Lena Dunham and Frances Conroy arrive to help the women of Cult crush the patriarchy
After making us wait nearly half a season to see Lena Dunham in her cameo role as Valerie Solanas, American Horror Story doesn’t waste any time getting her on screen in its seventh episode — even before the title credits role. It’s 1968, and Valerie is a disgruntled, struggling artist who just wants Andy Warhol to produce her script.
Andy Warhol is Evan Peters, of course. (Dear lord, he’s PERFECT.)
“Oh Valerie. You know women can’t be serious artists,” he says. And if you know anything about history (or if you accidentally spoiled yourself by reading the Wikipedia entry for “Valerie Solanas” immediately before this episode, like I did), you know what comes next. Valerie returns with a loaded gun and fires it three times in Andy Warhol’s direction — and on the last shot, she connects.
“Suck my dick, Warhol!” she crows.
Roll credits, and now we’re back to the present and the aftermath of Kai’s shooting — which has had exactly the desired effect: Kai is famous nationwide, wins city council in a landslide, and celebrates at an intimate slumber party with his disciples and a sheet cake…yeah, just kidding. Actually, he shuts out all the women who helped him succeed and fills his house with a coterie of alt-right guys in chambray shirts and Hitler youth haircuts who snicker whenever Beverly walks into a room. A shift has occurred — and Beverly knows it.
Fortunately, Beverly and the other cult women have a new ally: Bebe Babbit (Frances Conroy! FINALLY!), a cigar-smoking radical feminist with a Bettie Page haircut. She knows all about the cult — ’cause she used to be in one, back in the late 1960s when she was Valerie Solanas’ lover.
“The bullets she put in Andy Warhol were the first shots of a revolution,” Bebe says.
Flashback again to 1967: Bebe is a young hottie, high on the SCUM manifesto, hanging out in hotel rooms with a dozen other Solanas stans. Valerie has penned her famous anti-male screed, but now it’s time for action; when she shoots Andy Warhol, it’s a sign to her followers to start their own massacre…which would be chilling if it weren’t so danged silly.
“WE WERE THE ZODIAC,” says Bebe.
Yep, that’s right! The Zodiac Killer was actually ten radfems in homemade cloaks, who perpetrated the infamous unsolved murders that rocked the Bay Area back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The action stops in a few familiar settings, including at a lakeside picnic where the couple is brutally stabbed to death (side note: Twisty the Clown did it better), but then tragedy strikes: The Zodiac starts sending ciphers — which is not an approved part of the plan.
Turns out, one of the two male “Turds” in Solanas’ cult wanted to take credit for all her hard work, because patriarchy, obviously. And while that guy gets his comeuppance (egregious donger-stabbing scene, check; even more egregious jump-cut to a police officer finding his severed genitals stuffed in the mouth of his severed head, also check), it sends Valerie Solanas down the road into madness (seen in a montage that goes on too long, but Dunham’s performance makes it worthwhile). In the end, Valerie dies alone, used, and misunderstood, with no one for company but the ghost of Andy Warhol, who sabotages her typewriter and calls her fat.
“Like Meadow,” says Winter.
“We have to strike back,” says Beverly. “And this time, we won’t miss.”
Thus begins a game of cat and mouse, but it’s hard to know who’s who. Back at the Anderson house, Winter finds Kai having a confab with their parents’ corpses. “The crown is heavy, Winter,” he says, and then springs a surprise: He wants to know about the SCUM manifesto, which he found in her room. Winter does her best to stay a step ahead of her brother, but the whole conversation feels like a test. And when Kai says that he’s considering his own acronym — MLWB, for “Men Lead, Women Bleed” — Winter flinches a little too hard, and believes a little too eagerly when Kai says that it was Harrison’s idea.
And because the cult members are dropping like flies (thank god for all Kai’s alt-righters; maybe they can kill some of them next time instead of the core cast?), the women take the bait, luring Harrison to the Butchery. First they question him; then they kill him; and then, of course, Beverly reports from the scene where his disembodied bits have just been discovered.
“Clearly the promise of law and order is not being kept,” she grins into the camera, as Kai watches impassively on the couch in his basement. The broadcast ends. Kai leans forward.
“They’re at their best when they’re angry,” he says. “Don’t you think?”
Bebe Babbit takes a long pull on her cigar — the phallic symbolism of which should really have tipped us all off that something wasn’t quite right here, eh?
“Aren’t we all,” she says.