American Horror Story: Cult “11/9” REVIEW

American Horror Story: Cult “11/9” REVIEW

0 comments 📅27 September 2017, 12:14

Airing in the UK on FOX, Fridays at 10pm
John J Gray
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton

Essential Plot Points:

  • It’s election night and the entire cast are in line to vote aside from Kai. He arrives, dragging in a man who is clearly seriously injured, faint from loss of blood and can only use one hand so of course they let him in no questions asked.
  • And then the guy who Kai brought in drops his coat, reveals he’s just had a hand amputated and screams ‘WELCOME TO TRUMP’S AMERICA!’ followed by a word we can’t repeat.
  • So yeah this one isn’t off to a good start.
  • Pre-election night, Kai turns up at Harrison’s work and asks him to be his personal trainer. Harrison is far more interesting here than he’s been at any prior point. He’s relatable and human and Kai is absolutely wrapping him around his little finger.
  • Then, Vinnie, Harrison’s boss sent here, presumably, straight from central casting tells Harrison to ‘clean up in aisle four’ which turns out to be hosing down the steam room after someone’s masturbated in there.
  • Kai is enraged because Harrison is being made to do this because he’s gay. Which is perhaps why, when Harrison finds Kai masturbating in the showers later, Kai tells him he’ll clean it up himself.
  • Harrison goes home to find Meadow tearfully watching TV. She admits the bank is foreclosing and ‘she didn’t want to worry him’. They’re going to be homeless.
  • In three days. Harrison is furious but there’s nothing he can do.
  • Harrison is told to sell Kai on workouts to keep him as a customer. Kai instantly sees through it. Harrison tells him everything. Kai picks him back up and… Harrison is sent back to clean up in aisle four. Again. Kai psyches him up, tells him to change his life and…
  • Harrison chokes his boss half to death with a barbell and then finishes the job off by clubbing him to death.
  • Harrison loses it. He’s a murder. He’s going away forever. Kai is completely chilled. He sends a fake message to everyone on Vinnie’s phone telling them he’s going away and erases the last three weeks of security footage at the gym. Kai talks Harrison down and helps dispose of the body.
  • Elsewhere, Meadow runs out of Xanax and offers to have sex with a guy at the motel they’re staying at for a joint. Disgusted, the guy just hands it to her. Meadow opens the door of their apartment and walks in on Kai talking Harrison through sawing Vinnie’s head off in the bath. She takes it pretty well.
  • We jump ahead to December 2016 and Beverly, the reporter we’ve seen a couple of times this season, embittered and fed up. Serina, her rival, is living the high life doing endless makeover pieces in the studio. Beverly is covering the discovery of the beheaded, handless corpse we know is actually Vinnie.
  • We see Kai watch the news story she recorded. Beverly is welcomed back to the field by newscaster Bob. Kai focuses in on this, murmuring ‘where did you go?’ He watches a montage of her reports continually being interrupted by men screaming ‘grab her right in the p—y!’. She snaps, beating one with a microphone. Then we see Serina reporting on Beverly ‘voluntarily’ checking herself into a psychiatric facility for 30 days.
  • Serina is flirting with Bob the news anchor at the studio. There’s a just startlingly terrible sequence that tries to address the conflict between journalism and people wanting to be distracted from the endless horror of the news that just doesn’t work. Bob yells at Beverly. Beverly slashes Bob’s tires. Kai appears, buys her a cup of coffee and talks to her. He tells her about how fear can be magnified and used as an agent of change.
  • He also claims he did a tour in Iraq, has a 135 IQ, a brown belt in karate and graduated with a double first from Harvard. Sure.
  • Kai swears he will be able to help her. He swears he’ll be able to give her what she needs. Because she’s defined by rage. She tells him just how full of rage she is and how little she believes in anyone. Kai gives her the address of his office and tells her he’ll see her in a few days.
  • Serina Belinda is doing a piece about puppy adoption. She’s being miserable about it. And then the clowns appear. And stab her and her cameraman to death. Repeatedly. And tear her heart out.
  • Kai has Meadow and Harison round at his place and is looking at Meadow’s art. He compliments her for it. She admits she wanted to be a painter and he strokes her ego.
  • Beverly arrives at Kai’s house. She demands to know if Kai was responsible for killing Serina and her cameraman. He admits it. He tells her he did it so she’d believe he would do anything for her.
  • She tells him she believes in him and they hug. And agree to equal power.
  • Beverly is back in the game. She starts with a news story about the discovery of Vinnie’s severed head. She steps off into editorializing about blood on the streets and societal anarchy before throwing back to Bob in the studio.
  • Back at home, Ally and Ivy are talking on the day before the election. Ally is talking about Jill Stein. She is unbearable.
  • Ivy goes to a pro-Clinton rally. She gets into an argument with the man who will vote minus a hand on election night. He assaults her, Winter chases him off and he speeds off in a pickup truck.
  • Winter consoles Ivy and suggests they go get some food. She’s very impressed by Ivy’s restaurant. Ivy explains that she can’t believe she didn’t fight back. Winter tells her it’s okay, it’s not her fault.
  • At the supermarket, the bearded asshole (who we now realise was the guy who Ally saw back in the first episode when we thought this might be going somewhere), closes up. Winter is the last person in the store. Along with Ivy, who tazes the guy unconscious.
  • They tape him up and wearing masks yell at him about how a woman is about to become the commander in chief. They tape his mouth, tell him that they’ll call the police in 24 hours and leave.
  • Winter goes home and wipes blood off her face. Kai finds her and asks what she did. He asks what it felt like to hurt someone and she tells him just how happy it made her. He demands she tell him everything.
  • Kai visits Gary and tells him the polls will close in an hour. Anyone who’s seen Mad Max or, indeed, the top of the episode, will know where this is going.
  • Kai psyches Gary up into cutting his hand off so he can vote. He does it. Kai watches. So do we.


