‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Season 7 Episodes 4 & 5- It’s Hard Out There for a Cult

In the two most recent episodes of “American Horror Story: Cult,” we finally found out how the cult started and who was in it, and some semblance of their game plan, in “11/9” and “Holes.” It was a jam-packed couple of episodes, so buckle up: things are about to get spoilery.

Basically, the cult started because Kai (Evan Peters), unnerved by the murder-suicide of his parents, as anyone would be, and upset overall with the state of the world in general, decided that there needed to be changes in society and he was the one to fix it. But how?

With the help of his all-too-willing brother, Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), who supplied some inside information and some Big-Brotherly advice about the way the world works; and his somewhat more reluctant little sister, Winter (Billie Lourd), who spiraled to his way of thinking after Hillary lost the election; Kai slowly-but-surely started to piece together a team of people who essentially felt the same way: disaffected, frustrated and determined not to feel helpless anymore.

Kai and Winter then set about recruiting people. Kai wormed his way into the life of gym trainer Harrison Wilton (Billy Eichner), by using Wilton’s resentment of his boss to pivot him into killing the man, via a heavy weight to his neck. Soon after, a decidedly nonplussed Meadow (Leslie Grossman) was also recruited, after she walked in on her husband and Kai cutting up the body in the bathtub, as you do.

It was cool to see that Harrison and Meadow were actually pretty loving towards one another before Kai turned Harrison against her. Despite this, Meadow did contribute the design of the clown costumes, which, as we know, have a very cool, distinctive look to them. Also, both of them clearly participated in the initial killings before whatever happened happened between them- as of these two episodes, we still don’t know, entirely.

Kai also recruits struggling local reporter Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), who was somewhat disgraced when she snapped on air after being essentially video-bombed by one prankster after another, each of them gleefully spouting variations of Trump’s reprehensible, notorious catch-phrase about “grabbing them by the” you-know-what. Beverly ended up bashing one of the revelers in the face with her microphone to run him off, and was subsequently suspended, as her on-air shenanigans went viral, even inspiring the inevitable “remix.”

Feeling decidedly trapped by the so-called “glass ceiling” and unwilling to sleep her way to the top, like fellow reporter, Serina Belinda (“AHS” mainstay Emma Roberts), Beverly was ripe for recruitment, and soon went on to rise in the ranks to essentially become Kai’s right-hand woman. Her first big assignment proved to be participating in another caught-on-video fiasco: the murder of Serina.

Alas, her boss, the sleazy, pervy Bob Thompson (Dermot Mulroney), refuses to air the video, much to Hope’s and especially Kai’s chagrin, so further steps need to be taken and another attack, this time on Thompson, is planned. As before, this one is filmed, only this time, with no one to stop her, Hope does indeed air the footage on TV, using it to ramp up the fear in town. Thus, by extension, upping Kai’s chances of getting elected to the city council- his primary goal, as of this stage of the cult.

Kai’s master plan is hard to say, but his platform is essentially a plan to “clean up” the city and get rid of the “deplorables,” as it were. We see that the previous event he set up- the self-inflicted attack by Latinos he goaded into beating him up so that he could have someone film it and post it online- was meant to stir up mistrust of the “other,” as in local minorities. Of course, Kai doesn’t really give a crap about that- after all, he recruited Beverly- he’s just using xenophobia and the underlying, simmering, racial hatred in the air to fuel the fire.

Meanwhile, Winter does her part by recruiting Ivy (Alison Pill), thus confirming my and many others’ suspicions that she was indeed in on things. After Ivy is sexually assaulted by an overeager douchebag at a protest rally, Winter steps in the save the day and wins over Ivy, ultimately turning her against wife Ally (Sarah Paulson).

In fact, even the bath tub seduction video set-up proves to be thoroughly planned out, and with Ivy’s consent, down to her son Oz (Cooper Dodson) being the one to discover it. Ivy is a bit on the squeamish side, when it comes to the murdering portion of the cult- she opts out of Thompson’s killing, (understandably) bailing to throw-up after catching a glimpse of Bob’s “gimp” hanging from the attic ceiling, who Kai also murders in decidedly gruesome fashion.

