‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Season 7 Episodes 6 & 7- SCUM Man-ifesto

In the latest episodes of “American Horror Story: Cult,” the pieces continue to fall into place, as we get a better idea of what the endgame of Kai (Evan Peters) is, and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to make it happen. The show also took care of some of the more questionable plot holes along the way, thankfully, showing that patience is a virtue when it comes to “AHS,” though not everyone watching may have it, needless to say, if internet reaction is any indication.

The show also courted a bit of controversy with “Mid-Western Assassin,” in which Meadow (Leslie Grossman) went off the rails at a political rally held for Kai, shooting him and several others, many of whom ended up dead, before turning the gun on herself. Obviously, the timing of the episode was too close for comfort to the tragic events in Las Vegas, so producer Ryan Murphy wisely trimmed things down a bit, so that the scene wasn’t as graphic as it was originally.

While I’ll allow that I’m not a big fan of censorship, I also completely get it, and applaud Murphy for showing some restraint. It’s quite a sign of where we are as a country when one of the most graphically violent shows on television shows more empathy than our own President, but I guess that’s where we are these days.

Just this week, Trump reportedly called a widow of a fallen soldier and told her, “He knew what he was getting into,” supposedly to “comfort” her, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind people of his almost complete lack of social graces and humanity with Puerto Rico. As of this writing, I still haven’t heard him comment word one on the sad events of California. Why would he? It’s a “blue” state. Such is the world we live in now.

What’s interesting about “AHS” is how it flips the script on such things. Kai’s crew features a solid number of women, homosexuals and one fierce African-American woman, who, in one of my favorite touches, often reports on TV the crimes she herself took part in! Despite Kai’s affinity for the rabble-rousing Trump as a kindred spirit, he actually surrounds himself with the cast-offs of society, embracing a lot of people Trump wouldn’t give the time of day to.

At least he does until the riveting “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag,” featuring a career-best performance from comedic actress Lena Dunham, previously name-checked earlier this season by Winter (Billie Lourd). Granted, her character gives Hannah, her role on the much-lauded “Girls,” a run for her money in the annoying department, with an accent that could peel paint off the walls, but it’s by design- Valerie Solanas (and by extension, Murphy) wants to get under people’s skin.

Solanas, much to her eternal disappointment, no doubt, is undeniably best known for shooting artist-cum-raconteur Andy Warhol, here played in amusing fashion by Evan Peters, adding once more to his arsenal of memorable “AHS” performances. Rumor has it he’ll also be playing Jim Jones and Charles Manson by the end of the season, which should be something.

However, Solanas also was a radical feminist who wrote the so-called “SCUM Manifesto,” the title of which refers to the “society of cutting up men.” Here, she’s basically exactly what the alt-right thinks of when they think of feminists, period- and probably more than a few on the left, if we’re being honest. Of course, all feminism is really about is equality for the sexes, but to a lot of people- many of them women, I might add- it’s a dirty word these days, one that conjures up hairy armpits, close-cropped hair and eternally angry man-hating “Femi-Nazis.”

To that end, Murphy’s- and by extension, Dunham’s- take on Solanas is just that. Solanas has had it up to here with the male Patriarchy ruling things and is hell-fire determined to do something about it. She comes up with a completely insane plan that kicks off after she shoots Warhol, in which her followers go on a killing spree, taking out couples in particular, which, on this show, are actually the murders associated with the “Zodiac Killer.”

Much to Valerie’s consternation, a man takes credit for her well-thought-out-in-advance plans, sending cyphers to the newspapers as said killer. Even worse, it turns out to be one of her own, a homosexual man that’s part of her group that takes it upon himself to do so without her knowledge. Solanas, upon her release from a mental institution, gets to the bottom of this and kills the culprit, knowing it has to be part of her group, and makes the society men-free from there on out.

