American Horror Story
This particular ending of a rather inventive and insightful season of American Horror Story now seems like a sad inevitability. As we make the death march toward next week’s finale, the story is following the trajectory that we’ve seen from quite a few cult leaders this season: What starts out ideological and somewhat pure ends up in a grisly mess, inscribed on a living-room wall in blood, as the charismatic figurehead at the center of it bows down to drug addiction, paranoia, and megalomania.
Kai is suffering the same fate, and that obviousness robs this episode of some of its excitement. At every turn, we know exactly what is going to happen. One of my favorite pastimes is pointing out the holes in any messily plotted season of American Horror Story, but this season, the writers have not made that hobby so easy. Just as I was thinking, “Whatever happened to Bebe, Valerie Solanas’s girlfriend who was working with Kai?” and I was ready to slag off the producers for forgetting about her, she comes roaring back to life only to be unceremoniously killed off.
When we met Bebe in the episode about Valerie, we saw her working with the women of the Insane Clown Posse to fight against men and we found out that she was connected to Kai all along. It turns out she was the court-mandated anger-management counselor he had to see after he was convicted of slapping one of Winter’s liberal friends during the last presidential debate. (The best line of the night is when Ally shoots her and Kai says she is the anger-management coach. “Well, she’s not very good at her job,” Ally replies. ZING!)
Bebe was trying to use Kai, whom she saw as charismatic and intelligent, to unleash the feminine anger in this country so that they could rip the patriarchy apart. The problem was that she lost control of her “little turd” and he liked the power trip too much. He didn’t want to let women take control and drown him in the sea of their anger. He wanted to do what the patriarchy always does, which is to use his privilege for his own ends.
In the end, Bebe was the pawn of a cult leader trying to use another cult leader for her own ends, and she failed. And now, Kai has plunged further and further into Charles Manson territory, going so far as to hallucinate the ur-cult leader in the middle of his pill-addled frenzy.
The episode even recasts the infamous Manson murders with a bunch of the characters from this season. Those killings seem to be America’s worst nightmare, because they affected the wealthy and privileged by literally hitting them where they lived. It was an unspeakable and random act of violence that was as inescapable as it was unexplainable. Watching it was one of the most difficult things this show has asked us to do, and we’ve seen a gimp have his hooks ripped out from his entire body and Kathy Bates’s Baltimore accent in Freak Show.
Kai wants his underwear-twink brigade to start a new Helter Skelter, which is the race war Charles Manson hoped to spark with his killing spree. The one thing I really didn’t understand, though, was how killing Gary at a Planned Parenthood clinic and putting him next to a sign that says “Stop the Slaughter” is supposed to work in Kai’s favor. He says that a group called the “Woke Warriors” did this to further their “anti-life agenda,” and then blames the murder on his senator.
But that logic doesn’t track at all. If liberals were going to kill a conservative for their cause, why would they situate him at a liberal bastion like Planned Parenthood? What’s the point of the “Stop the Slaughter” sign? Are they supposedly framing the right? None of this makes any sense to me. But just when I thought it was a horrible plot hole, I remembered that Kai is unraveling, so this plan probably made tons of sense in his fear-rattled mind.
The real lesson of this episode is what happens when you try to corral a madman for your own purposes. Bebe tried to get Kai to unleash the country’s simmering feminist anger and was shot by another woman. Gary was a faithful soldier and he was forced to sacrifice himself for a very dumb plan. Winter tried to push her liberal agenda and her familial access to power through Kai, and she gets strangled when he suspects that she was ratting on him to the Feds. Beverly tried to get Kai to help further her career and take control of the media, and he sidelined her and ruined whatever reputation she had by forcing her to report on fake crimes.
Almost all of these people have a real-life corollary. Gary is like Steve Bannon, helping Trump get to power and then sacrificed for the alt-right yahoos whom he commanded in the first place. Firing Bannon might have helped Trump weather the Charlottesville controversy, but it alienated his base in the long run.
Winter is just like Ivanka, who thought that she could slip some of her pet issues — like environmental protections, LGBT civil rights, and paid family leave — past her father by sticking close to him and being the only person he trusts. But as Trump seemingly hates his job more and more, she’s just another ally to be betrayed.
Beverly is like Fox News as a whole, which went all-in on backing Trump to get his favor and cater to the nationalistic swell in its right-leaning audience. But as they double down on reporting whatever the administration wants, they face pressure from advertisers and their very last shreds of credibility have dried up.
Just like Trump himself, Kai has taken down everyone around him with what Samantha Bee calls a “spreading taint,” forcing even former good people to do really stupid things. The only person left standing from the original cadre who brought Kai to power is Ally, the person he once terrorized. I thought that this season was about liberal Ally versus conservative Kai, Clinton versus Trump played out in clown costumes. But it’s something different than that. Ally and Kai have always been a lot closer than we ever thought. The fight isn’t between the Jill Stein voter and the Trump voter — it’s about all of us against insanity.