American Horror Story: Cult Episode 1: Relive the horror of election night

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Sep 6, 2017

SPOILER WARNING: The following is a detailed recap of American Horror Story: Cult Episode 1: "Election Night." 

American Horror Story: Cult is finally here, and honestly, I don't know how I feel about it.

As promised, the show opens on election night, and I was surprised by how shocking it felt to be sucked into that nightmarish election cycle. Before I go on, I feel obligated to tell you: I voted for Hillary. Not because I was voting against Trump, but because I actually wanted her to win. Trump terrified me on the campaign trail, and 200+ days into his term, that terror still permeates. I like to believe that I can give people the benefit of the doubt, but after eight months into Trump's term, I am just grateful on a daily basis that we are not sucked into a nuclear war, we still have a functioning judiciary, and that I haven't been beaten for having been born to Jewish parents.


We see two very different types of voters on election night. Kai (Evan Peters) is ecstatic when Trump wins - a win he watches on Fox News, naturally. He is so excited he humps his television, then grinds up a bag of Cheetos in the blender and smears it on his face while practicing his Trump impression. He goes down the hall to Winter's (Billie Lourd) room and offers her his pinky (the importance of which will be explained later on). I think they are siblings, but their relationship is never established. Before Kai comes in, Winter is on the phone with a friend, freaking out about the evening. She dropped out of college to work on the Hillary campaign full time, is worried that she won't be able to get an abortion if necessary and wishes that CNN gave a "trigger warning" before announcing the winner. To Kai, she admits that she is so scared right now. Kai smiles. "Everyone is."

On the other side of the political spectrum is Ally (Sarah Paulson), who is gathered with her wife, Ivy (Allison Pill), and their neighbors, the Changs, watching the results on MSNBC. "I won't believe it until I hear it from Rachel Maddow," Ally insists. But the results are in, and Ally is hysterical. The liberals blame each other for not voting, or for casting "protest votes" for Jill Stein. Ally and Ivy's son, Oz, is in the kitchen, scared that his "mommies won't be married anymore."

We get a useless scene of a pair of twentysomethings fooling around in a meadow, only to be attacked by Twisty the Clown. It comes across as a scene from a movie, but in fact it is a scene from a comic book that young Oz is reading. He tries to hide it when Ally comes in, and that is when we learn that Ally suffers from coulrophobia (assuming that we hadn't watched any trailers leading up to the premiere), a phobia of clowns. Ivy calms her wife and child down and promises Ally they will work through her fears.

Ally visits her psychiatrist and admits that, ever since election night, her phobias are back. These include, but are not limited to, clowns, blood, confined spaces, holes, and air particles. The last time things were this bad was after 9/11. She powered through because she met Ivy and had a reason to fix herself. Dr. Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) prescribes Ally a mild anti-anxiety medication, which Ally is resistant to take.

At a town hall meeting, Kai steps up to speak against putting more cops on patrol at the Jewish Community Center. Unsurprisingly, he is the only one. Kai believes fear is currency, and that every day, people are choosing fear over freedom. Tom Chang knows that "it feels good to have your worst instincts validated," but insists "this is a blip." The vote passes unanimously. As Kai leave, he mutters, "There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man." That is chilling.

Ally goes to the supermarket late at night and finds she is the only customer there. Gary, working the checkout lane (and played with goofy irony by Chaz Bono), puts on a Make America Great Again hat. Shaken, Ally hurries to get on with her shopping. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a pair of terrifying clowns, just standing there. The longer she is in the store, the more visions of evil clowns she has: a pair fu**ing in the produce aisle; one that pops up around a corner; and one with three faces, each with a penile-like nose. She throws a bottle of wine at the perceived danger. Finally, she runs out of the market, locks herself in her car, and calls Ivy in a panic.

At home, Ivy says goodbye to a detective, then goes to check on Ally. Ally insists that she was targeted and terrorized, someone who knew her fears. "They wanted to murder me." The cops found no evidence of a clown attack, and Gary didn't see anything - just Ally screaming and throwing bottles of wine.


