It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what about American Horror Story: Cult didn’t work. For starters, the seventh installment of the anthology series eschewed the traditional supernatural element, which at the very least usually makes for some fun special effects. And although newcomers such as Billie Lourd, Billy Eichner, and Leslie Grossman were all just fine, the season also lacked some of the heavy hitters like Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, and Angela Bassett, who have all helped carry previous seasons. What resulted felt like a thin story that seemed to aim for sociopolitical commentary and ultimately came up short.
To that effect, what the dark, heavy season seemed to be missing most of all was fun. Sure, American Horror Story is always going to be an incoherent, convoluted mess of a show. But at least it’s usually a fun incoherent, convoluted mess of a show, and in times like these we can really use all of the distractions we can get. Between putting the focal point on the 2016 election as a catalyst for the worst to come from mankind coupled with some genuinely upsetting death scenes, the usual glee (no pun intended) was replaced with a sense of apathetic dread.
And sadly, the finale of Cult, “Great Again,” did nothing to turn the season around and instead left viewers with the question, what the heck was the point of all that? The episode opens by jumping ahead to 2018 where a heavily tatted Kai is behind bars, and now playing his mind games on an unsuspecting female prison guard as well as his fellow inmates. Because if there’s anything dudes in prison will fall for is a skinny white guy asking them to link pinky fingers while they reveal what scares them the most. You also have to wonder why a serial murderer and cult leader would be in gen pop in the first place, but that’s the least perplexing thing about the episode.
In a flashback to the series of events that led him to where he is, it’s revealed that Kai and his militia were planning to murder 100 pregnant women in the “night of 100 Tates” to recreate the Manson family murders. In the midst of all this, Ally tells Kai that he basically killed his sister for no reason, because — in another flashback to resolve to last week’s cliffhanger — Speedwagon confesses to Ally that he was working with the local police, initially to expose Detective Samuels. Ally responds by stabbing him in the neck, which makes what happens next make super no sense. Because before the men can carry out their sick plan, the FBI — which had apparently been working with Ally — raids the compound, killing most of the cult members and apprehending Kai and Beverly.
Back in the present, Ally is now running the restaurant and has moved on with her life with a new girlfriend, which Beverly learns when she stops by to visit, because — oh yeah, Beverly was cleared of all charges for reasons I can only shrug at. She’s also skeptical of Ally over Ivy’s murder, since that was apparently the only death Kai didn’t take credit for, but still seems to move past the whole thing easily enough.
Despite the fact that her life is on the uptick, Ally continues tormenting Kai from the outside world, by sending him proof that he’s not actually the father of Oz as she previously led him to believe. Kai conspires to get out of prison, fueled by the announcement that Ally is now running for senator — the seat he had sought — and does so with the help of his prison guard by gruesomely murdering a hapless doppelgänger and faking his own death.
Beverly reveals the news of Kai’s supposed death just before she’s about to participate in her first senatorial debate, but she decides to go on anyway. Naturally Kai shows up at the debate with armed backup, and in the climax of the entire series charges the stage with a gun to scream at Ally that “women can’t win.” In yet another twist, however, it turns out that Ally was in cahoots with Kai’s prison guard, so when he tries to pull the trigger finds that the gun isn’t loaded. Ally then tells Kai — and I am not making this up — that “the only thing more dangerous than a humiliated man is a nasty woman” just before Beverly steps forward and shoots him in the head.
11 episodes for this. If Ally just wanted Kai dead then why didn’t she, say, let Frances Conroy’s character shoot him in the head in the last episode? A previous scene between Ally and Beverly discussing campaign strategy seems to suggest they orchestrated the whole thing to help her win the debate and election by proxy, but that seems like even more of a stretch than everything else that’s happened this season. Also, if we’re being honest, the climax felt repetitive in that it was a showdown between Sarah Paulson and a crazed killer whom she manages to outsmart. How many seasons have ended this way by now?
At any rate, Ally naturally goes onto win the election, and as she tucks her son into bed that night tells him that she’s off to meet with “a group of empowered, powerful women who want to change the system.” In the final scene, she stares into the mirror powdering her face, and then slowly pulls a green hood over her head. So… another cult, then? Again, it’s difficult to ascertain what the takeaway or moral of the story is supposed to be, here. Everybody is bad?
With any luck, next season Ryan Murphy will get back to the series roots — namely, ghosts, demons, vampires, witches, pig-headed men, and serial killers not of the blue-haired persuasion. No more clowns, though. I think we’re good there.