My biggest complaint about American Horror Story is that it usually tries to be so extra. It gives us a million villains, legions of characters, twists that come so quickly they give you whiplash, and plot holes so big that they could sink the better part of an entire Midwestern town. But I have none of those complaints at all about this episode, or about this season of AHS so far. Somewhere near the end of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” I realized that this entire hour is just one fragile woman freaking the hell out.
This is a different kind of horror, something more sinister and psychological than what we’ve seen from AHS in seasons past. It’s along the lines of Dial M for Murder, Bunny Lake Is Missing, Repulsion, or, you guessed it, Gaslight than a conventional horror movie like Friday the 13th. This episode is intimate in the way it tells the story, never leaving Ally’s perspective as her fear that the world is unraveling gets more and more intense, until she is so hysterical that she eventually makes a fatal mistake.
It starts with the clown we will call Dildo Nose scaring Ally in her bedroom. She runs downstairs to find Ivy, but when they investigate the rest of the house, they can’t find the intruder. The big question is whether or not she is actually seeing the clowns. It seems like the show is telegraphing that Ally’s clowns are a combination of real and fake. When Ally sees Dildo Nose or when Ozzie has the scary dream about Dildo Nose and Twisty stalking him through the house, no one else sees the clowns. (Note to Ozzie: Don’t hide behind a translucent shower curtain! That’s how you get yourself killed!) The same thing happens when Green Hair blows out Ally’s candle at the end of the episode, and when she hurls Finger Skull over the banister. They’re more like apparitions than actual people. Finger Skull doesn’t even make a sound when she would conceivably hit the ground.
However, there’s something different when that clown in Ozzie’s room tells him that he’s still asleep. There’s an actual interaction as if he’s really there. I suspect that someone is trying to drive Ally insane, but once they’ve planted the seeds in her scaredy-cat brain, she’s imagining more clowns than are actually there.
Someone is obviously out to get Ivy and Ally. Why else would all of these murders be happening around them? It’s like they’re Jessica Fletcher at a wedding in Ireland during a two-hour Murder, She Wrote special. First, it’s their neighbors the Changs, then it’s Roger, the mean, xenophobic sous chef who gets in a fight with Pedro, a Latino member of the staff at Ivy’s restaurant. Yet another incident that freaks Ally the hell out.
My working theory is still that Kai and his sister Winter are in some sort of insane Twisty the Clown cult. Kai and his clown friends killed the Changs to get his city council seat, which Kai is running for, and so that they could move across the street and more easily harass Ally. What really gins up her panic when the lights go out isn’t anything she sees in the house, but Harrison telling her that it’s an act of terrorism. How does he know? I don’t think they made the lights go out to maximize on the incident.
Harrison and his wife, Meadow, seem trustworthy, but anyone with that level of devotion to Nicole Kidman who is not an Australian country-western singer seems a little bit unhinged. I mean, how many married couples do you know where the man is gay and the wife is a light-phobic vampire? They quickly befriend the lesbians next door (which, if you’ve ever lived next door to lesbians, is really imperative if you ever need to borrow tools or the complete works of Ani DiFranco) with their beehives and their safe full of guns. In fact, Harrison gives Ally the gun that she later uses to shoot Pedro when he unexpectedly arrives at her doorstep with fresh supplies.
Who better to do a quick costume change and terrorize Ally than the hipster urban farmers next door? These people don’t even mind the bloodstains on their floor or the creepy smiley faces painted on the wall after the Changs’ murder. Wouldn’t a normal Nicole Kidman superfan at least slap a Bewitched poster over that? We also know that they’re affiliated with Kai because they’re the ones who gave the footage of his beating to the news crew, an attack that Kai set up himself.
Winter, the nanny, is also acting very strange. She’s doing that whole pinky-to-pinky thing with Ozzie (real name Ozymandias because eye roll) and doing a whole pinky-in-the-pinky thing with Ally while she’s taking a bath. I’m not sure what Kai has over Winter or why she wants to prey on Ozzie’s fears and insert herself into Ivy and Ally’s relationship, but she sure is doing a very good job.
This whole crazy plot — and the season’s tie-in to the election — seems to boil down to something that Winter says to Ozzie: “People are going to believe what they want to believe. The trick is figuring out what they want to believe and giving it to them.” After all, this is pretty much what Donald Trump did to become president. Now it’s what Kai and Winter are doing to Ally. As she tells her therapist, Ally feels suddenly validated about the way she sees the world, like it’s all starting to fall apart around her.
When Ryan Murphy announced that this season was going to be about the election, I was scared that it would be some silly polemic or thinly veiled allegory about Donald Trump as a pussy-grabbing monster. At least for now — and let’s be honest, we are in the very early stages of an AHS season — it’s something far more interesting and subtle than that. Just take the scene between Ally and Kai when he shows up at the front door to campaign for city council. His subtle menace while remaining like a politician was positively masterful. The two of them also find a way to revert to the stereotypes that the other expected all along: Ally is the petrified liberal snowflake to a hilt and Kai is the alt-right boogeyman, bringing the world down for no good reason and destroying Ally’s life. Subtle, intimate, and insightful aren’t adjectives I’m used to using when talking about AHS, but I really like it. Let’s hope it stays that way.