American Horror Story: Cult recap: 'Charles (Manson) in Charge'
Leave it to American Horror Story to throw a giant twist into the mix on Election Night. In the penultimate episode of this season, the convoluted conspiracy behind the show’s titular cult peeled back to reveal a whole new layer of intrigue — or is it?
We open with a flashback to the 2016 debate at which Hilary Clinton’s victory seemed like a sure thing. As the Democratic candidate wipes the floor with her opponent, Winter and two of her friends from Vassar are a caricature of liberal hubris, mocking and goading Kai. But the humiliation (Kai’s greatest motivation, remember) crosses a line when Winter’s pal takes it into sexual territory; he snaps and slaps her.
“I’m pressing charges!” she shrieks.
Evidently, she’s not bluffing; two weeks later we find Kai in treatment for anger management. And his shrink? Here comes the twist: It’s Bebe, SCUM loyalist and grande dame of political lady rage. So this is how she and Kai know each other — and according to Bebe, he’s the perfect candidate to unleash the raw, earth-shattering power of all that female anger. So is this the guiding principle behind Kai’s insane rise to power? Is he just a pawn of this OG feminist?
“I am a turd,” says Kai. “A lowly abject turd.”
But of course, Kai will say anything. The question is whether he believes it. (And, if he does, how having second-degree sexual intercourse with his own sister furthers the radical feminist cause.) The thing is, even if this started as a performance, it’s almost definitely not anymore. Kai’s spittle-flecked diatribes and obsession with cult leaders were already starting to blur the line between a put-on persona and full-blown fanaticism, and that’s even before we get to the Manson Family portion of this episode. With his disciples gathered round, snug in their long undies and sleeping bags, Kai tells them a bedtime story about the grisly killings on Cielo Drive.
The scene is horrifying even by AHS standards (the murder of a pregnant Sharon Tate doesn’t quite reach Red Wedding levels of ghastliness, but it’s damn close), but it’s primarily a foreshadowing of things to come in present-day Michigan, particularly when it comes to Kai’s mental state. He’s egomaniacal and obsessive about the midterm Senate election he intends to win — and more paranoid than ever about dissenters in his own ranks, which makes his decision to kill off one of his most reliable disciples a bit of a head-scratcher. Poor Gary, who already sacrificed a whole entire hand to Kai’s cause, allows himself to be disemboweled on the doorstep of an abortion clinic, all so Kai can blame an act of violence on his opponent in the Senate race. (Side note: I’m taking this entire plot point as further evidence of Kai’s incipient madness, because it otherwise makes absolutely no sense.)
Meanwhile, Winter is growing increasingly troubled by both her brother’s instability and Ivy’s mysterious disappearance to “culinary school” in “Paris” — not to mention the reappearance of Beverly Hope as a strung-out shell of her former self. When Winter tries to give Beverly a train ticket to Montana so she can flee the cult, Beverly flinches like an abused dog.
“You’re testing me,” she says. “Tell divine ruler I would never run, ever.”
Her timing couldn’t be worse, considering Kai has become utterly fixated on the idea that there’s a mole in his cult — a fear fueled by Charles Manson (also Evan Peters), whose hallucinatory spirit has taken up residence in the Anderson house and instructed him to “identify the Judas.” It certainly can’t be Ally; not only is she the mother of Kai’s messiah baby, but she’s the one who finds a “bug” in the couch cushions and then shoots Bebe when she shows up to murder Kai for betraying the SCUM cause. (The money quote from Kai: “Women need to be grabbed by their p—–s and led, preferably to the kitchen to make me a sandwich!”)
“Far out, man. That one definitely ain’t no mole,” quoth the hallucinatory spirit of Charles Manson. (Side note: We all still agree that Ally is playing the long game, right?)
Instead, it all comes back to Winter, who joins her brother in the bathroom for an intimate trust exercise (more shades of Game of Thrones) involving a close shave with a straight razor. As she’s done throughout the episode, Winter gets emotional about wanting to make things right — that single, pretty tear on Billie Lourd’s face really deserves its own Twitter account at this point — but when she tells Kai she needs to go away for a while, it turns out that he’s a step ahead of her.
“I even know where you should go,” he says, producing a familiar train ticket. “Butte, Montana.”
Cut to Winter on her knees in the basement, where all the Anderson siblings go to die. Kai screams at her to confess, egged on by a hallucinatory double with a swastika carved in his forehead; when Winter won’t, and begs him not to kill her, he bursts into tears and chokes her to death. RIP, Winter…but hello, the actual mole. Turns out, Kai does have an informant in his ranks: our good buddy with the alt-right haircut and the tightest, whitest long underpants in the Midwest. Fleeing to his car, he removes the wire he’s wearing and smashes it against the dashboard — but Ally is right on his heels.
“Hello, Speedwagon,” she says.
An anthology series that centers on different characters and locations, including a haunted house, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, and a hotel.