‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Season 7, Episodes 2 & 3- Clowning Around

I had originally planned to wait another week to review “American Horror Story: Cult” again, but damned if they haven’t been dropping bodies with such alarming frequency that I felt compelled to go ahead and do another article a week sooner. Especially if you factor in that many of them are played by known actors that were often set up as potentially prominent characters.

Of course, “AHS” has used this gambit before, notably with Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Adam Levine at the beginning of the second season “Asylum,” though, to be fair, they weren’t as dead as they looked at first, and did, in fact, later return to the show. Still, just one example of many on the show of people that seem important that were promptly disposed of in short order.

Obviously, it’s a by-now familiar horror trope to take out a known guest star early on, having been done as far back as in Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with Janet Leigh and more recently, with Drew Barrymore in “Scream,” which kept the tradition alive in subsequent future installments, including the great series of fake-outs that opened “Scream 4.”

We’re about to dive head-first into spoiler territory here, so fair warning. In addition to the Changs (Tim Kang of “The Mentalist” and Nanrisa Lee), we’ve seen the chef at the restaurant Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Ivy (Alison Pill) owned, Roger (Zack Ward, who’s been in everything from “A Christmas Story” to one of the “Sharknado” movies), being given the “Leatherface” treatment and hung on a hook; followed in short order by cook Pedro (Jorge-Luis Pallo, “Insidious 2”), who was shot by Ally herself in full-on panic mode after a neighborhood black-out.

Then, in the most recent episode, we opened with two more murders in that of Rosie (Laura Allen, of the underrated “The 4400” and “Terriers” and more aptly, the horror pic “Clown”) and her husband Mark (Ron Melendez, who, like Allen, is a soap regular primarily known for “General Hospital”), who were sealed alive in coffins by the killer clowns.

Interestingly, she had just announced to her psychiatrist, Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), who not so coincidentally happens to be Ally’s as well, that she had “conquered her fear” of Taphophobia, or being buried alive- also probably not a chance turn of events. This, of course, heavily implies that Vincent is directly involved, which is driven home by a shot of his messing around with some smiley face pins, which we now know to be the clowns’ insignia of choice, typically with a bleeding bullet hole in its head.

Now, this could all be a fake-out, naturally, with the writers only wanting us to think that Vincent is guilty, when it’s possible that someone could have, say, raided his files to find out about his patients’ respective phobias, which would also explain a lot, given how we already know Ally has been specifically targeted with her fear of clowns. I certainly wouldn’t put it past the nefarious Kai (Evan Peters) to have done precisely that, and left behind those pins as a sort of calling card.

However, I wonder if we’re only meant to think Kai is the leader, when Vincent is the real mastermind. Think about it: Kai has certainly been going about his business in a haphazard way, particularly in regards to the very public way he’s been targeting Ally, which can only draw unwarranted attention to himself. That is, unless he’s using his favorite emotion “fear” to recruit her. But if it is Kai, his methods are awfully convoluted.

Vincent makes more sense, as he could easily be a more buttoned-down Charles Manson-type, giving out orders to his minions while sitting back and enjoying the mayhem he’s causing from afar. There have certainly been nods to Manson on the show, with the crime scenes of the home invasion killings clearly meant to emulate the “Helter Skelter” murders.

But this is only the third episode, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For all we know, this could be a much larger movement- the season is called “Cult,” after all. If that’s true, there’s no telling how many people are involved, and who the leader might be. It could be freaking Lena Dunham, who has already been referenced on the show and is scheduled to make an appearance at some point. Who knows?

Whatever the case, the writers aren’t above dropping lots of hints along with all the bodies. They’re also not stingy with introducing new characters. In addition to Gary K. Longstreet (Chaz Bono), the Trump-supporting grocery worker I believe I forgot to mention from the first episode, who is almost certainly in on things, there’s also local reporter Beverly Hope (“AHS” regular Adina Porter) and another played by Dermot Mulroney (“Shameless,” “Insidious 3”).

There’s also the titular “Neighbors from Hell,” played by comedian Billy Eichner, of “Billy on the Street” and “Difficult People” fame, the latter of which, interestingly, has taken aim at “AHS” and Ryan Murphy on several occasions. Clearly, Murphy has a sense of humor about himself, or he wouldn’t have hired Eichner in the first place.

