It’s not surprising that this episode of American Horror Story makes a political statement, since that is what the season has been interested in from the jump. What is surprising is that it didn’t make the statement it hoped to make. This episode shows a gunman committing a mass shooting during a public gathering. It just happened to air right after the worst mass shooting in American history. The sad truth is that, no matter when it aired, it was likely to be close to a mass shooting, since they’ve become so pervasive in this country.
I would say this is bad timing, but when would it ever be good timing for such an episode? FX went so far as to edit the opening sequence so that it wouldn’t trigger people still reeling from the news out of Las Vegas. (The episode can still be seen in full on demand and on FX’s site.) But, man, just when the AHS producers think that they’re only making statements about the fear-mongering Trumpian dystopia that we’re living in and the myopic identity politics of the liberal elite, they go and make an inadvertent statement about gun violence too.
While we still don’t know the Las Vegas shooter’s motive, we do know what propelled Meadow to open fire at a rally for Kai’s city-council candidacy. It was love, pure and simple — her love for Kai and his love for creating a spectacle of violence that is awful enough to captivate national attention. As often happens in the case of these mass shootings, he’s going to get exactly what he wants.
As I posited at the end of the last episode, when Meadow showed up on Ally’s porch and told her about the cult and everyone in it, she was actually in on the scam all along. She wasn’t really looking to escape; she was trying to draw Ally further into their staged assassination scheme so that a crazy liberal who sees clowns and cults where they don’t exist would be blamed for the shooting.
The plan worked perfectly, if not improbably. Ally runs across the street with mace and a knife, and while Harrison and Detective Jack are knocking boots on the dining room table (of course Colton Haynes is the bottom), she steals the keys to free Meadow. She then takes Meadow to her restaurant, which is incredibly stupid because it’s the first place where anyone looking for Ally might decide to check.
I’m really going to miss Meadow, who’s been my favorite character this season. Who else is going to show up at the Butchery on Main and immediately ask for a cappuccino, like there isn’t a group of insane clowns coming after her? But Meadow’s disaffection with the roles available for women is very real. She doesn’t want to be the “boss bitch” that she thinks feminists want her to be, and she can’t be the housewife and mother that conservative women think she could be. The promise of feminism was that women could choose their own destiny, but Meadow doesn’t like any of the choices she sees available to her, and that is what makes her susceptible to Kai. Like she tells Ally about Ivy’s involvement in the cult, when people believe in something, it’s hard for Kai to step in and fill the void.
We do learn a bit more about why Ivy joined the cult. When she goes to play the pinky game with Kai, she reveals that she’s hated Ally for a long time, not just because she voted for Jill Stein. She thought her partner’s neuroses were selfish and Ivy resented that she used to call Ozzy “her baby” because she was the biological mother. I see how the season has been building up to this moment, but I think it takes some of the psychological punch out of Ivy’s involvement with the Insane Clown Posse. She’s not doing it for any political ideals; she’s basically just doing it because she hates her wife and would rather go on a murderous rampage than ask for a divorce.
Thanks to Meadow, we also learn why the cult was targeting Ally. It turns out that Kai was playing similar tricks on people all across town, trying to draw them as pawns for his new world order. I’m not sure if I believe this, but terrorizing innocent people is right out of the Manson Family playbook.
Anyway, Ally takes Meadow to Dr. Rudy’s office because he’s the one person she still trusts. We know that trust is misplaced, since he’s Kai and Winter’s older brother. But did Meadow? When she won’t talk to Dr. Rudy, is it because he’s in on the plan or because she’s just trying to keep her real motives away from Ally?
Ally goes to visit Sally Keffler (Mare Winningham), the woman who got up during Kai’s debate and schooled him about being a reactionary. She says his preaching about the town falling apart is baseless and he’s longing for a world that never really existed. Echoing Hillary Clinton’s statement about the “basket of deplorables,” she says that Kai (and Trump) isn’t the garbage, he’s just the flies that the garbage attracts.
Sally is quite wise and she believes Ally’s ravings about the cult. She says that any time the patriarchy is threatened such things happen, like with Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and David Koresh. But, of course, while she’s rolling a joint the ICP shows up and kills her, making it look like a suicide thanks to a note Kai posts on her Facebook page. “No one will believe it,” she says, right before he shoots her.
“Of course they will,” he replies. “It’s on Facebook.” That is the sort of short and insightful parody of the current political climate that AHS has gotten so adept at this season. It encompasses the fake news on Facebook, Trumpian fear-based campaigning, liberals’ unwillingness to enter into the fray, and whatever the hell is going on with Ally all in one little line.
Eventually, we get to the shooting and the big switcheroo: Meadow, not Ally, is the one doing the killing. (I knew the manicure we saw holding the gun at the beginning was way too good to be Ally’s.) Right before Ally can wrest the gun away from her, Meadow shoots herself in the face to ensure that Ally will get blamed for the crime.
This brings me to the unlikelihood of any of this happening, which has always been something this show struggles with. It might seem like splitting hairs, but there aren’t even debates and rallies for city-council positions in New York City. Why would they be so big in Brookfield Heights, Michigan? Also, is someone really going to run a write-in campaign? When is the last time that worked? (In 2006 in Ohio, but whatever.) And how did Kai and Meadow know that Ally would rescue her, bring her to Dr. Rudy, figure out she was going to shoot people, rush to stop her, and grab the gun away from her? There are just way too many variables here.
But what’s different about this season is that the unbelievability works in service of an allegory that is far more interesting than the plot. It shows us how the political process can be hijacked by fear and misinformation. It shows us how conservatives will take a tragedy and blame it on liberals who were trying to do the right thing. It shows us that liberals are always showing up a little too late and are always a little bit too ineffectual to bring about change. In other seasons, what does all of that sloppy plotting lead up to? Maybe a jump scare or a good plot twist. Maybe. Often it’s just so the writers can figure out how to shoehorn in another guest star.
So, yes, like a weathered jigsaw puzzle that kids solve while waiting in the pediatrician’s office, not all of the pieces fit together just right this season. But for the first time, it seems like American Horror Story is trying to build something larger and more ambitious. That’s reason enough to overlook the plot holes as big as Clinton’s lead in the popular vote.