Determined to start things over, the next day the couple go to their restaurant, The Butchery. They haven't been there since the election (I'm not sure what the time frame is here, if the inauguration has taken place or not). Ivy expresses her frustration with their relationship and wants her partner back. Ally promises to get this under control. The pair leave, seemingly on stronger footing. But outside, as they begin to fight over Ally's vote for Jill Stein, coffee is thrown on them. The two see Kai, who claims (unconvincingly) that he "tripped." "Enjoy your latte, bitch," he says before stomping off.

Ally and Ivy have to hire a new nanny. Winter answers their ad and gives all the right answers. She was a Women's Studies major at Vassar, put her education on hold to work for the Clinton campaign and plans to go back to school. Her proudest moment was when Lena Dunham retweeted her.

This scene is intercut with Winter and Kai playing a "game," and this is where the pinky finger comes into play. Kai reminds Winter that the rules are, once contact is initiated, she agrees to answer all his questions. They lock pinkies, and, among other questions, Winter claims she has never wanted to kill anyone. Kai calls bullshit, claims she wants the people who elected Trump to die. Winter does admit that Kai is what scares her the most.

Winter is hired as Oz's new nanny.

Kai goes out to torture a group of Hispanic men. While singing "La Cucaracha," he pees into a condom and flings it at the men. They respond by beating the hell out of Kai. Unsurprisingly, someone is hiding, filming the entire scene.


Ivy takes Ally to the Butchery to give her a sample of the new menu she has whipped up. While Ivy is in the kitchen, Ally starts seeing more clowns stalking her (which, frankly, is getting boring), as well as a quiche that bleeds.

But the interesting stuff is happening at home, where Winter is grilling Oz about who his "real" mommy is and who his daddy is. She is obviously trying to shatter his self-identity, but he seems unconcerned. He is too distracted drawing Twisty the Clown murdering someone. Winter asks if he has ever seen a real dead body and takes him upstairs to show Oz the "dark web," where you can find all the "cool stuff," like dead bodies.

(First of all, Winter goes to the "dead body" site off of a Google-like search engine, and the website they go to has an actual URL. The dark web can only be accessed via special software and IP addresses. This was no "dark web." And second, you can find dead bodies on the regular Internet.)

Anyway, Oz doesn't want to see anymore, until Winter explains that watching death is like getting a vaccination for his brain. Oz toughens up and agrees to watch more while Winter fetches cookies. A noise outside draws Oz to the window, where he sees a half-dozen clowns pile out of an ice cream truck then sneak into the Chang house. They are clowns that Ally saw stalking her at the market.

When Ally and Ivy arrive home, they discover their street blockaded by police and ambulances. The ladies rush past the police tape, worried something happened to Oz. He appears, totally fine, but points to the Chang house. Tom and Marilyn are dead, and Oz claims the clowns did it.

In Oz's telling, he and Winter go outside and find no clowns near the truck. They run towards screams coming from the house, and Oz sees the clowns murdering the Changs. One of them draws a happy face on the wall in Tom's blood. The whole scene has a very Manson Family vibe.

Oz claims Winter wouldn't let him tell the police what he saw. Winter tells Ally and Ivy that she's not calling Oz a liar, but he didn't come up with the tale of the killer clowns until after the cops showed up. Ally relaxes - slightly - when she reveals that Oz sometimes has night terrors. Maybe that is what happened here. The detective says it looks like it was a murder-suicide.

In one final, pointless scare, Ally wakes in the middle of the night when she thinks she hears a noise. She rolls over and instead of being in bed with Ivy, she is in bed with a clown.

I am not sure how I feel about this new season of AHS. The real political footage scared the hell out of me. The stuff Ally went through was upsetting because I saw way too much of myself in her reaction. But by the end, I was annoyed with her overdramatic outbursts. I don't like this idea that we are going to spend the entire season wondering if the clowns are real or imagined.

The first episode was a little unbalanced. In interviews, series creator Ryan Murphy promised that there would be stuff that both liberals and conservatives would love. Everything seemed very anti-conservative (or, more accurately, anti-Trump). The only things in this week's episode for the right to make fun of the left for is some of their ridiculous "snowflake" details: Rachel Maddow, "trigger warning," "self-harm," etc.

What did you think? Is this your version of an American horror story? 

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