But Ivy comes around for the next one, a thinning of the herd involving a cult member that is wavering a bit more than Ivy herself, who Beverly advises Kai get rid of, to show that weakness will not be tolerated in the group. Beverly is smart enough to know not to do the same with Ivy just yet, as she has not yet worn out her usefulness to the group, but she and Kai make sure that Ivy participates in the murder, down to going first in the assault on the guy, as each of the cult members drive a nail into his head, one by one, via nail-gun, until he’s dead. It takes a while.

It’s pretty clear that Beverly is swiftly becoming the real power player in the cult, having had it with playing second fiddle to anyone. She isn’t above letting Kai think he’s still in control, but note how she turns the tables on his customary “pinky swear” ceremony and actually gets him to confess instead of doing it herself.

We see, via flashbacks, that Kai’s father, after getting into a motorcycle accident that left him wheelchair-bound and paralyzed from the waist down, was an abusive man that endlessly picked on his wife and son, eventually driving her to shoot him and kill herself, in front of a horrified Kai.

On the advice of big brother Rudy, who points out that the event could ruin their lives if it gets out, Kai basically entombs his parents behind a locked door in their house in the bedroom, rather than call the authorities. Note that Beverly now knows this, and could potentially use it against Kai, should he get too out-of-control. The woman clearly knows what she’s doing here.

So, obviously, at this point, we now know that, well, pretty much everyone on the show, save Ally and her son, are member of the cult, from grocery store clerk Gary K. Longstreet (Chaz Bono), who saws his own hand off in order to vote for Trump on Election Day (!); to Detective Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes), who undoubtedly helps cover up the cult’s crimes. Anyone who dissents- or simply annoys Kai, in the case of Meadow (maybe)- is promptly killed off.

I mentioned in a previous review that there weren’t a lot of characters to root for, and these two episodes basically double down on that. At this point, Ally and Oz are the most sympathetic characters on the show, and let’s face it, Ally is pretty damn insufferable. I mean, I feel for her, as she’s clearly being gaslighted within an inch of her life by her own wife- pretty harsh, that- but that doesn’t make her any more likeable, unfortunately.

I basically just want poor Oz to emerge relatively unscathed, but even that seems unlikely, given all that he’s witnessed. Hell, he deserves it for having been stuck with a moniker like Ozymandias his whole life. This is what happens when you have Liberal Arts majors as parents, people. Lol. Hopefully, he won’t have Dr. Vincent as his doctor for his seemingly inevitable therapy on down the line, which would only add insult to injury.

Of course, the problem is, we’re not even halfway through the scheduled eleven-episode season. With literally everyone but a couple of people involved in the cult, there’s not much to hang your hat on, in terms of people to root for, unless you count the cult itself. Granted, in these post-torture porn times, in which filmmakers like Rob Zombie and Eli Roth have more stock in the villains of their work than the supposed heroes, I suppose that’s par for the course.

As “American Horror Story” has progressed, co-creator Ryan Murphy and company seem to have less and less interest in the main protagonists at hand, and more and more in the anti-heroes of the piece. Think about it: who is more memorable on the show, looking back? Taissa Farmiga’s Zoe or Violet? Connie Britton’s Vivien? Sarah Paulson’s various characters? Or Twisty the Clown? Lady Gaga’s Countess? Emma Roberts’ Madison? You get the idea.

The fact is, “AHS” doesn’t really care about the “good” characters- they’re all about the “bad.” Not that one has to have a goody-two-shoes around, necessarily, but I do think it helps to have at least one relatable character around that isn’t completely terrible, so you have someone to root for, even if they are ultimately killed themselves, as many of Murphy’s protagonists inevitably are.

