‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Takes A Trip To The Past In ‘Valerie Solanas Died For Your Sins: Scumbag’

American Horror Story jumps around through time to tell the story in “Valerie Solanas Died For Your Sins: Scumbag,” the seventh episode of Cult that once again presents real-life, true crime elements as a jumping off point. All things considered, the story up until now has been relatively linear, despite jumping around in the months before and after the 2016 election. This episode feels more like classic American Horror Story than anything we’ve seen so far this season though, as the cold open flashes back to June 3, 1968 when the titular Solanas (Lena Dunham) bursts into Andy Warhol’s Factory to take an attempt on the artist’s life. Of course, Valerie Solanas was a real historical figure, the radical feminist best known for her SCUM Manifesto, which she continued publishing following her three-year-long stint at a psychiatric hospital for the attempted murder of Warhol until her death in San Fransisco in 1988.

Dunham’s casting initially drew the ire of some fans since — much like the woman she’s portraying, here — the Girls creator tends to be a polarizing figure. It’s safe to say that her performance should have been enough to silence her critics, however, as her unstable, heavy New York City-accented portrayal of Solanas shows that Dunham is capable of more than just a one-note character. I would not be remotely surprised if the guest appearance earns her another Emmy nomination. (Evan Peters’ Andy Warhol was likewise delightful, here.)

But Solanas is the secondary character in this story. In 2017, Beverly Hope is approached by a mysterious woman (Frances Conroy) seemingly with knowledge of her, uh, extracurricular activities, who tells her that she’s lost her way, and that “it used to be easy to spot a man cult when you saw one.” “I know what it means to assassinate a man,” the woman tells Beverly, referring to Kai’s staged assassination from the previous episode. “And that pantomime the other night… wasn’t that,” she continues. The woman tells Beverly to come see her when she’s “ready,” and then disappears as mysteriously as she came.

See, now that Kai is a nationwide sensation, he’s become a folk hero to alt-right, men’s rights activists, and wants to take a step back from all the murder to focus on furthering his agenda — whatever that is, exactly. As such, he’s not keeping good on his promise to Beverly that the two would have “equal power,” dismissing her when she stops by his campaign headquarters. Beverly, as a result, decides to take the woman up on her offer.

As it turns out, the woman is Bebe Babbitt, the fictional lover and literal partner in crime to Valerie Solanas, who — when Solanas shoots Warhol and is subsequently locked away for her crimes — leads her radical feminist group of followers (mostly women as well as a couple of gay men) to carry out a series a ritualistic murders in the name of SCUM. Unfortunately for them, some anonymous tips sent to local newspapers claim credit for the murders, leading to them being attributed to the unsolved Zodiac killings. They point the finger at one of the men in the group, murdering him for his indiscretion, but by then it’s too late and the world thinks a man committed the murders.

In the present, Bebe relays her story to Beverly, Winter, and Ivy, who meet at Ivy’s restaurant having been ousted from the “boy’s club.” The trio decides to take matters into their own hands, later prompted in part by Kai confronting Winter with a copy of her SCUM Manifesto, admitting that Harrison has “real hangups about women.”

So when the women lure Harrison to the restaurant to plan a victory party for Kai, you know it’s not going to go well for him, as they proceed to knock him out and then gruesomely murder him with a bone saw. It’s sad to see Billy Eichner go. He’s been a fun addition in an otherwise intense season.

The episode ends with Kai watching Beverly report the news of Harrison’s remains being found on TV, and as the camera begins to pan out he tells the person sitting next to him, “They’re at their best when they’re angry, don’t you think?” “Aren’t we all,” says Bebe, who — shocker!! — was apparently working with Kai the entire time, as it appears to have been his game plan all along to assemble a cult to do his bidding, then systematically destroy it from the inside out with no one the wiser.

So far, the casualties are R.J., Meadow, and Harrison — with Beverly, Winter, and Ivy, in addition to Ally, still out there as wild cards. The stage is set for a showdown between Kai and the women, but unbeknownst to them, they’ve got a fox in their hen house. How is this going to play out is anyone’s guess at this point, but things are really starting to get fun.

Other Thoughts:

* Sarah Paulson is once again absent from this episode, as Ally is apparently still in custody and being questioned over the mass shooting. At the very least, Meadow was identified as the primary shooter so Ivy’s wife probably won’t be out of the action for too long.

* Ryan Murphy blaming the Zodiac murders on a group of murderous woman led by Andy Warhol’s attempted assassin is maybe the most Ryan Murphy things he’s ever done.

* It’s nice to see them bring back Jamie Brewer (Murder House, Coven, Freak Show) as one of the women in Solanas’ group. Would it have killed them to throw in Taissa Farmiga, too?

* The Zodiac killing scene of the couple having a picnic near mirrors the first Twisty the Clown murder in Freak Show.

* “His dick and balls are missing” … “Uh, no they’re not.” Never mind, that might be the most Ryan Murphy thing Ryan Murphy has ever done.