As much as we love Sarah Paulson, her character this season has been incredibly frustrating to watch. This isn’t by accident—Ally is supposed to be the epitome of naïve, privileged liberalism. Nevertheless, focusing on Kai’s story this week is a breath of fresh air in a season that holds a lot of potential, but up until this point has been merely teasing us with an endless barrage of questions.
‘11/9’ not only answers a handful of these questions, but it also returns to the classic non-linear American Horror Story format. The title is a reference to November 9th, the day after the 2016 election. It is also a sly reversal of 9/11, drawing parallels with a day that similarly uprooted the social, cultural and political landscape of the USA.
Opening on the night of the election, we see most of our main and supporting cast congregate at an election centre. Their pre-election personalities shine as they enter their polling booths, and we see more of those who we have previously only brushed over.
Beverly the reporter is being pushed to the side at work in favour of her younger, more charismatic colleague. Meadow laments that Americans like her are not wise enough to decide the future of their country. And Gary, the shopkeeper from Episode 1, limps inside, bleeding and supported by Kai. He stumbles into a polling booth, votes for Trump, and emerges revealing a bloody stump at the end of his wrist.
“Welcome to Trump’s America!”
With this cold opening, ‘11/9’ proves all too well that American Horror Story doesn’t need supernatural tropes to create striking horror scenes.
This episode truly belongs to Evan Peters. What we already suspected is confirmed—Kai is the mastermind behind this growing cult of killer clowns. He is not so much a fanatic of Trump as he is a fanatic of what Trump represents. When people are scared, they will trust absolutely anyone who offers to solve their problems. The more unorthodox, the better.
His first target: Harrison. Kai sees how fragile and deeply angry he is with the world, and he pushes Harrison to realise that he has been abused by society for far too long. In a fit of disenfranchised rage and egged on by Kai, Harrison kills his boss. Yet even at his most broken, Kai is there for him to fall back on. When confronted by Meadow while chopping up the dead body in the bathroom, Harrison introduces Kai as:
“Someone to believe in.”
Meadow, who is facing her own financial problems, is also quick to follow in Kai’s stead. She has also been designing creepy clown masks, perfect for Kai’s antics.
Next on Kai’s list, Beverly—the news reporter who cannot be taken seriously by both her colleagues and the public. She too has inner rage at the world, perfect for exploitation. After Kai, Harrison and Wilton dress in their clown get-up and kill Beverly’s nasty coworkers, she agrees to join Kai’s inner circle as its mouthpiece in the media.
Jumping back to election night, Ivy and Winter team up and handcuff Gary the Trump-voting shopkeeper to a pole in his store’s basement to stop him from voting. Now that we know Ivy was familiar with Winter before the current events, and also that the former has a surprisingly mean streak about her, she is looking incredibly suspicious. At the rate this is going, everyone will probably end up joining Kai’s cult.
With Gary mentally and physically at his most vulnerable, Kai arrives to turn his disenfranchisement into passion and rage. Voting for Trump is an act of defiance, and Kai asks Gary,
“What would you give for your chance to do that?”
And so armed with a saw, Gary sacrifices his hand to make his vote count.
‘11/9’ gives us enough of what we have been wanting to make for an episode that, for the first time this season, leaves us properly satisfied. It is our first real delve into the inner workings of Kai’s cult, and so we can expect that American Horror Story: Cult will continue to move past the predictable jump scares of the first few episodes and start to get into the gritty horror of cult mythology.
What did you think of the episode? Tell us in the comments below!