, and so Kai has been helping her slowly gaslight Ally to give her an excuse to get away with custody of Oz. It would have been a little more satisfying to have these answers given to us earlier, but it is still better than leaving them as open-ended plot holes.
By the way, those chemical trucks and dead birds seen a few episodes ago? Unfortunately, nothing more than red herrings. For mysteries that were dragged out for so long without answers, it is a little disappointing that this is where they led.
Cult is distinctly more allegorical than the seasons we have previously seen on AHS. While Roanoke made some fascinating insights into the nature of media, celebrities, and reality television, its horror element heavily relied on sickening scenes of cannibals flaying victims and ghosts disemboweling people. But now that Cult is showing us how the very foundations of the USA are so easily manipulated, the horror doesn’t need to be gory or violent. The story is the horror, and it hits a little too close to home.
What did you think of the episode? Tell us in the comments below!