American Horror Story: Cult recap: 'Neighbors From Hell'
For the past two weeks, American Horror Story has positioned itself as a campy satire of political hysteria in an America ruled by Donald Trump. But if past seasons of AHS have taught us anything, it’s that things on the show aren’t always what they seem — and this week’s episode suggested as much with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face…or a guinea pig in a microwave.
We open in the office of phobia therapist Dr. Rudy Vincent, who has just successfully cured his patient, Rosie, of her crippling fear of coffins (a side effect of having been locked in a cupboard as punishment when she was a kid). Rosie has dutifully completed the “systemic exposure” to her fear trigger that the doctor recommends, and now she’ll be phobia free for the rest of her life!
All 10 minutes of it! Because when she and her husband arrive home, there’s a surprise waiting for both of them: a pair of coffins, his ‘n’ hers, and a gaggle of murderous clowns to bolt them closed on the screaming couple. (While the credits roll, let’s consider what Rudy’s “systemic exposure” protocol would look like if the person were a reluctant patient who was, oh, say, afraid of clowns, holes, and blood. Just hypothetically.)
Meanwhile, Ally won’t go to prison for shooting Pedro thanks to Michigan’s stand-your-ground laws, resulting in widespread outrage. Protesters picket the restaurant, a reporter refers to her as “a lesbian George Zimmerman,” and the Wiltons appear at her door like a worst-of list from Woke Outrage Twitter distilled into human form.
“How does it feel to exercise your white privilege and murder people of color with impunity?” they shriek. Also, they’re wearing sombreros.
In retrospect, this is the high point of the episode, which pretty much loses all semblance of narrative and just becomes a random grab bag of Bad Things Happening to Ally. A giant, unmarked tanker truck drives repeatedly through the neighborhood spraying mystery chemicals on her lawn. A masturbating man shows up in the living room after someone (probably the Wiltons) posts a fake ad and the Mayfair-Richards’ address to a skeevy website. The protests intensify, to Ally’s intense distress (“Everyone thinks I’m a racist! Do you understand the specific pain of someone like me being accused of that?”), but her therapist is unsupportive…or maybe worse, considering that he’s got a collection of buttons which kinda look like little clown faces. And the Wiltons sneakily give Ozzy a guinea pig as a gift, which of course his parents don’t approve of — particularly when he names it “Mister Guinea” (“Honey, come on, you know we don’t like cis-normative pet names”).
Oh, actually, I lied; the high point of the episode is when Ally confronts the Wiltons by telephone, and Harrison shrieks, “He NEEDS a man in his life! He’s drowning in white privilege and estrogen over there!” (“He” meaning Ozzy, “a man” meaning the guinea pig, who must be packing a great deal more testosterone than his petite body size would suggest.)
Because the Wiltons are such a joy in their own right, you may have forgotten by now that they’re connected with creepy Kai Anderson — but they are, right down to the regularly scheduled interrogations-by-pinky-swear. Meadow gives a flippant answer to one of Kai’s questions and gets slapped out of her chair, but once she admits her fears, he gives her some advice that actually makes a warped sort of sense and really nails the appeal of playing the victim: “Everything is somebody else’s fault from now on,” he says. “You want to matter, then you make the world wrong.” (Harrison, whose greatest regret is marrying Meadow, gets a different kind of advice: to admit out loud that he wishes she were dead.)
Meanwhile, the Mayfair-Richards family brokers a brief peace when Ally decides to let Ozzy keep the guinea pig, and all three enjoy a delicious dinner together at the Butchery. But it doesn’t last: Returning to the house, they find a sinister smiley painted on the door — the same one that adorned the previous two murder scenes — and a late-night snack in the microwave, Fatal Attraction-style. Poor, poor Mister Guinea. Outraged, Ally charges across the street, punches Harrison Wilton in the face, and threatens to kill them both…which is, uh, not the greatest look considering she literally murdered a man last week, but hey.
And the night isn’t over yet! First, Ally finds masked men from the anonymous truck spraying mystery chemicals on their lawn and confronts them, only to find that under each mask is…another mask.
And unless I missed a time jump, the night still isn’t over: Back inside the house, Ozzy’s computer has a “virus” in the form of video of that sexually charged sponge bath moment between Ally and Winter — and Ivy (who is suddenly apparently the kind of person who just up and accuses her wife of cheating without bothering to wonder why and how a hidden camera just happened to be conveniently placed in their bathroom to capture this random act of infidelity WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW) says she’s taking Ozzy and leaving.
And still — still!!! — the night is not over. Because outside, Harrison Wilton is standing in the driveway in his underwear, covered in blood, and screaming at a pair of police officers that his wife is missing and Ally must be responsible. It’s total chaos, everyone is screaming, Harrison is finally tackled by the cops, and there’s a fresh smiley painted on the wall in the neighbors’ blood-spattered house. And the night? Probably still not over, but this episode is. Place your bets now on whether Meadow is a victim of the roving gang of clowns, or her own machinations.
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.