He’s also loyal: Eichner’s character, Harrison, is married to Meadow, played by longtime Murphy associate Leslie Grossman, who’s appeared on both “Popular,” Murphy’s first, underrated stab at a “Glee”-like show and his “Nip/Tuck.” Both have great juicy roles, with Eichner playing an openly-gay man who honors a pact to marry his straight best friend after they hit a certain age.

Unfortunately, she has one too many rules for his liking, limiting his philandering to once-per-week in nearby Detroit. Meanwhile, Meadow isn’t too happy to see Harrison hitting it off with none other than Detective Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes, “Arrow”), who is investigating the local murders, including the Changs and the Chef, as well as Ally’s “good” shooting of Pedro, which he labels fine under the “stand your ground” law, making no secret of his prejudice towards people of color.

This hits a little too close to home for Meadow, who worries that Harrison will leave her alone, as well as childless, when she secretly longs for kids, even though she admits she doesn’t care for sex, per se. Meadow admits this to Kai in one of his “pinky swear” meetings, while, in a separate meeting, Harrison admits he has grown to hate Meadow and wishes she was dead, albeit with a little unsubtle prodding from Kai.

Harrison gets his wish by the end of the episode, seemingly, when Meadow goes missing, presumed dead, given the massive amount of blood all over Harrison’s house, along with the tell-tale smiley face, which has also been added on the outside of the house, along with the one already on the back side of the front door. According to Harrison himself, the insignia means one’s house has been “marked for death.”

Much to her horror, Ally has one right on her front door, which she accuses Harrison and Meadow of putting there, along with killing their son’s new guinea pig, Mr. Ginny, which is horrifically dispatched in the microwave! I can’t imagine animal lovers cared too much for that one, but yeah, they went there. I guess you can add that to the list of the dead as well. (It’s enough to make you fear for whoever’s dog that is in the opening credits.)

The episode ends with Harrison arrested for the crime, but I suspect his release will be imminent, given his involvement with the leading detective on the case, who is almost certainly in on it with Kai as well. Who better to recruit to help cover up all the murders than a detective with serious prejudices of his own, which he isn’t exactly trying to hide?

Note also that he has dismissed all the clown stuff out of hand, despite somewhat corroborating reports from both Ally and her son. Granted, one’s a child and the other is clearly more than a little bit on edge, given her whacked-out behavior as of late- not to mention the fact that she herself killed a guy- so they aren’t the most reliable of witnesses.

Indeed, Ivy wastes no time in absconding with her son after Ally’s behavior gets to be a little much for her to handle and she begins to fear for his well-being. Not helping matters is the fact that someone filmed Ally’s borderline erotic interaction with nanny Winter (Billie Lourde) in the tub and posted it online and appears to have sent it to their son!

Granted, we know that said indiscretion didn’t quite cross the line, but it sure came pretty close, and certainly looks bad on film, that’s for sure. It goes without saying that Ally was absolutely set-up and that Winter herself probably was the one who filmed and posted it online and sent it to Oz. All the better to gaslight poor Ally.

Actually, I say poor Ally, but, to be honest, Paulson’s character here is a bit on the annoying side. I adore Paulson and think she’s easily one of the most consistent and reliable elements of the show- oftentimes even when a season doesn’t work, she’s amongst the strongest things on it, nonetheless. And she 100% earned every one of the awards she got for playing Marcia Clark on Murphy’s “American Crime Story,” that’s for sure.

But, for whatever reason, I find her character a bit on the grating side here, and honestly can’t say I blame Ivy for having had her fill of Ally, even only three episodes in. I’m kind of right there with her. The problem with that is obvious- without any major characters to relate to and actively root for, the show is left a bit rudderless, you know?

My hope is that Ally will turn the corner and actually join Kai’s cult- or whoever’s cult it actually is. Either that, or the show could continue to surprise by taking Ally out altogether and shifting gears towards Ivy as the leading lady instead. That would certainly get people’s attention.

