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.