The lines are drawn! It's men vs. women in the seventh episode of American Horror Story: Cult

Contributed by
Oct 18, 2017

This week Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, makes her appearance. Through a variety of flashbacks, we see Valerie's "rise" to infamy.

Kai won the city council seat, and since then his cult has become something of a sausage fest, populated by young white men in matching button-down shirts and high 'n tight haircuts that are eerily reminiscent of Hitler Youth. The remaining female cult members -- Ivy, Beverly, and Winter -- meet at the Butchery with a new friend Beverly made.

The friend is Bebe Babbitt, a former lover of Valerie's, and part of her SCUM cult. The two met in 1967 at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. Valerie, a radical feminist, was reading from her SCUM Manifesto, a vitriolic tome that advocated the complete eradication of the male gender through violent means. SCUM stood for "Society for Cutting Up Men." Valerie and her group relocated to San Francisco, and promised Bebe to wait for a sign. That sign was when Valerie went into Andy Warhol's Factory and shot him.

Bebe and the other SCUM started murdering couples on isolated make-out roads, in what Valerie termed "couple busting," accusing women who "spread their legs" for men to be complicit. The murders Bebe describes are the murders of the Zodiac Killer. The Zodiac murders were, in actuality, SCUM murders. By this time, Valerie was incarcerated in a prison for the criminally insane, running her SCUM operation from the inside. Someone started sending the Zodiac ciphers to the San Francisco newspapers, which enraged Valerie, who blamed a man for taking the credit. Valerie doesn't want to come forward yet; she wants them to have 1,000 SCUM killings under their belts before they reveal themselves.

By 1973, Valerie is out of prison and back with her small, devout band of followers. Previously, she had allowed effeminate gay men into SCUM, but she decides that one of the two in the group was responsible for taking credit for the murders. Bruce finally admits it, and the women slaughter him. Bruce is later found in pieces laid out to look like the Zodiac's call sign. His dick and balls have been cut off and jammed in his mouth.

Bebe continues her story with Valerie confessing to being the Zodiac killer. The cops don't believe her and physically remove her from the police station. Bebe claims that caused Valerie to snap (like she was so stable before), and she made a hit list that included Hugh Hefner, Billy Graham, Bobby Riggs, and Steve McQueen. This was too much for even the most loyal followers, and they all eventually left Valerie -- even Bebe. Valerie's schizophrenia took hold and she went down a crazy rabbit hole, determined to write her complete manifesto, and blaming an imaginary Andy Warhol for taking her art, her life, and her legacy. Bebe shares a copy of the SCUM Manifesto with the ladies, and tells them they must reclaim their power.

 

I have been obsessed with Andy Warhol and his Factory since I was a teenager, so I am very familiar with him and Valerie Solanas. Valerie's story is fairly accurate, as accurate as a story mostly told by a mentally ill woman can be. (For example, in the show, Bebe said Valerie had two children before she was 15 and at least one of them was either her father or stepfather's. In reality, there are disputes as to whether Valerie had a second child, and her cousin claims the child was the product of an adulterous affair with a sailor.) I took issue with Warhol's misogyny. He is dismissive of Valerie at the top of the episode, telling her that "women can't be serious artists." It is true that Andy lost or threw away the play that Valerie showed him; that was the catalyst for her attempted murder of Warhol. But by most accounts, Warhol held women in high regard. He was no more dismissive of women than he was of men; that was just Andy's way. I also took issue with the couch in the Factory. It was silver-gray in the show, but in real life, it was a red velvet couch, one that was infamous for collecting bodily fluids of everyone in the New York art scene.

Back to the show. Winter checks on Kai, who is visiting with their parents. Kai begs for Winter's help in changing the world, and Winter agrees -- she loves her brother, even though she doesn't love his politics. Then he reveals the SCUM Manifesto he found in her room. She plays it off as an old college book, but Kai doesn't believe it. In fact, he found it inspiring and decides he needs a philosophy; a mission statement. He suggests a couple titles for his group, one being FIT: Fear Is Truth. Then he suggests MLWB: Men Lead, Women Bleed. Winter doesn't like that one, and Kai says that one was Harrison's idea.

Ivy lures Harrison to the Butchery, where the other women, new SCUM, are waiting for him. Bebe is reading from the manifesto, and the women tie him up, demanding answers. Harrison swears Meadow wasn't supposed to die, but her death has more meaning. He also denies coming up with the acronym MLWB, but the women don't buy it. "We are SCUM!" screams Ivy as she brings a buzz saw down on him.

Kai watches the news that night, in which Beverly reports on the gruesome discovery of Harrison's dismembered corpse, "covered in pond scum." It is an obvious taunt to Kai, with Beverly suggesting this is retribution for the murders his wife committed, and points out that the "law & order" Kai promised is not coming to fruition. This is a declaration of war from the women -- one that Kai was expecting. "They're at their best when they are angry," he comments. The camera pulls away to reveal he is watching TV with Bebe, who responds with "Aren't we all?"

Tonight's episode was a standout for me, and finally helped me love this season. First, the titular "cult" is finally being delivered. Second, nothing was too political, so I didn't feel like I was going to vomit for half the episode. Third, Ally wasn't in this episode. She has gotten less obnoxious over the episodes, but it still felt like a relief not to have her. Fourth, Lena Dunham was fabulous as Valerie Solanas. Just give her the Emmy for best guest star now. Fifth, I really liked the idea that maybe Zodiac wasn't one man, but a cult of women.

I didn't like the implication that, because Evan Peters played both Kai and Andy Warhol, Warhol was a cult leader. It is pretty clear that Valerie was the cult leader in that situation. For the record, in real life, Valerie tried to hold "recruitment" meetings for SCUM, but it didn't gain any traction. Her manifesto didn't gain any sort of notoriety until after she attempted to kill Warhol, and then it was largely dismissed as too radical. Additionally, Valerie has both embraced and denied that SCUM was an acronym. While she advertised for members of her society, in a 1977 interview with The Village Voice, Valerie claims that SCUM was just a "literary device. There's no organization called SCUM — there never was, and there never will be."

For the record, Valerie Solanas died in 1988 after a bout of pneumonia. Andy Warhol died in 1987 from complications after gallbladder surgery.

Let's hear your thoughts on tonight's episode! Did you think it was better or worse for stepping away from the politics?