This recap of “Mid‐Western Assassin” will be based on the unedited cut of the episode, sincet — as most are now aware — it opens with a graphic mass shooting scene, which was filmed months before a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas on October 1. One of the criticisms that has been made about American Horror Story: Cult is that its too soon for many Americans to want to relive the 2016 election, but there was no way of predicting that the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States would occur just a week before the episode was to air. Then again, these are sadly the times we live in, and if you depict an act of widespread violence onscreen you have to at least consider the possibility that a similar atrocity will play out in real life; sending PR reps and film editors scrambling. Heck, this was even a running joke on the season four episode of Bojack Horseman, “Thoughts and Prayers.”
At any rate, the episode does indeed open to violence. Chaos erupts at a political rally as gunshots ring out, sending attendees, including Ivy and Harrison, scrambling for cover — while others are not so fortunate. Ivy dives behind a fountain and attempts to escape with another man, who is shot in the chest. When she reaches out to grab hold of his hand, another bullet splatters his brains everywhere. As police rush towards the shooter it’s revealed that the event is a campaign rally for Kai Anderson’s city council run, and the person holding the gun is none other than Ivy’s estranged wife, Ally. The camera then pans to show Kai, in all his faded blue manbun glory, collapsed on the stage presumably dead or injured.
After the credits roll, the episode flashes back to the scene from last week’s “Holes” in which Meadow pleads for Ally to let her inside, revealing the names of the cult members. Within minutes, she suspiciously gets a call from Dr. Rudy Vincent — now revealed to be the cult’s possible leader — who claims Ivy had called him out of concern. He tells her to let it go and get some sleep, so naturally she grabs a knife out of the drawer and heads across the street where she finds Meadow gagged and bound to a chair (as well as Harrison and the detective getting it on, which makes it easy to steal their keys while they’re distracted). The two just barely escape and speed away in Ally’s car.
For some reason, even though she knows her wife is no longer to be trusted, Ally takes Meadow to the couple’s restaurant, where she proceeds to spill the full beans about how they’ve been terrorizing her, why, and what they’re overall hoping to accomplish: to instill a sense of fear into people. On the restaurant’s television, Beverly reports from the scene of a city council debate attended by Kai, who is, of course, running for a seat, and Meadow reveals that he’s the one behind it all.
In yet another flashback, Meadow narrates that while she had been in love with Harrison since she was ten, she “never knew what love was” until she met Kai, who tells her that she “burns brighter than anyone.” The two indulged in a torrid love affair until, one day, Meadow went down to the basement to find Kai giving the same line to Ivy. (Of note in this flashback, is that Kai is once again seen taking prescription medication, which further suggests that his brother is the one controlling him.) Meadow flips out and tries to leave. “When’s the last time a seat on the zoning board led to world domination?” she asks, mimicking R.J. questioning Kai’s motives before the cult played a game of Pin the Nails in R.J.’s Head.
Naturally, they don’t let her go, at which point the timeline catches up to when Ally found her. Back in the present — err, the flashback present — Meadow tells Ally that they only way of stopping Kai is to kill him.
Meanwhile, at the city council meeting, Kai is all blah blah monsters this, fear that, before a woman named Sally (Mare Winningham, who most recently played the maid in Hotel) stands up and calls him on his bullshit, accusing him of being a snake oil salesman. She tells Kai that he’s not a true conservative but a reactionary, and that he uses fear to exploit people. After comparing Kai and Trump to the flies attracted to the garbage, she throws her hat in the ring for candidacy — which means obviously that she’s going to be super dead pretty soon. (Seriously how is literally no one putting these murders together?)