It’s a weird trend as of late in horror, and one that I’m not sure I love, TBH. Back in the day, even run of the mill slasher movies had likable characters, and there was nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t love, say, Laurie Strode, in “Halloween”? Or Nancy, in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”? I don’t see it as a negative to have at least one person to side with, even if they end up dead, and it seems like Murphy and his crew could care less about such things, which is unfortunate.

A lot of whether “AHS: Cult” succeeds will depends on where it goes from here. I didn’t mind the back-and-forth structuring, as it allowed us to try and piece together what was going on, before showing us how we got from there to here. There’s a twisted logic to it all, even if certain things don’t entirely add up- we’re expected to believe that this many people, including, conveniently enough, a local reporter and a police detective, are on board with all of this?

Even if you buy all that, it would certainly help to have someone relatable on board at some point soon, if only to show that not everyone on the planet is a poor excuse for a human being. I also maintain that the show really needs to widen its scope soon. Hopefully, with Kai’s seemingly inevitable ascension to the city council in sight, the show will do just that.

Don’t get me wrong: I dig the premise, and the execution is pretty enjoyable. Horror is my favorite genre, and this season has certainly featured some memorable sequences and visuals. As ever, the opening credits have the power to unnerve, and I won’t soon forget the sight of the “gimp” hanging from the attic ceiling and his subsequent demise.

I also like that no one seems safe this season, with name stars getting offed with alarming regularity, including, most recently, Emma Roberts and Dermot Mulroney. Let’s face it: even Murphy has to know that Roberts’ bitch-on-wheels shtick is getting a bit tired, and that she could do it in her sleep. I love her to death as an actress and human being in general, but bringing her on as a typically nasty character, only to immediately off her was a smart move, and genuinely unexpected.

In fact, if there’s one thing you can undoubtedly say about this season, it’s that it’s been decidedly unexpected at nearly every turn. Sure, a lot of us figured out that, say, Ivy was in on it, and the show itself tipped its hat about Dr. Vincent being involved, but I didn’t necessarily see, say, Dr. Vincent being Kai’s brother coming.

Also, despite the admitted tunnel vision of the show, and the fact that nearly everyone this season is pretty reprehensible, I have to admit, I never know what’s coming more often than not, and that’s not a bad thing, after several relatively predictable seasons. It doesn’t hurt that it’s timely, either, and that Murphy and company aren’t afraid to take potshots at liberals, as well as the expected conservatives, even if we know good and well what side of the bread he’s buttering IRL.

The end result is never boring, and the episodes zip along at a nice clip, with few of them crossing the 45-minute mark. I also like that Murphy took the criticism about the seasons being a little too long and the plots sometimes being a bit haphazard to heart and did something about it. Say what you will about the last few seasons, at least they’ve been relatively focused, especially compared to something like Season 2’s “Asylum,” in which Murphy and his writers seemed to throw anything and everything against the wall to see what stuck.

I mean, okay, “Hotel” was a bit scattershot, granted, but it was easy enough to follow, and for all their faults, “Freak Show” and “Roanoke” were pretty straight-forward overall, which isn’t a bad thing. I also love the idea of all the seasons being connected, and can’t wait for a return to the world of “Coven,” which remains my favorite season. So, the good definitely outweighs the bad, overall.

All we need now is to fix the relative disinterest in the non-villains of the show. I get it- bad guys are more fun to write. But who’s to say the heroes have to be boring? Look at, say, Buffy. She was multi-layered, endearing and complex. You wanted to root for her, not against her. The show could stand a character like that, even if, like I said, they fall prey to the bad guys in the end. If anything, that sort of approach would be a plus, as you would care more.

As it stands, I don’t really care what happens to Ally, which is a big problem. Hopefully, the show will rectify that soon, even if it means, say, Ally figuring out what’s really going on and rallying to her own defense to take out the bad guys one by one and taking control of her own destiny, rather than passively surrendering to it. In a way, that would be kind of poetic, given Kai’s own MO- that fear is a gift, of sorts.

Whatever the case, time to broaden those horizons, “AHS: Cult.” You’ve got a solid premise- don’t blow it. Otherwise, this becomes a cult no one would want to join.