‘American Horror Story: Cult’ – Season 7 Premiere: Trigger Warnings and Unsafe Spaces

“American Horror Story: Cult” opens with perhaps the scariest image of the series to date, and it’s not supernatural in the least: Donald Trump. Eek! I was under the couch in seconds flat! Even my dog ran and hid at the sight!

Okay, I joke- but for some people, Trump is anything but a joke. He’s a genuine menace that could potentially upend their very way of life. If you think that’s hyperbolic, just go and talk to one of the so-called “minorities” out there. Or a member of the LGBTQ community. Or certain women. Or… well, you get the idea.

Co-creator and co-writer of the premiere, Ryan Murphy- himself an openly gay man- opted to forgo the supernatural on the show this year, perhaps wisely, when he recognized the fact that few things are scarier than what’s going on in society right now. As the saying goes: the most dangerous game is man.

Think about it. Since Trump’s election, the masks are off. There’s no need for killer clowns- much less the KKK- when the trolls and haters have been given free rein to just be themselves. There’s a telling passage in the premiere where the decidedly on-edge Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson, excellent as usual) reflects back on a simpler, gentler time. She was in college and Obama had just been elected, and the world- and her life- had never seemed more hopeful.

Gone were the old prejudices and nastiness of the Bush years, the stress of living through 9/11. Gay marriage, against all odds, had started to become legal, and racism seemed a thing of the past. After all, we had our first black President. That was enough to change things overnight, right?

Wrong. As some of us know all too well, it only sent the more negative aspects of society underground, barking out their racism, xenophobia, sexism and hatred under the “safe spaces” of the anonymity of the internet, using fake names- or, in some cases, no names at all- to scream out horrific comments on Twitter, Reddit, 4Chan, and any other message board they could find, all from the safety of their own homes.

Then Trump was elected. Suddenly, the Boogeyman was no longer hiding in our closets or under our beds: He was everywhere, hiding in plain sight. And more often than not, it is a “he”- but not always these days, when even many of the women of America, once the rock to lean on of society, seem to have a chip on their shoulder- or, at the very least, a serious set of blinders on.

Recently, of all shows, “The Strain” put forth the proposition that it’s particular doomsday scenario wasn’t truly the fault of the aggressors- the vampires that had taken over the world- but rather, humanity itself, who was wholly complicit in allowing it to happen. One character pointed out the similarity of what was happening to that of the Nazi era: if people hadn’t collaborated with the Nazis to save their own skins, if they hadn’t just “followed orders,” then it might not have happened the way it did in the first place.

The vampires simply took note of this and used it to their advantage to take over in modern day society- and it worked. It’s worked in real life as well- the trolls have come out from under their bridges and taken over. One need only look at the events of Charlottesville to know that the haters aren’t hiding anymore- they just needed an excuse to come out and play.

Of course, as much as the left would have one believe that all of what’s wrong with society can be traced directly to the right, the truth is, they are as much to blame for this as anyone. Think about it. A generation of Millennials and now, the up-and-coming Generation Z (those born in approximately the mid-to-late 90’s and onward) have grown up coddled, sheltered, and codified by parents who, thinking they were learning from the mistakes of their own generations, opted to award their kids just for showing up.

As a direct result of this approach, we now have buzzwords like “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces” and more words for different types of sexual orientations and gender identities than you can shake a participation trophy at. It’s enough to drive some people, who grew up just fine without “all your rules, man,” right up a wall and down the road to Crazy Town- and it did. Some people had had quite enough of these “snowflakes” and their mewling, constantly worrying parents, and it was only a matter of time before they snapped.

With “AHS: Cult,” we see the direct result of that. We open, fittingly enough, on “Election Night,” as two very different types of people watch the results, with two decidedly different types of reactions, each representing the oft-wide divide that resides in an average city.

In one house, we see Kai Anderson (“AHS” mainstay Evan Peters) celebrating by humping his massive TV, shouting “USA!” and covering his face with blended Cheesy Poofs to emulate the orangish visage of his hero, Donald Trump, as he lords it over his roommate, sister, and avowed Hillary supporter Winter (Billie Lourd, drafted from Murphy’s now-defunct “Scream Queens” and fitting in nicely).

In another, we see a well-to-do lesbian couple, Ally and Ivy Mayfair-Richards (new recruit Alison Pill, of “The Newsroom,” another politically-minded TV show) and their friends, lamenting what they see as nothing less than the downfall of society as they know it- the absolute worst-case scenario since 9/11. And they’re not joking or exaggerating, either.

Indeed, another couple there, Mr. Chang (Tim Kang, “The Mentalist”) and his wife (Aimee Carrero), almost immediately begin to argue, as the latter didn’t even vote. “We could have won if people like you bothered to vote!” Chang also unknowingly needles Ally, who we later find out, couldn’t bring herself to vote for Hillary and went with also-ran Jill Stein instead, pointing out that, if the people who voted for Stein had voted for Clinton, Hillary would have won the state- something Ally’s wife also berates her for later.

At the end of the show, when the Changs end up dead- even though, by all appearances, it was a home invasion by a group of psychos dressed as clowns spotted by Ally and Ivy’s (possibly adopted) son, Oz (Cooper Dodson, “Daddy’s Home”)- the cops have no trouble buying it as a murder-suicide. After all, the couple were at odds with one another and had been fighting over the results of the election, something even the Mayfair-Richards were privy to.

