The following recap contains major spoilers for American Horror Story: Cult Episode 4: "11/9."
This week, we go back in time to understand how all our characters got to where they are. This was what I was waiting for: the "cult" part of AHS: Cult. Plus, there was very little Ally in this episode, and when she was in it, she was calm and sane (well, if you can call voting for Jill Stein "sane").
Beverly Hope is reporting from the polling place and trying her best to ignore Serena, the bitchy young hotshot "journalist" who is exactly the kind of person who should have her own show on Fox News. All of our characters are lined up, waiting to vote. The votes fall roughly where you imagine they would: Beverly, Ivy, Winter all vote for Clinton. Serena votes Trump. Harrison votes Gary Johnson. Meadow writes in Oprah. Ally weighs her decision, then votes for Jill Stein.
Kai brings Gary into the polling place. He is bleeding, but demands to vote. He votes Trump, as does Kai. When he is done Gary steps out of his cubicle, thrusts his bleeding, stumpy arm into the air, and screams "Welcome to Trump's America, motherf***ers!"
The day after the election, Kai starts training with Harrison. He asks what flavor of gay Harrison is, and Harrison is taken aback. Kai makes it clear that he thinks it is the left that is dividing people up by titles, and insists if someone is part of his "crew," he would fight for them, kill for them, even "make sure they know how much I love them." (In other words, he would help out Harrison with a boner if he needed it.) Vinny, the beefcake jabroni who runs the gym, tells Harrison he needs to go clean up the jizz in the steam room because he laid of the "undocumented" maintenance crew. Kai understands immediately: Vinny does that because Harrison is gay. It is to humiliate him.
Harrison cleans up the steam room, then goes to the bathroom and changes. He hears grunting and finds Kai jacking off in the shower, the door open. He promises to clean up after himself. This is not Kai trying to turn on Harrison; this is merely Kai exhibiting how free he is. Harrison seems to enjoy this and takes it for what it is.
At home, Harrison finds Meadow crying. The bank is foreclosing on the house; they have to be out in three days. A huge fight ensues, with each partner blaming the other. She kisses him and tries to unzip his pants, but he pushes her off. "How many times has that ever worked for you?"
Back at work, Vinny tells Harrison if he doesn't upsale Kai he is fired. Desperate to maintain his job, he tries it, but Kai immediately senses something false in his tone. Harrison finally admits that the bank has foreclosed and he has nothing. Kai tells him it is a great place to be, because now he is free and he can do whatever he wants. Harrison admits that Kai is the only thing keeping him going. "Live your life the way it was meant to be," Kai advises. "To live is to suffer. Find some meaning in that suffering."
And this is how cults work. A cult leader preys upon the weak, the lost, the uncertain, and fills their emptiness with words of hope, and someone they can lean on. Sometimes a cult leader needs to open the wound more, so they can fill it with more words of "love." It's what Charlie Manson did; it's what Jim Jones did; it's what Marshall Applewhite did.
Harrison is sent back to mop up the steam room again, and Kai comes in, again pointing out that Vinny is humiliating him, and encourages Harrison to take power into his own hands. Encouraged, Harrison marches out to the empty gym, where Vinny is bench pressing enormous weights. He crushes Vinny with his own weight, then stares, shocked that he did it. Kai is proud. Vinny starts to cough and it becomes clear he is not dead. Panicked, Harrison grabs a barbell and bashes his head in.
After, he freaks out. Kai is unflappably chill, taking care of everything. He sends a text to all Vinny's friends (from Vinny's phone), saying that he will be out of town for an emergency; then he erases the last three weeks of surveillance video, chalking it up to a virus. Kai is proud of Harrison; he took a step towards something, "bigly." Now it is time to take care of the body.
Meadow is walking home to the rent-by-the-hour motel she and Harrison have been forced to move into. She offers to have sex with a couple of scumbags smoking pot out by the pool. The scumbags aren't that scummy - they just give her the joint. She goes to her room, and walks in on Harrison cutting off Vinny's head, with Kai coaching from the sidelines. She asks who Kai is. "Someone to believe in," says Harrison.