Also worth noting is that series regular Emma Roberts is scheduled to show up next week, according to reports. Might she also be a potential leading lady this season? Rumor has it she’s also playing a reporter, and given all these name actors playing reporters, it wouldn’t be that surprising if the show completely shifted gears to another perspective soon, and put the current main cast on the back-burner for now, or at least some of them.

Whatever the case, I do think that the show needs to mix things up, or it could risk becoming rote and predictable, with each new character introduced being subsequently knocked off within the same episode (as with the latest ep), which might get old fast, even if they are played by recognizable faces.

While I wouldn’t at all put it past the writers to radically shift the tone of the show before too long, I do hope it comes sooner than later, even though I enjoyed all of the episodes thus far. There have certainly been some memorable moments along the way, and some laugh-out-loud funny lines throughout, along with some amusing, pointed political humor.

I’m actually digging the new, more realistic vibe the show has lately, what with Murphy having abandoned the supernatural, if only for this season. At the very least, I hope he and the writers keep that up, and the whole thing isn’t a big psych-out and there’s something occult-driven going on after all. But that doesn’t mean they can’t mix things up a bit by knocking us for a loop soon.

In fact, I’m hoping such will be the case, as I’m not sure the show can maintain the current vibe for too much longer without growing stale. By opening up the narrative and showing that what’s going on is more widespread than we first assumed, it could function much as one of the more obvious influences, “The Purge,” does and get progressively more intense and surprising as it goes along, just as that series has with each subsequent film in the ongoing series.

In the meantime, overall, I’m liking it so far. I just wish there were at least a few more likable characters on the whole, instead of everyone being one lit match away from a complete dumpster fire. The amusing sense of humor helps, there are some admittedly genuinely creepy scenes and Eichner in particular is an inspired add, but only time will tell if it’s enough or if things become monotonous sooner than later.

As longtime fans of the show know, things can go either way at any given time. It might get progressively better and lead to an inspired climax, or it might fall apart at the seams and become borderline unwatchable. Hell, knowing this show, it could end up a little of both. You just never know.

But there are signs that things could go in a completely different direction soon, which is good. For instance, I legitimately have no idea where the whole potentially toxic gas spray thing is going. Is the gas meant to cause hallucinations? Or turn people into sheep? (Not literally, I feel compelled to say, given the show we’re dealing with here.) Or lull them into sleep? I couldn’t tell you, but it is interesting.

I also liked that the psychiatrist seemed in on things and could potentially be the ringleader. It would be even more interesting if he was only the ringleader of this particular chapter of the cult, and that there are many more spread out across the United States, each with their own MO and way of doing things. That could be really cool and unpredictable.

However, we desperately need to know a little more about what Kai is specifically up to and why he seems to be targeting Ally more than anyone else, and yet opting not to directly harm her. I read a theory that Kai was the sperm donor that Ally and Ivy used to make Oz, and if that’s true, that might be interesting, but only to a point.

We definitely need more and for at least some of the dots to be connected sooner than later, or this will start to feel too dragged out on the whole, which wouldn’t be good this early on in the season. We also really need a sympathetic character to latch on to, and soon. Most seasons have had at least one, but this one hasn’t as of yet, if you don’t count Ally.

I feel bad for her and what’s she’s going through, but the character just isn’t connecting with me, and it’s making her more grating than relatable. Factor in the fact that she really didn’t seem that rattled by killing Pedro and was all-too-willing to go along with the detective’s cover story, and it’s not exactly helping her cause. Ditto her treatment of Ivy, or even Oz, to a point. Taken as a whole, it’s all a bit problematic.

But the premise certainly has promise and there is much I do like about it, so all hope is hardly lost. The show just needs to pick up the pace and deliver some answers in order to keep us interested and not just seeming like it’s going through the motions. Nothing is deadlier than horror than being boring. That’s way scarier than any killer clowns, am I right?

What do you think of this season of “American Horror Story” so far? Are you still onboard, or do you share some of my issues? What direction would you like to see the show go in next? Do you relate to any of the characters? Would the show be better off without Ally? Are you looking forward to the return of Emma Roberts? Any predictions on what will happen next? Sound off down below in the comments section, and thanks for reading!