Let’s start with the positives because even here there are some.

Evan Peters is great. And the issue we talked about last week, with no one actually having nuance to them, is definitely addressed with Kai. His interactions with Beverly and Harrison are the highlights of the show so far and Peters excels here. He plays Kai not as the shrieking, cheeto-smeared madman we first saw but as someone who plausibly cares very much about the people around him. Even if it’s as assets. Als, both Adina Porter’s newly arrived Beverly and Billy Eichner’s almost entirely terrible Harrison are massively helped by their interactions with him. You understand them both now,  and that helps deal with a lot of what’s gone before.

Structurally the episode tries for something interesting too. It jumps around in time, starting and finishing on election night as we see the characters all subtly within one another’s orbits long before they knew they were. It’s an interesting idea but unfortunately it only emphasizes the increasingly large problem this season has; for a show filled with clown murder it’s not actually doing very much.

Worse still the opening shot in the voting line is cute but ultimately nonsensical. Why wouldn’t Ally and Ivy recognize their new neighbors a few weeks later? And more importantly why wouldn’t they, and anyone with functioning senses, recognise Kai as the guy who brought in the man with the severed hand to vote? And why isn’t the fact that Gary the bigoted supermarket manager CUT HIS HAND OFF ON ELECTION NIGHT the only thing anyone in town is talking about?

And that brings us to what ultimately kills this episode; it’s trying to course correct from last week and instead comes across as massively overwrought. Gary is AWFUL. He’s Ally levels of AWFUL. And we know that’s intentional and we know that there are people exactly like them on both sides but that doesn’t make them interesting to watch.

While Gary is so very awful, the attempted retcon of Winter and Ivy already knowing each other, somehow, works. There are interesting questions raised by it, which none of the episode manages. Is Winter genuinely invested or was she just scoping the restaurant, and the couple out? Both Lourd and Pill do excellent work here and, given how bad the material frequently is, that’s quite an achievement.

Plus for all the frantic action, random character murder the episode still doles out actual plot painfully slowly. The Kai and Ivy and Winter stuff is pretty much all we get and in between all that we get not one but three masturbation ‘jokes’, two terrible characters who eat screen time, interminable scenes of Harrison and Meadow’s terrible life and a fun plot with Beverly that’s landed a good episode too soon. Oh and Emma Roberts and Dermot Mulroney in what may very well be single episode, meaningless, cameos.

It’s a mess. It aims for context and intelligence and it gives us random degradation and violence that shifts tone every scene. It’s not, quite, worse than last week but it’s certainly barely any better. American Horror Story hits rocky spots every season but this year it’s hit one very early. The upward curve can hit ANY time now. Please. Make it soon.

The Good:

  • Kai is actually interesting this episode. And compelling and multi-faceted and DANGEROUS.
  • Kai drawing the clown face on the wall in the sauna is a very smart touch. But is he the leader of the cult?
  • ‘What flavour gay are ya?’
  • ‘All I need is you and a decent cable package’
  • ‘Nowhere is a great place to be’
  • ‘Is she done pretending to be interested in your liver spot covered dick yet? I need to do some… y’know, work.’
  • ‘It’s not like anger. Everyone feels that. It feels like wanting to be the last person on Earth because that way you got to watch every other son of a BITCH die before you. I wanna believe there’s someone out there, like you, looking to smash the shit show to peices. But I can’t. I dont believe in you. Or anyone. Not even myself.’ – This plot is the best thing the show has done so far this season. Adina Porter, and Beverly, need much more air time.
  • ‘Men always feel like they can get away with anything. Because they HAVE.’

The Bad:

  • Kai works with computers. Because of course he does.
  • ‘You’re a part of something bigly’ – NO. STOP THAT.
  • Every single moment Serina and Bob talk.
  • Serina’s utterly pointless side plot.
  • Vinnie, possibly the laziest stereotype the show has ever leaned on. And remember, we got the inbred murder cannibal rednecks last year.
  • Gary, who, somehow, is so much worse.
  • The 11ty thousandth version of the Ally/Ivy Jill Stein argument. For no reason we can see other than filling time.
  • Nothing Meadow does this episode achieves anything besides taking up screen time.

And The Random:

  • Gwynyth Horder-Payton is back behind the camera this week so the episode at least looks good.
  • John J Gray has worked on Firefly, The Inside, Dollhouse and the beloved Terriers. He, much like James Wong last episode, is clearly not having a good week.
  • Emma Roberts previously worked with producer Ryan Murphy on Scream Queens.
  • Chaz Bono, who plays Gary, was both Lot Polk and Brian Wells last year on American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare.
  • Dermot Mulroney, who deserves so much better than what he gets here, has had a prolific and varied career. He’s best known for rom-coms like My Best Friend’s Wedding. We’re fondest of him in excellent, and horribly marketed, Liam Neeson wolf horror movie, The Grey though.


Review by Alasdair Stuart

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