In reality, it might simply be because Mr. Chang, who also serves on the board of the city council, somewhat dismissively sneered at Kai, when he gave a nutty speech about how “fear” was a healthy emotion we should all embrace, as a sort of protest for the passing of some motion or the other, which we never quite get a handle on. Might Kai have tracked down Mr. Chang and taken him out?

Meanwhile, Ally has gone full-on mental, often drowning in hysterics, as the direct result of the election, combined with a glimpse of her son’s horrific comic book about none other than fan favorite “Twisty the Clown” (a returning John Carroll Lynch), which we see recreated in a post-credits sequence that perfectly mirrors a similar one on “Freak Show,” only, appropriately enough, set in modern day, with accordingly Millennial-esque participants.

The very sight of Twisty sets off a long-buried fear of clowns that Ally has, aka Coulrophobia, which is nice timing, given the imminent release of “IT” this weekend. I’m not convinced Pennywise has anything on Twisty, but we’ll see. In no time, Ally is spotting clowns all over the place, from the local grocery store- tellingly manned by a MAGA red hat-sporting cashier who’s missing a hand- to the high-end restaurant owned by the Mayfair-Richards.

Not just any clowns, either. These deformed-looking creatures look straight out of “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” only they’re given to such colorful activities as humping each other in the produce section and jerking off into the impending second entrée of Ally’s meal. Can they possibly be real?

Well, given that Murphy has already stated that there will be no supernatural shenanigans in this season, I think there’s a good chance they might be. After all, Oz spots them as well, sneaking out of an ice cream truck and going into the Changs. This is later all but confirmed when we see new nanny Winter take Oz over to investigate and hoists him up to take a look-see through a window.

Of course, it could just be the kid’s overactive imagination, given his reading habits, but I don’t think so. Besides, it’s clear from an earlier scene that Kai has recruited his sister into doing something nefarious, though we aren’t quite told what it is. But given that Winter successfully auditions and gets the job of babysitting Oz almost immediately after the conversation, which is amusingly cross-cut with her job interview (“Are you a dyke?” Kai asks, as the show instantly cuts to Winter’s reply to Ally about where she went to school, Vassar), it seems likely.

But just how deep does this go? Kai clearly has other collaborators in all of this, as evidenced by the other clowns we see. Also, the way things happen are just suspicious enough that it seems like a total inside job- might even Ivy be in on it? As she admits to Ally just before a clown spotting, their marriage is clearly on the rocks, due to Ally acting crazy and barely touching her lately. (Ivy says that the only orgasm she’s had in months was the one she gave herself.)

It’s entirely possible that Ivy is actively gaslighting Ally, having had quite enough of her hang-ups and phobias, which also include, of all things, a fear of things with holes, aka Trypophobia, which is set off by everything from a piece of coral in Ally’s psychiatrist’s office (Cheyenne Jackson does the honors as Dr. Rudy Vincent) to the first entrée that Ivy serves her at their romantic dinner to try and set things right in their off-the-rails relationship.

All of this makes for one of the more unnerving seasons of the show in some time right out of the gate, perhaps even more so for those easily-triggered by the likes of psychotic clowns- and I’m not just talking about Trump, lol. Paulson’s character in particular is so on edge that it can’t help but put the viewer on edge as well. Though I don’t know if I’d necessarily call it scary, it is a pretty effective approach that might bode well for the rest of the season if played right.

I’m not entirely sure where the “Cult” part comes in as of yet- is Kai the leader of said cult, and the clowns his recruits? Was that scene in which he baited and taunted a group of Latinos into beating him up, while someone just out of view filmed it, a part of a bigger plan to cause trouble for certain types of people? And was the attack on the Changs payback for Mr. Chang disrespecting Kai at the assembly earlier in the show?

All of this seems likely, but the bigger question is: where does the show go from here? “AHS” is known for starting strong out of the gate, but often either playing their hand too early and/or failing to stick the landing, not to mention overstaying their welcome. Though, to be fair, Murphy and company seemed to recognize this last fault and rectify it last season, which clocked in at relatively stealthy ten episodes, even if it wasn’t my favorite of the series.

It’s hard to say what’s coming next, but, from the various ads we’ve seen going into the season, it obviously involves bees somehow, and I think it’s safe to say things will only get crazier from here. But will it be scarier, by grounding itself in reality? We shall see. Right now, it plays a bit like “The Purge” with clowns, but that could just be for now. Who knows what Murphy and his writers have planned for us next?

Either way, it was an intriguing opening to the never-less-than provocative series, and I like that the writers weren’t above tweaking the left as much as they did the right. I mean, I think we all know what side Murphy and company are on, and it probably isn’t Trump’s, but points for at least trying to be even-handed, by acknowledging the oft-inherent silliness of something like a “trigger warning” or a “safe space.”

While it remains to be seen whether or not the rest of the season lives up to the premiere, so good so far. Now bring on the Cult- and the bees. (NO, NOT THE BEES!)

What did you think of the season premiere of “American Horror Story”? Was it everything you hoped? Any idea where this is all headed? Were you delighted- or mortified, as the case may be- to see the return of Twisty? Do clowns put the fear of God into you? How about holes? Or bees, for that matter? Or is it the alt-right? Or even the alt-left? Sound off down below and let me know what you think and I’ll check back in, in a few weeks from now, once things get going in earnest. Thanks in advance for participating! 😉