If there were two news cycles that most people definitely had their fill of in 2016, it was the outbreak of creepy clown sightings terrorizing America and, of course, the presidential election — the latter having had lasting effects many Americans are still reliving on a daily basis, like an awful Groundhog Day scenario. For some reason, these are the two components Ryan Murphy went with when concocting the plot for the seventh season of his horror anthology, American Horror Story: Cult, but after the premiere episode it’s not clear where he’s going with what’s so far a confusing, too-soon satire.
The premiere opens with real clips from the 2016 election: news networks analyzing Hillary’s emails, Trump’s now-infamous quip about how he could shoot a person of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters, Hillary foreshadowing our current predicament by saying, “You can’t just say whatever pops into your head if you want to be President of the United States of America,” and so on. It then cuts to an election night viewing party at the home of Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Ivy (Alison Pill), a married couple with a little boy named Oz, just as things are looking dire for the Democratic candidate. “No that’s bullshit. I won’t believe anything until I hear Rachel Maddow say it,” Ally says defiantly, before breaking down into heaving sobs as the election is called for Trump.
In another part of their suburban Michigan town, a blue-haired miscreant named Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) has a polar opposite reaction to the election results, declaring that the revolution has begun while chanting “USA! USA!” and humping his television. He then proceeds to dump cheese puffs into a blender and smear them on his face to go taunt his sister Winter (Billie Lourd, in her inaugural role in the series). Learning of the news, Winter is devastated, having dropped out of Vassar College to campaign for Hillary for a year. “What if I get pregnant now, where will I get an abortion?” she asks a friend on the phone. “What is wrong with CNN for not giving us a trigger warning before announcing the results?”*
(*) Liberals are not safe from this election-themed satire, as Ryan Murphy also takes aim at those who couldn’t be bothered to vote, or those, such as Paulson’s character, who voted third party out of their “conscience.”
These are the four central characters of Cult, although how they are connected to one another remains ambiguous at the end of the first episode. Like many in the real world who experienced heightened anxiety after the election, Ally likewise experiences PTSD, in the form of her many assorted phobias resurfacing — her coulrophobia (fear of clowns), fear of holes, and fear of blood. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) prescribes her medication after her fears cripple her to the point that she can barely leave the house or help out with the business she runs with Ivy, a restaurant called The Butchery On Main. Their marriage really starts to get strained, however, when Ally begins seeing scary clowns in real life.