Unfortunately for them, she also goes completely off the deep end after that, essentially running off her true believers one by one until no one is left but herself. Solanas later dies when she trips and hits her head on the corner of a desk, bringing her sad life to a premature end. (IRL, she died of pneumonia.) Since then, she’s become somewhat of a cult figure, with her most notable work, the “SCUM Manifesto” often being seen as a work of parody, not to be taken entirely seriously, though Solanas claimed otherwise.

Incidentally, there’s a fantastic 1996 movie called “I Shot Andy Warhol,” with an excellent Lili Taylor as Solanas, and which features one of the most affecting stories of a transgender person I’ve ever seen in Stephen Dorff’s take on Candy Darling, long before it was common for movies to tackle such subject matter. It features a fantastic soundtrack and excellent direction by then-future “American Psycho” filmmaker Mary Harron, who also co-wrote the script. It’s much more even-keeled and a less sensational take on the subject matter, and well-worth seeing.

In Murphy and Dunham’s hands, Solanas is a force of nature, determined to take down all men, but smart enough to know her group needs a few in their corner to help do it. If you compare and contrast this to Kai’s approach, it suddenly makes more sense. He’s not above using people- any people- as a means to an end, even if it means casting them aside once they’ve served their purpose, as he does with Meadow, more or less.

In the season’s best twist, however, we discover that Kai’s learned a thing or two from the “SCUM Manifesto” himself, as he uses Bebe Babbitt (“AHS” favorite Frances Conroy) to inspire a sort of “feminist revolution,” first riling the female contingent up by shutting them out, in the wake of the attempted assassination he himself engineered with Meadow, using sex to manipulate her into doing what she did.

Kai surrounds himself with White Nationalist types, who watch over him like guard dogs, wary of anyone and everyone who comes near him, and entertaining one another by slapping each other silly, because that’s what racists do in their spare time, lol. (In my experience, they actually gather in groups to attack one or two people at a time- and not just minorities, mind you- unfairly outnumbering them to ensure their own success like the cowards they are. And yes, I speak from personal experience.)

When Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) pays Kai a visit, he basically tells her that her services are no longer needed at the moment, and that he’ll be in touch. Little does she know that he’s pissing her off by design, having sent along Babbitt to stir up female resentment of him and encourage them to take matters into their own hands in a splinter group.

After Babbitt fills them in on her own role in the Solanas group, and what they allegedly got up to with the Zodiac murders, they’re inspired to lure Harrison (Billy Eichner) to the Butchery restaurant owned by Ivy (Alison Pill) to do some butchering of their own. Mission accomplished, Babbitt reports back to Kai, informing him that the radical feminist group is now officially up and running as planned. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you run an effectively murderous cult.

While I’m still a bit fuzzy on what Kai’s endgame is, I do like that the show has been ducking back here and there to fill in the blanks and show that Murphy was more careful than we thought, in terms of thinking things through. For instance, many complained about the whole timing of the guinea pig microwave massacre. In “Assassin,” we learn that Ivy simply texted Meadow when she and Ally (Sarah Paulson) were about to arrive at their home, thus letting Meadow and Harrison know it was time to enact Mr. Guinea’s demise.

Likewise, we see that Meadow was set free to “spill the beans” on the cult on purpose by Kai, in order to further send Ally down the rabbit hole of insanity. After she takes Meadow to see Dr. Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson)- who is, of course, Kai and Winter’s older brother- to corroborate her claims, Meadow simply leaves as soon as Ally does, to report back to Kai that all is going as planned.

Then, after Kai and company take out a potential local rival, Sally Keffler (Mare Winningham, completely rocking her short time on screen), who Ally goes to for help, also telling her about the cult, they intentionally let Ally go, knowing she’ll run directly to Dr. Vincent. Naturally, upon her arrival, he tells her that Meadow didn’t say a thing to confirm the cult and simply left, thus driving Ally even further down the road of instability.

My only complaint would be, why was Ally arrested, when everyone clearly saw that it was Meadow who did the shooting and Ally was the one who tried to stop her? Hell, Beverly even got it all on video, which was subsequently shown on the news! Granted, we don’t see Ally in the following episode, so it’s likely she will be released soon and I’m just being impatient, but you have to wonder who’s looking after Oz while all of this is going on.

