If the first three weeks of American Horror Story were a marionette show, “11/9” is the episode where the camera pivots so you can really see all those dangling strings — and the puppet master who’s holding them.
And on one hand…well, duh. This rewind back to election night and its immediate aftermath just makes extra clear what was already obvious: that Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) is the driving force behind all the chaos we’ve seen so far, although his reach extends much further than some of us might have previously imagined. (Et tu, Ivy?) On the other hand, this man-behind-the-curtain angle is a nice break from watching Ally have an endless series of hysterical screaming breakdowns — and a nice opportunity for Adina Porter to remind AHS fans why she’s the best thing to happen to this cast since we lost La Lange.
We open at your friendly neighborhood polls, where reporter Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) is laying down a segment about the election — even though it’s going to be cut so Trump-loving rival reporter Serena Belinda (Emma Roberts) can do a puff piece on vajazzling or some such. And the gang’s all here, though they mostly haven’t met yet: Ally and Ivy, Winter Anderson, Dr. Rudy Vincent, and the Wiltons are all in line to vote. (Meadow, who continues to be a treasure, opines that she’s too ignorant to choose a world leader and writes in “OPRAH.”)
The last to show up is Kai — and he’s not alone. The amputee cashier from Ally’s supermarket is with him, and his missing hand is definitely a recent development, by which I mean it’s gone but actively bleeding all over the place. Emerging from the voting booth, he raises his ragged stump in the air and screams, “THIS IS TRUMP’S AMERICA!” (Informal poll: If you could trade Trump’s actual America for this fictionalized version, in which the worst thing that happens is random grocery store employees waving their recently severed limbs around in public, would you? Discuss!)
From here, Kai’s role as a big, fat spider sitting at the center of a tangled web of political hysteria starts to become clear. His first visit on the day after the election is to Harrison Wilton, who is instantly seduced by Kai’s confidence (followed closely by Kai’s performative jerking-off for his benefit in the locker room shower.) Harrison is beleaguered by a homophobic bully at his gym, besieged by money troubles and impending eviction at home, and so ripe for manipulation overall that it takes all of five minutes for Kai to convince him to murder his bully boss. For Kai, it’s all part of the plan: “I’ve been watching you and the people around you for a long time. You’re a part of something big league,” he says (it sounds like he’s saying “bigly,” of course). And when Meadow walks in on Harrison dismembering the body in their motel room bathtub, the next two lines say it all.
“Who’s that?” she asks, seeing Kai.
“Someone to believe in,” Harrison says.
Kai is good at getting people to believe in him — and at finding people who need someone to play that role. In December, he discovers Beverly Hope, reporting on the discovery of “a well-muscled torso” (the one that used to belong to Harrison’s boss) in a nearby landfill. The news anchor (Dermot Mulroney) welcomes her back, which piques Kai’s interest; within minutes, he discovers that she recently spent 90 days in a psych ward after being repeatedly targeted by pranksters who would pop up during her segments and shout, “Grab her by the p—y!” The last guy who did this to her received an on-camera beating with a microphone, the footage of which resulted in a viral auto-tuned video remix and a leave of absence for Beverly. (Alas, said video is not available on IRL YouTube.) (Recap continues on page 2)
As with Harrison, Kai finds Beverly at her lowest: humiliated at work (where her status as the network’s only black reporter is the only reason she hasn’t been fired), she’s taking out her aggressions on her lecherous boss’s tires. But Kai thinks she can do better, and dream bigger. In fact, Kai thinks that Beverly’s reporting is the key to spreading fear across the country like a virus, leveraging its power to change the world. (Kai is also an Iraq war vet and an Ivy league grad with a double major in poli sci and feminist studies, which is probably this season’s biggest twist yet.) Cue the first ever appearance of the show’s murderous gang of clowns, who stab Serena Belinda and her cameraman to death while she’s filming a segment about a pet adoption event. With her professional nemesis out of the way, Beverly is all in — and with three believers under his wing, Kai is only just getting started.
That said, let’s not forget that this episode began with the AHS version of Chekhov’s gun, which roughly states that if your cold open includes a guy with a freshly severed limb, you’ve gotta explain what happened before the end credits roll. Thus we go back in time again to the days before the election, when that man still had two hands and rudely used one of them to sexually assault Ivy at a political rally. Before you ask: No, she didn’t chop his hand off. (Too obvious. Would’ve been cool, though!) But she did make friends with a fellow protester, and here’s where the plot thickens: Winter Anderson and Ivy Mayfair-Richards not only knew each other before the election, but collaborated together on a little voter-suppression project, in the form of Tasing and handcuffing the groper (whose patented TV-creepster name is “Gary”) to the wall in the grocery basement. Not forever, of course; they’re not murderers! They’ll make sure he goes free…after the election is over.
Gary, who evidently takes his civic responsibility to vote far more seriously than his civic responsibility not to grab strangers’ genitals, is outraged. But fortunately for Gary, Winter is incapable of keeping a secret, and Kai finds him shortly before the polls close. He’s got a small hacksaw with him, which won’t cut through the pipe or the handcuffs…but it’ll cut through, ahem, other things. It all comes down to this, Kai says: How badly does Gary want to pull that lever for Donald Trump?
Obviously, it was not necessary to show this next part (and side note, clearly they should’ve handcuffed Gary’s penis to the pipe instead of a body part he had multiples of). But this show isn’t called American Horror Story for nothing, folks, and so we linger for a nice long time on the sight of Gary sawing at his arm, and screaming, and sawing some more, like a true American patriot.