American Horror Story
When it comes to certain pivotal moments in American history, everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. Though we’re less than a year removed from Election Night 2016, it has already entered that collection of unforgettable experiences. In “11/9,” we get to see how everyone voted and experienced Election Night, alongside the run-up that shaped the events of this small Michigan town and, by extension, America.
The gag in the voting booth to start the episode is cute: We get to see Ivy, Winter, and Dr. Rudy voting for Clinton, Kai and one-handed goober Gary voting for Trump, Harrison voting for some Libertarian candidate, Meadow writing in her vote for Oprah Winfrey, and, of course, Ally lobbing her protest vote at Jill Stein. Ugh, Ally. You’ve really gotten everything you deserve.
After the results come in, we see what really motivates Kai. He starts his recruitment tactics with Harrison in a way that is textbook for a charismatic cult leader. It’s all about preying on the insecurities of vulnerable people, offering to fix their problems and provide a sense of belonging that they’ve never felt in the outside world. For Harrison, it’s about not having to clean up the jizz on the floor of the world’s least sexy gym steam room. (And I should know, I’ve jerked off in — I mean, visited — more than my fair share.) Kai exploits Harrison’s employment and economic insecurities, as well as his feeling like an outsider for being gay.
Naturally, there is also a sexual component to Kai’s recruitment tactics, which we see when he promises to help Harrison with any “raging hard-ons” he might wake up with and his open-door wanking in the gym shower. (Damn, Evan Peters needs to give his IRL trainer a bonus for that body!) We also see Kai caressing Meadow’s leg and flattering her artwork, welcoming her into the fold in the same way that he did with Harrison. Okay, he didn’t make Meadow murder her boss with a barbell and then cut his head off in a seedy motel bathroom, but similar enough.
Kai’s recruitment of news anchor Beverly (the genius Adina Porter) is a little different. He sees her on TV saying that she’s happy to be back on the nightly news and he wonders where she’s been. He pops a handful of Adderall — side note: why do people on TV always chew their pills like they’re Tic Tacs? — and does some easy online research to learn that she attacked a teenage skateboarder because people kept interrupting her live broadcasts by shouting, “Grab her by the pussy,” Trump’s famous line from the Access Hollywood tape.
Kai then goes out of his way to find Beverly and exploit her unhappiness and rage. He knows that it is hard for a black woman to get ahead, especially when there are sassy white girls like Serena (played by Ryan Murphy staple Emma Roberts) using their sexuality to get ahead. But Beverly initially thwarts Kai’s advances, saying she doesn’t want to be coupled up with anyone because her rage goes so deep that she hates every person around, including herself.
That means he has to earn her allegiance, so he puts Harrison and Meadow in clown masks — at this point I’m going to assume that Kai is Dildo Nose, Harrison is Green Hair, and Meadow is Ball Gag — and murders Serena while she’s taping a segment in a public park. Beverly gets the message and decides that she will be the person that Kai needs with a microphone and a platform. She then uses Vinnie the gym manager’s murder to start ginning up fear that Kai can exploit for his city council run, much like Trump did to fuel his campaign. (Kai, also like Trump, seems to fudge his backstory depending on whom he is talking to.)
What’s odd is that Kai, as a Trump-loving figure, isn’t attracting the usual “basket of deplorables” that those on the left typically think of as Trump voters. Yes, Gary was Kai’s first and most ardent support — and he is the kind of red-hat wearer who is afraid for his manufacturing job and upset about the racial and sexual diversity that is sweeping the country — but now that Trump has gained power, Kai is going after other people. He’s targeting gays, black people, and white women who don’t need a home but want a good cable package.
After Beverly scoffs at Kai running for city council to start his world-conquering agenda, he says, “The fear in a small town in Michigan can infect the whole country.” If that is not an apt description for what happened in this election, then I don’t know what is. Those fears about people losing their jobs, their racial identity, and their status is what elected Trump far more than any of his actual policy promises. (God knows he doesn’t really have any.)
The interesting counterpoint to Kai recruiting his Insane Clown Posse is how we see Winter recruiting Ivy the day before the election. She uses the same recipe her brother uses, taking Ivy out to eat and telling her that it is time that they fight back. That the government isn’t doing anything to help anyone and it’s only if they take justice into their own hands and go after the man who sexually assaulted Ivy — that goober Gary — that they can actually change the world.
Their idea is to chain Gary up in a basement so that he won’t be able to vote. It’s just their little, harmless part to stop one Trump voter from getting to the polls. Unfortunately for them, Kai shows up with a hacksaw and a plan and Gary is willing to sacrifice his hand so that he can go and cast his ballot for a reality-television star with a sentient quiff of mustard-colored hair.
What this demonstrates, quite subversively, is that disenfranchisement exists on both sides of the aisle; that there are men and women who are unhappy with the natural order of things because their lifestyles are being threatened. When someone can harness that fear, they can make people do incredibly dangerous and unpredictable things. This is not the kind of political subtlety that American Horror Story is known for, but it keeps deploying it with an adroitness that is commendable, especially considering how this season could have played out.
So, what does this episode say for the season’s story as a whole? Most important, we now know for sure that Kai and his recruits are the titular cult. They are the clowns that have been terrorizing the town and committing various and assorted murders. Duh.
The really interesting thing, though, is that Ivy and Winter met before she showed up to interview as Ivy and Ally’s nanny. Does that mean Ivy is in the Insane Clown Posse too? Is that how the clowns keep gaining access to the house? Is that why they’re going after Ally, as Ivy’s revenge for her partner throwing away her vote on Jill Stein? That’s a likely motivation, but it seems more like Kai and his crew are trying to drive Ally out of her mind to lure her into their coalition. The most frightening thing is that it seems like it could actually work.