‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Takes On The Tate Murders In ‘Charles (Manson) In Charge’

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.

* Even though she previously framed her, Winter tries to help the now shell-shocked Beverly by giving her an Amtrak ticket out of town. But Beverly is rightfully suspicious and refuses. Later, after a weirdly intimate, drawn-out scene in which Winter shaves Kai’s head and face, her brother procures the ticket and accuses her of trying to escape and turn him into the feds. When Winter refuses to confess, Kai strangles his sister to death, egged on by the ghost of Charles Manson.

* Bebe shows up at the house and accuses Kai of failing her, but of course Kai reveals that at this point he is predictably no longer under Bebe’s control. Bebe tries to kill her own creation, pulling a gun on Kai. But before she can shoot Ally appears from behind and instead puts a bullet in Bebe’s head — even though letting Bebe kill Kai would literally solve all of her problems. Trying to understand this character has become utterly baffling.

* Kai, who at one point hallucinates the corpse of his dead brother coming back to life, who is then re-murdered by his hallucination of Charles Manson, spends a good deal of the episode paranoid that the FBI is spying on him because of all that murder stuff. (For some reason, that doesn’t stop him from breaking into Planned Parenthood and murdering Gary, but whatever.) Ally is clearly feeding into Kai’s delusions, providing the additional evidence (a Fitbit battery and tape recorder) that supposedly proves Winter’s guilt. At the end of the episode however, it’s revealed that one of Kai’s cronies “Speedwagon,” was in fact wearing a wire and Ally confronts him just at the screen turns to black.

Heading into next week’s finale, the only characters left at this point are Kai, Ally, and Beverly, and the season doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go at this point other than holding Kai accountable for all the mayhem he’s caused, and maybe see Ally and Beverly come out on top? Then again, it’s really difficult to root for any of the characters by now, as they’ve all played a hand in their own misery. One thing is for sure: this close to the end, we’re unlikely to see any kind of meaningful sociopolitical commentary based on the theme of this season. To make viewers relive the presidential debates — especially on the eve of the anniversary of Trump’s win — just seems plain cruel, especially when the show isn’t actually saying anything relevant. With any luck next season will get back to the campy supernatural horror the series has always been known for.