We gave it a B
After last week’s tragedy in Las Vegas, the timing of the latest American Horror Story episode is unfortunate — hence some last-minute edits to the cold open, a decision flagged in a title card before the episode and explained in more detail in a statement released by FX.
“This opening, which was filmed two months ago and which portrays an occurrence of gun violence that has sadly become all too common in our country, contains a sequence that some viewers might find traumatic,” the statement reads. And having seen the unedited version (you can still watch it on demand), it’s pretty clear that they made the right call.
“Mid-Western Assassin” opens in a crowd of people, all assembled at a political rally for Kai — his voice is unmistakable even though we can’t see his face — and things are getting rowdy. His supporters, ever more numerous, have worked up a robust chant of “We are the wall! We are the wall!”
That’s when the shooting starts.
The camera sticks with Ivy, who runs and cowers behind a fountain as shots ring out. She can’t see who’s holding the gun, but the police can; they advance, shouting at the shooter to drop it.
Ally, looking utterly shell shocked, lets the weapon fall to the ground.
As the cops tackle Ivy’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, the camera pans to the stage where Kai lies, motionless, in the fetal position.
All right, American Horror Story. EXPLAIN YOURSELF.
So, how did we get here? Let’s flash back to last week’s episode, when Meadow Wilton revealed the existence of the cult to Ally before being dragged away. Ordinarily, this would be Ally’s cue to cower in her home and scream impotently all night long, but incredibly, she doesn’t! Instead, she runs back across the street and heroically rescues a bound Meadow from the garage while Harrison and Detective Samuels are ensconced in grunty sexual intercourse. Ally and Meadow flee from the men and end up at the Butchery, of course; where else? (Side note: Is AHS just really hard up for sets this year? Or is the repeated return of all these characters to the Butchery like bees to a hive the linchpin of some as-yet-unrevealed side plot?)
Despite having lived through five episodes’ worth of evidence that Ivy is a gaslighting underminer from hell, Ally still needs convincing about the existence of the cult — or maybe the audience just needed this expository flashback from Meadow, in which she becomes disillusioned with Kai after overhearing him giving the same inspirational speech to Ivy that he’d given to her. When she expressed dissent, the group turned on her; now, she says, the only way to stop Kai is to kill him. She also gives the best (and, let’s be honest, most logical) answer when Ally asks why Ivy would try to make her crazy: “Maybe she just hates you!”
And yep, it’s pretty much that simple. “Hate” is definitely one way to describe Ivy’s feelings about Ally; “seething resentment and envy” also works. In another flashback, we see her describe how Ally carried, birthed, and then breastfed Ozzy for three years — while sanctimoniously shutting down Ivy when she suggests that maybe Ally could let her have a turn, y’know, feeding their child. (Ivy may not be a reliable narrator on this front, but Ally is so odiously smug in this scene that being terrorized by masturbating murder clowns seems like no less than she deserves, really.) Ivy joined forces with Kai when he promised that he’d help her get custody of her son; now it’s a full-scale mommy war.
Meanwhile, Ally has been convinced by Meadow that the cult really does exist and really is targeting her — yet infuriatingly doesn’t take the extra step to wonder if her manipulative therapist might have some skin in the game, too. Instead, she drops Meadow at Dr. Rudy Vincent’s office, where she instructs her to tell him everything, then heads for the home of Sally (Mare Winningham), the write-in challenger to Kai’s city council campaign. Sally is a sort of fantasy candidate mashup of Elizabeth Warren and bell hooks; unlike most folks, she needs no convincing when Ally tells her about Kai.
“This is the kind of s— that happens when the patriarchy is threatened,” she says, lighting a joint. “Nothing shocks me; I went to Berkeley.”
Thus concludes the all-too-brief collaboration of Ally-n-Sally, because it takes all of five minutes for the clown posse to arrive. Kai can’t allow Sally to run against him — she’ll obviously win — and while Ally hides upstairs in a bathroom, the clowns overpower her new friend and stage her death to look like a suicide. (The cherry on top is a fake suicide note posted by Kai to Facebook — “It’s already getting some likes!” he crows — thus eclipsing last week’s nail gun scene as the most excruciating so far this season.) R.I.P., Sally.
Meanwhile, the sound of the gunshot makes Ally yelp (too much pressure, obviously; she hadn’t screamed once all episode long), and Kai sends Ivy to investigate the noise. But even though Ivy is dressed up as a divided America in a two-faced mask with a donkey on one side and an elephant on the other, Ally recognizes her instantly. Ivy doesn’t say anything; she just turns around and leaves. Why? Maybe because she’s having second thoughts about the whole “murder cult” thing…or maybe she needs to leave Ally alive to play her part in what happens next.
Because we’ve caught up now to the rally, and this time, we see the shooter: It’s not Ally, but Meadow, who (duh) never really betrayed Kai, but was seduced by him into a suicide mission that would make him into a wounded martyr for political violence and increase his platform tenfold. Telling the truth to known hysteric Ally was just part of the game plan — and Ally plays her part perfectly right down to the moment where she tries to wrestle the gun away from Meadow, who holds on to it long enough to aim the barrel into her own mouth.
“This is the face of true love,” she says, pulling the trigger.
And that’s where we leave it: Poor, pathetic Meadow will never see Oprah become President. Dumb, hysterical Ally will never get anyone to believe the truth about the shooting (if she doesn’t take the fall for it herself). And evil, awful Kai Anderson will survive to campaign another day after sustaining a mere flesh wound — and he knows it. The last shot shows him on a stretcher, injured but alive, and smiling on his way into the ambulance like a snake wearing a human suit.