If I had to guess, though, I’d say that Dr. Vincent will likely paint Ally as a nut job and recommend that she be institutionalized for her own well-being, thus completing Kai’s plan to get Ally out of the way for Ivy so that she will have sole custody of Oz without actually killing her, as per Ivy’s wishes. Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t come to it if, say, Ally escapes and tries to kill Kai and/or Ivy. And now, with Ivy having fully embraced her crazy side, who knows what will happen?

I really dug these two episodes overall. To me, this season keeps getting better and better the more we know, and Murphy and his writers have perfectly plotted some real curve-balls this season that I genuinely didn’t see coming. Even more surprising, they did so in a way that made it seem like they were doing their typical making things up as they went along approach, as per usual, only to reveal that- shocker! – they actually thought this one through this time.

Granted, we’ll have to wait and see if this all truly adds up in retrospect, but so far, they’ve doubled-back and covered all the bases quite effectively. Even more impressively, I genuinely have no idea where all this is going. From the reports that the show will be tackling Jim Jones and Charles Manson in future episodes, I can hazard a guess that the show’s crimes might reflect the crimes of those cult leaders, but it might not necessarily end the way their stories did.

For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if, say, Kai had everyone in his cult- or “cults,” I might should say, at this point, given the “new” female splinter group- commit mass suicide, a la Jones’ cult. But I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if Kai uses the internet to amass a bigger following than he has now. After all, he’s still actively recruiting, as seen by the White Nationalist types.

As for how Manson figures in, he’s already got his followers participating in home invasion murders, so there’s that, but perhaps his endgame involves a trial to be seen by all via television, sort of like Manson in the age of Court TV. (Is that still a thing? If not, whatever the current equivalent is nowadays.) It’s entirely possible Kai wants to be martyred for the cause eventually, so as to inspire others to follow his lead. He wasn’t above getting himself shot on purpose to increase his numbers, after all.

However, I still wonder if he’s truly the ringleader, anyway. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Dr. Vincent is the one really pulling the strings, and that he was the one helping Kai along by telling him what to do next. We already know that Dr. Vincent is giving Kai inside info on his patients, in order to terrorize them that much more effectively. Might he have even bigger plans for Kai and his cult that we don’t know yet? Hell, even Kai himself might not know what Dr. Vincent is up to.

I do love the whole notion of a radical feminist splinter group of murderous women, and I’m curious to see what Murphy and his writers do with it, or if it was a one-off sort of thing. Kai did sort of show his hand a bit with Winter, in terms of letting her know that he knew the women were meeting on the sly. Might they strike against him before he has a chance to overpower them? Or might Winter betray her sisters in favor of family?

There are any number of ways this could go, and most of them have the potential to be fascinating, if handled right. So far, Murphy and company have defied expectations by keeping us guessing where this is all headed, and not forgetting to dot their i’s and cross their t’s, as it were. Will it all come together in the end, or fall apart, as has been the case with certain seasons before this? Only time will tell, but so far, so twisted.

What did you think of the latest episodes of “American Horror Story: Cult”? Do you like the direction this seems to be headed in? What did you think of Lena Dunham? Was she annoying or a revelation? (A little of both, IMHO.)

What did you think about how the show tied Solanas in with the Zodiac Killer? (And yes, it didn’t escape me that the killer was represented by a lone figure on the “Hotel” season, thus contradicting what we saw here.) Did you like seeing “AHS” fave Conroy, as well as Jamie Brewer and “Glee” alum Dot-Marie Jones?

Are you looking forward to what the show does with Manson and Jim Jones? Any idea on how they handle it within the context of the show? Any predictions on what happens next? How would you like to see the season end? Would you prefer to see the ladies end up on top, or Kai? Or perhaps even both, to a certain extent? Or would you prefer a “Freak Show”-style bloodbath, where near-everyone dies?

Sound off down below in the comments section, and see you in a few weeks- thanks for reading!