The penultimate episode of American Horror Story tends to be the climax of the season, while the finale usually serves almost as an epilogue of sorts. In Roanoke, Lee (Adina Porter) becomes possessed and murders all of the remaining survivors. In Hotel, Lady Gaga’s character is murdered and reunites with her husband as ghosts. Anyone hoping for an even remotely satisfying penultimate of Cult was sadly out of luck however, because “Charles (Manson) In Charge” was an unmitigated mess of an episode. The showdown between Kai and Ally viewers were hoping for never came to fruition, as last week’s storyline was largely forgotten and Sarah Paulson’s character was treated almost like an afterthought.
The episode cold opens with a flashback to the final presidential debate, when Kai gets into an argument with Winter’s friends who are over watching, and he assaults one of them. Two weeks later, a title card reads, Kai has been required to undergo mandatory court-ordered anger management — even though no court on any plane of reality moves that fast — where he meets Bebe Babbitt (Frances Conroy) as his therapist. Bebe sees something special in Kai, within, oh, five minutes of meeting him, and recruits him to be her tool to help her break open the “dam of female rage” which Trump had already started chipping away at, to usher in a new movement of female revolution. Yes, this is apparently what this entire season has been leading up to.
But that’s almost besides the point, because after a scene featuring a too-soon Charlottesville-style clash at a rally between Kai’s militia and counter-protesters, the episode devolves into a Charles Manson-themed affair. Kai tells the story of the Sharon Tate murderers to his group of cartoonish men’s rights dudes, narrating as the real-life crime is acted out in flashback by Billy Eichner, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, and Leslie Grossman. How this contributes to the overall narrative, especially this close to the end of the season, is anyone’s guess — other than to have an increasingly delusional Kai “haunted” by the ghost of Manson (also played by Evan Peters) later in the episode.
Elsewhere, the rest of the episode was just as much all over the place. It’s probably easiest to just bullet out the remaining plot points:
* A small group of Kai’s men, led by Gary (Chaz Bono) break into the local Planned Parenthood to steal a list of women who have had abortions to, I don’t know, do something bad to them. But after Gary gets inside he comes face-to-face with knife-wielding clowns and realizes that he’s been set up. Kai explains to Gary that he needs to sacrifice himself for the cause, and they proceed to murder him and leave him gorily displayed at the front entrance to the clinic. Later, interviewed by Beverly for the local news, Kai blames Gary’s death on the senator he’s running against for “emboldening” left-wing terrorists.