The cracks in the cult are starting to form, and all it took was a trip back to 1960’s New York. American Horror Story’s distinctive flashbacks broadened the scope of this season beyond the 2016 election, and touched on a deeper level of human psyche that is present in history throughout all cultures. It also reveals that a single ideology isn’t enough to bind people together – there are always divisions within societies, and cults within cults.
When we first heard that Evan Peters would be playing Andy Warhol, our assumptions were that we would be delving into Warhol’s cult of progressive artists from the 60’s. But as the episode progresses the focus is noticeably less on Warhol himself, and more on Valerie Solanas – the woman who attempted to assassinate Warhol.
The perfect irony of casting renowned feminist activist Lena Dunham as the radical feminist Valerie Solanas does not go unappreciated. Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto forms the basis of a cult that unites its members in hatred against the entire male population. The following starts to commit a series of murders that are soon claimed by the apparent “Zodiac Killer”, only enraging Solanas further.
Obviously, a lot of creative licence is taken with the real history of the SCUM organisation here. Needless to say there is no real known link between SCUM and the Zodiac Killer, but AHS has a certain penchant for filling in the blanks of unsolved historical mysteries – just look at Roanoke. But the show is fully aware of what it is doing, and it doesn’t even try to hold back its bizarreness.
The subtle nod to the Zodiac Killer’s brief appearance in Hotel was a fun Easter Egg for dedicated fans, and it joins Twisty the Clown as one of the few links connecting Cult to previous seasons so far.
Solanas’ story ends after she loses control of her mental wellbeing, eroding the faith of her followers and pushing them to go their separate ways. She dies a lonely death, but she leaves behind one woman with the power to shake things up in the modern day.
In our main storyline, Kai’s near-death experience from Meadow’s shooting boosted his polling and helped him win a seat on the city council. But his manipulation of Meadow does not ring well with the female members of his cult, and at this opportune moment a new player turns up – Bebe Babbitt, the past girlfriend of Valeria Solanas, portrayed by the much-anticipated Frances Conroy.
The parallels between Kai’s cult and SCUM are strong in a lot of aspects – the passion, the fear-mongering, the brainwashing. But their most significant difference lies in their systemic values of patriarchy vs matriarchy. By targeting the left-wing female members of Kai’s cult, Bebe reignites the spirit of SCUM. A simple flick of a switch, and all that zeal and love for Kai’s cause can be easily rerouted into SCUM’s fight against the patriarchy. Beverly, Winter and Ivy haven’t completely left the cult just yet, but their brutal murder of Harrison for has casual sexism is a sharp retaliation against Kai’s megalomaniacal leadership tactics.
It would seem that much like Valerie Solanas, Kai’s grip over his following is loosening. But then that final scene rolls around, and we discover that both Kai and Bebe had orchestrated this whole situation from the start. He gives us that grin we have come to expect from him in moments where everything has turned out exactly as planned.
Fear is how the cult controls society, but fear is also how Kai controls his cult. What is his endgame? No idea. But we can trust that whatever Kai has in store is devious and conniving.
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