American Horror Story: Cult Recap: Nailed It!

American Horror Story

Season 7 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: FX Networks.

This episode of American Horror Story has two of the most gruesome, frightening, and downright uncomfortable scenes in recent memory. The only one that might top them is that scene in Silicon Valley where Richard Hendricks was forced to watch a pair of horses mate.

The first takes place when the Insane Clown Posse decides to kill Bob, Beverly’s boss at the TV station. Before they can fatally stab him to death shouting, “Ave Satanus” (because Latin is scarier), Bob says, “But who is going to take care of him?” He means, of course, the gimp in the attic.

We’ve seen some scary things in attics in this show (remember Delphine LaLaurie torturing her slaves in the attic in Coven?), but this is something entirely different. In Bob’s attic, we find a grown man covered in a hood and hanging from the ceiling from a number of hooks through his arms, leg, chest, nipples, and, well, other parts. That, in and of itself, isn’t that gross. (I mean, I have visited kink.com in the past.) What’s gross is when Kai decides to kill the gimp so that he can’t rat them out. With one stab in the chest, the gimp’s rig shattered and all of the hooks tore out of his skin at once. It made me squirm on the couch like I was a cockroach half-crazed with poison, wriggling my legs in the air.

The addition of the gimp is a weird aside for a show that has been pretty streamlined and focused all season. It seems like the ghosts of AHS seasons past, where the writers threw all sorts of strange things at the wall to see which ideas would stick. As usual, this approach leaves us with more enraged questions than answers. First, when Bob was walking downstairs wearing rubber gloves and licking something red off of them, I was wondering what was up. Then, when we find out about the gimp, how did we have no indication of this in Bob’s personality beforehand?

Also, is this a sex thing? As far as we know, Bob was in a heterosexual relationship with Serena, the journalist killed by the ICP in the last episode. See? So many questions. But let’s just chalk it up to the idea that no one really knows who anyone is and we all have the proverbial gimps in our attic. Bob’s was just a lot more literal.

The other scene that was too tense to watch takes place when Kai decides that R.J., Beverly’s cameraman whom I barely even bothered to register in previous episodes, had to die because he isn’t a true believer. Kai congregates all of his supplicants in what seems to be his basement and tells Ivy that she has to kill him by shooting a nail gun into his head. He also takes the time to tell us that the world record for having nails in the head and surviving is 13. Ivy cocks the gun to R.J.’s head and reluctantly pulls the trigger. Then we see everyone else take a turn, one deadly thump into his skull after the other. It was a scene I just couldn’t watch, like Bambi’s mother dying or Screech from Saved by the Bell’s porn movie.

R.J.’s death left me with a bunch of questions, too, mostly of the “who the hell is this guy and why do we care?” variety. But both Bob’s murder and this killing make sense in the greater narrative of the season: Kai, our Trump stand-in, is controlling the media just like Trump does. When there’s a story that Trump doesn’t want covered, he uses the means at his disposal — usually Twitter — to change the narrative and get both the media and his base to pay attention to that instead. He also uses the media to cultivate fear, which is what allows him to rule and push his agenda forward.

Of course, when Kai forces everyone to murder R.J., he’s acting more as a charismatic cult leader than anything else. He’s not only solidifying the bonds of everyone in the group by making them engage in a ritualized murder, but also showing them what happens if they displease him.

It seems that Meadow is going to meet a similar fate for trying to escape the cult. One night, Ally spies Harrison and hot cop Jack Samuels making out across the street. She also sees Harrison dragging what appears to be a body into the backyard. Ally finds out that it’s Meadow, and she says that they’re going to kill her for some mysterious reason. When Ally flees to the safety of her own home, Meadow follows and tells Ally that it is a cult and that everyone is in it, including her wife, Ivy.

Is this just another way for Kai to recruit Ally? Are they staging Meadow’s capture and possible murder as another way to freak Ally out so that she’ll have to join them? Or is this for real? Some of the cult members are questioning where Meadow is and she does describe it as a “cult,” so maybe this is real.

Right now, those are the biggest questions about the overarching plot, since this episode filled in the rest of the gaps for us. We discover that Ally’s psychiatrist Dr. Rudy is actually Kai and Winter’s older brother, not their dad as I initially suspected. (My apologies to Cheyenne Jackson, who doesn’t look that old.) I also thought that Kai and Winter might be related to Twisty the Clown, but that doesn’t seem true either.

In fact, we find out that Kai’s mother killed his father, who was a real S.O.B., and then shot herself. Instead of reporting the crime, Dr. Rudy tells Kai to keep the corpses locked in their room so they can avoid paying a “death tax.” They keep the smell out by covering the bodies in lye, then putting one solitary rose on the door (which we saw in the very first episode), similar to how The Hunger Games President Snow wore a rose on his collar to keep away the stench of his breath.

Also, we learned that Kai & Co. are the ones in the clown masks — and even more important, that Ivy is part of the cult that is gaslighting her Jill Stein–voting wife. But that doesn’t leave us with very many mysteries, or even clue us in on what to expect from Cult’s final six episodes. In general, this season has really set up its twists and reveals in a much better and more logical way than the seasons past. It’s slowly laid the groundwork for all of this to happen, and it’s a much tighter, more controlled, and enjoyable show because of it.

And it’s still planting seeds. We see Winter flirting a bit with Ivy in the car. We see Ivy bristling at Kai’s control, even though she claims to be ready for radical action to transform the world. We see Beverly getting closer to Kai than anyone else; she even manages to bend him to her will during the pinky-swear game. It’s all starting to come to a head. Who thought that all it would take to tame the beast that is American Horror Story was Donald Trump?

American Horror Story: Cult Recap: Nailed It!