We jump ahead to December 2016. Beverly is reporting on a headless body found at the local landfill. Despite getting the juicier story, she is pissed that Serena gets all the happy, chill fluff pieces. Kai is watching this segment, paying particular attention to newscaster Bob, who tells Beverly it is great to have her back. A quick Google search reveals that in several news pieces, Beverly had been interrupted by scumbags who jumped into the frame and shouted about "grabbing pussy." After the third incident, Beverly loses her s*** and beats a skateboarding kid with her microphone. As such, Beverly spent 30 days in a voluntary mental facility.
At work, Beverly walks in on Bob fondling Serena. They have words, leaving Beverly furious and Serena and Bob quite secure in from their privileged white perches. So Beverly goes outside and slashes Serena's tires. This is where Kai finds her, and takes her out for coffee.
At the cafe, Kai works his cult leader magic, empathizing with her, the world is set up to humiliate them, but especially Beverly, a black woman. Kai recommends she slash throats, not tires, and suggests fear in Michigan can infect the world in a few days. Great men and women weaponize fear, but they always had a great messenger; someone with a pulpit. He sees she has rage, rage like he has never seen before. He leaves her his card, certain he will see her in a few days.
Serena is shooting a pre-roll in support of a pet adoption fair - and she is being a raging bitch. She doesn't want to hold a puppy! What a monster. Anyway, they roll, and Serena does her spiel. A clown approaches from behind, and the cameraman tries to wave him away. Two more clowns join, and they do not hesitate to violently stab and slash Serena to death. The cameraman rushes to help, but the clowns slaughter him, too. Fear not: the puppy is just fine. The clowns aren't monsters.
Kai is at home with Harrison and Meadow, genuinely complimenting Meadow on her art. Beverly bursts in, wanting to know if Kai "did it." Without hesitation, Kai says yes. He did it (killed Serena) without apologies. He did it for Beverly, so she would believe that he would do anything for her. Beverly believes in him; Kai believes in her. They embrace. Another one joins the cult. In Beverly's next news report, she reports on the discovery of Vinny's head, and lays on the fear. "Are our children safe? How much before we say enough?" Kai watches this - and smiles.
We have one more story to cover: Ivy's. Hers starts the day before the election, with Ivy trying to convince Ally to come with her to a protest. Ally still plans on voting for Jill Stein, swearing it is only because she thinks Trump has no chance of winning. Ivy goes to the protest, where Clinton and Trump supporters face off. Ivy faces off with Gary, who grabs Ivy's crotch in a show of solidarity with Trump. Ivy freezes, but Winter steps in, threatens to call the police, and chases him. Gary gets into his truck and leaves. Winter checks on Ivy and suggests they go get some food.
It is at this point, before anything else happens, that I have decided Ivy is a hypocrite for leaving Ally after she discovers the video of her and Winter in the tub. As far as I'm concerned, Ivy kept this a secret, and as the episode goes on, we see that her relationship with Winter goes in a different - but just as extreme - direction. Anyway, Ivy feels stupid for just freezing; Winter calms her, assures her that she is in the right, that this is not normal.
Gary is closing up the grocery store when he finds a woman still in the aisle. It is Winter, and he doesn't recognize her. She asks about the kinds of tape he stocks, and Ivy Tasers him from behind. When Gary wakes, he is in a basement, handcuffed to a pipe. Winter and Ivy are there, their faces concealed, and they promise they will tell the police where he is after the election. This is all about preventing him from voting. "Consider yourself silenced!" proclaims Winter as she tapes his mouth shut. Winter goes home, and finds Kai waiting for her in her room. He sees a smudge of blood on her chin, and she admits she hurt someone - and that it felt fantastic. Kai wants to know everything.
Kai finds Gary in the basement. Gary begs him for help - he has to go vote. Kai will help, but all he brought was a hand saw. He wants Gary to Saw his way out of this. Kai wants to know how bad he wants to vote for Trump. "For eight years they've been telling you there is something wrong with you for being a straight white male. This is your chance to get back at them." Kai then points out that Gary has been humiliated. Gary accepts the saw. Kai makes a tourniquet for him out of his belt, and watches as Gary saws through his arm. I may watch too many horror movies because all I could think is that Gary would have a much easier go at it if he sawed at the wrist joint - less bone to cut through.
And so we see Kai forming his cult. He uses all the classic cult leader techniques. I haven't decided if Kai actually believes in anything he preaches, or if he is just saying what he needs to say to get the results he wants.
It took four episodes, but this season of American Horror Story is finally shaping up to be a strong one.