Things are getting scary in the wake of the 2016 presidential election
Past seasons of American Horror Story have opened with scenes pulled from classic horror fiction: alien abductions, haunted houses, a boarding school for witches that makes Hogwarts look like kindergarten. But while this year’s series brings plenty of out-there scares (including a veritable smorgasbord of sexually deviant clowns with nightmarishly giant heads, if that’s what you’re into), it kicks off with a horror ripped straight from reality — and maybe straight from your own living room, depending on how you felt watching the returns roll in last Nov. 8.
We open with a series of familiar clips: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, back when the 2016 presidential electioneering was in full swing. Then we cut to a tastefully decorated living room in a Michigan suburb on election night, where Ally (Sarah Paulson) is weeping in disbelief as the impossible becomes reality:
President. Donald. Trump.
Ally and her wife Ivy (Allison Pill, sporting the world’s most perfect punk-lesbian pixie cut) are the quintessential liberal elites, shocked and shaken by Hillary Clinton’s loss. But as their neighbor, Tom Chang, points out, their own county swung for Trump by only a few thousand votes — and not everyone is in mourning over the dawn of a new era in American politics. In fact, elsewhere in town, blue-haired agent of chaos Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) is watching the same news coverage and humping his television in ecstasy before covering his face in Cheeto puree, paying homage to the orange-hued new president-elect.
“The revolution has begun!” he says.
After the title credits (featuring a brassy, Hail-to-the-Chief-y rendition of the AHS theme and a lot of clown footage), we’re treated to a familiar sight: Twisty the Killer Clown, who is still stumbling out of the woods after all these years to ruin a young couple’s picnic. It all goes down about as you’d expect (coitus interruptus, stabbus extremis) until the big reveal: This Twisty adventure is taking place in a comic book being read by little Ozzy, Ally and Ivy’s son. And when Ally catches him reading under the covers, things get weird. For one, she assumes he’s looking at porn (“A picture of a bare breast or an erect penis never hurt anyone!” she chirps, even though Ozzy is by all appearances about 9 years old, which puts him at least three years shy of the prime age for recreational erect-penis-perusing) — but for two, the sight of the clown on the cover sends her into a panic.
Turns out, Ally has a crippling fear of clowns…and also confined spaces, blood, and objects covered with a closely connected series of small holes, as she explains to her therapist (Cheyenne Jackson) later. She’d gotten her phobias under control for long enough to marry and settle down with Ivy, but they’ve come roaring back since the election — the clowns, especially. In fact, Ally is seeing clowns everywhere. Clowns lurking near the yogurt when she goes to shop for groceries; clowns defiling the watermelons as they have horrible clown sex in the produce section; a three-faced, cackling, knife-wielding clown with three hideous noses that look way too much like the aforementioned erect penises (side note: On second viewing, I’m 99 percent sure this is because they are penises) riding a scooter down the aisles while Ally screams and hurls bottles of rosé.
It’s all too weird and horrible to be real. But then again, Ally isn’t the only one whose life is falling apart in the aftermath of the election. Kai’s sister Winter (Billie Lourd) was a volunteer on the Clinton campaign; now, she’s stuck at home with her brother, with whom she has an…interesting relationship. (These two aren’t quite at Lannister levels of weirdness, but it seems within the realm of possibility.) It appears the siblings have some sort of deal, or maybe a bet hinging on the election outcome; we see Winter linking pinkies with her brother and submitting to a radical honesty Q&A, intercut with her interview at the Mayfair-Richards home, where Ally and Ivy are seeking a new nanny for Ozzy.
The long game here is unclear, but it’s a fair bet that the family is part of Kai’s plan to sow chaos in the city; we see him rambling at a city council meeting about the potency of political fear, he intentionally spills a latte on Ally when he passes her on the street, and he orchestrates his own on-camera beating after approaching a group of Hispanic men, urinating into a condom, and hurling it at them like a water balloon. (Side note: Kai must have been practicing that move off camera for months; otherwise the series of steps leading up to the pee-balloon incident are possibly the least believable thing ever to happen on this show.)
Hiring a nanny is an attempt at a return to normalcy for Ally and Ivy, who run a restaurant that’s been suffering in Ally’s absence. But as returns to normalcy go, this one is a miserable failure on all counts. At the restaurant, Ally’s solo culinary tour of a new tasting menu goes hideously wrong when she looks at Donald Trump’s twitter feed just before eating. First she hallucinates a holey crumpet on her plate, oozing blood and surrounded by severed fingers; then, she looks over to see yet another clown furiously masturbating into a soup tureen. (This week’s viral listicle: Every Food Sexually Defiled by Clowns on the AHS Season Premiere.) Needless to say, it ruins dinner — not to mention Ivy’s hopes of rekindling their sex life. And things don’t get better when a tense trip home finds the street cordoned off by the police. According to the detective on the scene (a very platinum-blond Colton Haynes), the Changs are dead in a domestic murder-suicide.
But according to Ozzy (who spent all evening watching graphically violent videos at the behest of his evil babysitter), they were murdered…by clowns.
And while it’s unclear exactly who or what the clowns are (a team of serial killers? A shared delusion? A group of sexually ambitious kink cosplayers who just came out to have a good time and are honestly feeling so attacked with rosé right now?), they seem to be drawing ever closer to this hapless family — seeing as how Ally just woke up in bed to find ol’ Triple Dongerface between the sheets with her.