Do Your Cookie Breathing: American Horror Story: Cult, ‘Election Night’

***Spoilers for American Horror Story:  Cult through Episode 1 follow. Spoilers***

American Horror Story showrunners, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have become experts at drawing in a particular audience who love things that go crazy in the night; thuds and bumps and bloody-faced killers, freaks, clowns, and serial murderers, oh my. Every year we come slinking back in, head and shoulders down, knowing everything will eventually go utterly off the rails and yet, seemingly unable to resist their dark arts.

In the seventh season opener which, using real footage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, relives the lead in and results of last year’s presidential election, it doesn’t much matter who won or lost; what’s important is the fear it causes on both sides of the equation, and the people smart enough to exploit that emotion. While liberal representative, Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson), her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill) and friends watch horrified, as results come in — “I won’t believe anything until I hear Rachel Maddow say it” — Evan Peters’ simultaneously hilarious and chilling Kai Anderson is already planning his moves … which include a blender-ful of mashed Cheetos, urine-filled condom, spilled coffee and sinister speeches. For the anti-Trumpsters, Kai is a perfect representative of what might at first seem mockable, but make no mistake, this guy is dangerous. While it’s not yet clear what control he has over his followers (or even who, exactly, they are), Evans’ charismatic and calculated character acts quite quickly. By hour’s end, a costumed group of clowns commits a ritualistic murder resembling the (Manson family’s) infamous Tate-LaBianca killings, with stabbings and drawings on a wall using the victims’ blood. (I’m firmly Team Oz, on the happenings)

Speaking of costumes, though we’re meant to question whether Ally’s coulrophobia — fear of clowns —  is coloring what the audience sees, this being the show it is, we know at least some of those clowns are real. A callback to AHS:  Freak Show may have simply been from a scene in Oz Mayfair-Richards’ (Cooper Dodson) Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) comic; the grocery fornicators and bedmate all in Ally’s mind, but I guarantee those people across the street were not part of a “murder-suicide”. In fact, I’m willing to bet Detective Samuels (Arrow‘s Colton Haynes) turns out to be under Kai’s influence; there was something very off about him.

Though this was one of the series’ quieter openings, the mix of reality, fantasy and Ally’s altered state of psychology, and the main trio’s excellent performances grounded “Election Night” in a way that’s been lacking in recent seasons. Paulson, in particular (as always), imparted a perfect realism to Ally’s phobias, as control was lost, the hyperventilating was contagious — I felt my own chest grow heavy alongside her shallow gasping. Alison Pill’s understandably frustrated Ivy does her best to be a supportive voice of reason, and we share her upset as wife and mother watches Ally’s raving crumble their world. Young Cooper Dodson is particularly impressive as their son Oz, a boy finding his own way through fear, unfortunately guided by instability in his own family, and the terrifyingly awful new nanny, Winter (Billie Lourd) sent by brother, Kai to create chaos in the Mayfair-Richards home. As for Evan Peters, who in past seasons has danced between comic and serious, he’s definitely the one to watch closely here. After Kai’s ominous warning at a city council meeting, his disturbing baiting — which resulted in an intended, caught on camera, beatdown — and a targeted run in with Ivy and Ally, there’s no doubt he’s the titular group leader. The ramifications of his newfound power are a little too real, and Peters is happily chewing his every scene. Of note, the actor will be playing multiple cult leaders (in alternate timelines):   Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson, and Andy Warhol (personality), which begs the question — is Kai a supernatural being (perhaps carried over from another season)?

Deep Thoughts:

Is Ally and Ivy’s restaurant truly called Butchery on Main? Oh, RyMurph …

Hallelujah and cheers for John Carroll Lynch’s delightfully terrifying return. Twisty the Clown is one of AHS‘ best creations, if only because of Lynch’s nuanced portrayal. What a wonderful surprise to have his comic scene come to life (which also playfully reminded of Asylum‘s Leo and Teresa.

Not that anyone should be surprised, but Billie Lourd is excellent. Still, terrorizing children? WWCS (What Would Carrie Say)?

Admittedly, my attention to Roanoke waned; word has it that the Changs have a connection to that season.

Great Lines:

Ivy:  “Do your cookie breathing.” (Which, what the ever-loving heck is that?)

Ally:  “What’s gonna happen to Merrick Garland?”

Winter:  “What is wrong with CNN not giving us a trigger warning before announcing the results?”

“If I get pregnant now, where will I go for an abortion?”

Kai:  “There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man.”

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over ten years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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