The pieces are starting to come together in the third episode of American Horror Story: Cult, “Neighbors From Hell,” but they’re not there just yet. We do finally have an idea of who is behind the clown killings though — although the safer question at this point may as well be who isn’t in on it. As the episode opens, a nervous-looking blonde woman and her husband visit with therapist Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) to thank him for helping to get over her fear of coffins. As the couple arrives home, they find that two coffins have been set up inside of their dining room, and the masked clowns proceed to stuff them in and drill the lids shut. So, this means Dr. Vincent is definitely complicit now, right? We have to assume this is no longer supposed to be ambiguous at this point.
Things are going better, but not much, for Ally — who, as we remember, committed manslaughter at the end of the last episode, when poor Pedro showed up at the wrong time to bring her supplies during the blackout. The whole town now thinks she’s a racist, and people are actively protesting outside of their restaurant. Kai shows up to comfort Ally as she sits in her car crying, because that guy on the other hand, always seems to know exactly the right place to be. This time, she doesn’t ask him to leave her alone, nor does she when he pops back up again later in the episode to come to her rescue.
Hence the episode title: diplomatic relations between Ally and their new neighbors, Harrison and Meadow, have also broken down since the shooting. Even though they provided the gun that led to Pedro’s death, they’re now convinced that Ally is a racist and hilariously show up at the door wearing sombreros and throw Taco Bell coupons at her.
At the very least, Ally gets some validation for her phobias with the discovery of the bodies of the couple from the cold open, who horrifically died of either asphyxiation or starvation and dehydration, and had their house marked with the same smiley face symbol as the councilman and his wife who were previously thought to have committed murder-suicide. In other interesting developments, a creepy truck is now spraying green mist outside of Ally and Ivy’s home, killing all of the birds on the property. And someone has taken out a Craigslist ad seeking a “stud with stamina to satisfy two horny lesbians” which results in a naked man showing up in the couple’s living room. In other words, pretty typical stuff from the mind of Ryan Murphy.
But finally, we get some of the answers we’re looking for. In flashbacks, Meadow and Harrison are seen playing Kai’s pinky game, in which he asks them what they’re most afraid of, cementing the fact that the couple is in cahoots with the blue-haired cult leader. Likewise, when Ally calls Meadow and Harrison to yell at them for giving Oz a guinea pig as a gift, the detective investigating the rash of murders (Colton Haynes) is at their home and clearly also in on it. So the connections so far are: Kai, the therapist, the neighbors, and the detective leading the case. But why?
Everything comes to a head at the end of the episode when Ally, Ivy, and Oz arrive home from an ice cream tasting date to find that their house has been marked by the killer, and things don’t end great for Mr. Guinea either. Assuming it’s the work of their neighbors, Ally marches across the street and punches Harrison in the face, threatening to kill them both. Upon leaving, they notice that the killer has also marked Harrison and Meadow’s house with the same smiley face image, but neglect to tell them about it.
Back at her house, Ally finds men from the truck in head-to-toe gear spraying more green mist on her lawn, and when she rips one of their helmets off, there’s a plastic smiley face underneath. Later, things incredibly get even worse when Oz alerts his moms to a link he clicked on from his laptop, which shows video surveillance of the bathtub scene from last week’s episode in which Winter seduces Ally. Finally, before Ivy can leave with Oz however, Meadow is found murdered by Harrison, after he wished her dead in his private session with Kai. Whether or not Harrison himself murdered his wife is not clear, but he points the finger at Ally anyway.
Obviously, there is a lot to unpack here, in what was overall a confusing episode in which one insane thing happened right after another without the characters stopping to process anything. Sure, it comes with the territory with your typical horror fare, but the central characters seem overall pretty damn cavalier about the fact that terrible things keep happening and people keep getting murdered all around them — in one case by Ally’s own doing.
So instead, focusing on the mystery, we now know at least some of the parties working together, but again, why is any of this happening? Kai and/or whoever is pulling the strings seem to be going to extreme lengths to gaslight Ally, for reasons that are still totally unclear. And on that note, why should/do we even care? Played in full wheezy Sarah Paulson hysteria mode, Ally is actually kind of a terrible person, who gets wisdom from memes she sees on Instagram and says things like “I’m the least racist person they ever met” (an obvious Trump reference). Why wouldn’t you at least pick someone less annoying to gaslight?
At the very least, next week’s promising-sounding episode, “11/9,” which obviously takes place the day following the election, should hopefully fill some of these plot holes without adding a dozen more. Otherwise this is going to be a long season.