Well, boys and ghouls, you knew we weren’t going to make it through an entire season without American Horror Story repeating the sins of its past. Here we have one of the show’s classic follies: jumping through narrative hoops in order to accommodate a famous guest star. This time it’s Lena Dunham. While she is excellent in the role of wannabe Andy Warhol assassin and radical feminist Valerie Solanas, this was, by far, the weakest episode of an otherwise strong season.
It starts out with Valerie selling herself in the back of a car in 1968, making $5 from a “little dicked piece of dog shit” so that she can afford some bullets to shoot Andy Warhol. He’s lost the only copy of her play, Up the Ass, and has generally dismissed her so she wants to take her revenge. An in-depth historical analysis — and by that I mean skimming Wikipedia and once falling asleep to I Shot Andy Warhol when it played on IFC — shows that all of this is true. Solanas did write the SCUM Manifesto, shoot Warhol, go to a home for the criminally insane, and die alone in San Francisco (in 1988, a little more than a year before Warhol’s own death).
Now that Ryan Murphy has given Marcia Clark a feminist redemption, it seems like he is trying to do the same with Solanas. At first, I was there for it. Here is a mentally ill woman who was abused and widely dismissed by men. And her philosophy is not entirely wrong. As she rants again and again in the episode, all of the world’s problems are caused by men. If only for that, it’s probably time that we reconsider Solanas and her memory.
It was so sad when Solanas imagines her bête noire Warhol sabotaging her work in her room. “Even now, when they hear the name Valerie Solanas, they think Andy Warhol,” she tells him. “You’ve taken my work. You’ve taken my life. You’ve taken my legacy.” This echoes the sentiment we heard last episode about how cults are really a reaction by the patriarchy whenever women get too much power. Here was a woman who was trying to put an end to the cult of Warhol and the patriarchy all at once.
But she did it, at least in this recounting, by starting a cult of her own. We learn this from Bebe Babbott (Frances Conroy), who says that she was Valerie’s most devoted acolyte and lover. (She also approached Beverly in the television-station parking lot to warn her about what would happen with Kai.) Beverly then shows up at Kai’s house and is stopped at the front door by a bunch of white-nationalist-looking jerks with Hitler Youth haircuts and Rag and Bone rip-off shirts buttoned all the way up. She gets to deliver this season’s best line yet: “I’m Beverly motherfucking Hope and you’re going to get the hell out of my way.”
Kai dismisses Beverly, telling him that the people need law and order after the mass shooting and he is going to give it to them from his city council post. She tells them what the people really need is fresh blood. She wants to throw the populace off-kilter so they can really create change. While they disagree about tactics, Valerie is really upset because she’s not getting the shared power that Kai originally promised her.
She gets Ivy and Winter together to meet with Bebe and they all complain that this is what men always do: They fool women into helping get them elected and, as Winter says, “They defund Planned Parenthood and force them to get transvaginal ultrasounds before they can have an abortion.”
Bebe has a cautionary tale about how men always take the credit for the hard work of women. She tells them about how Valerie wanted to start killing men to make her SCUM Manifesto a reality and that the members of her cult would start the murders when they got “the signal,” which was her attempted murder of Warhol. And so, Bebe and her friends went out and started killing people on lover’s lane. Yup, it turns out they were the Zodiac killer.
When Bebe said that, I must admit that my eyes rolled so hard that they fell out of my skull, tumbled down the stairs, and ended up on the floor of the dumpling shop under my Chinatown apartment. I won’t order any dumplings in the next week because they very well may contain the baby browns that once resided in Brian James Moylan’s skull.
As I watched the rest of the episode, I was just tapping my fingers waiting for it to be over, while we learn all of the ways that Valerie Solanas could possibly have masterminded the Zodiac killings and how one of the gay dudes in her cult took credit for it. Don’t worry, the little turd was murdered for his transgression: The SCUM women cut him up, stuffed his penis and balls in his mouth, and left him for the police. Not only did I not believe any of this was true, I was also bored by the whole thing. It just seemed like a very long non sequitur meant to enrage the think-piece police that love to write essays starring Lena Dunham.
Anyway, Winter, Ivy, and Beverly decide that they’re going to get revenge for Meadow and lure her husband Harrison to Ivy’s restaurant. They knock him out and tie him to a table, where they get some answers about Meadow out of him before hacking him to pieces with a butcher’s saw. They dispose of the body in a swamp and Beverly goes on the news and basically tells Kai that she did this and that the Women’s Auxiliary is coming for him.
That’s when he turns to his unseen companion and says with a smile, “They’re at their best when they’re angry.” The camera pans and we see its Bebe. “Aren’t we all?”
That clever twist is the only thing that saves this episode. Either Kai is somehow working for Bebe, or, much more likely, Bebe is part of Kai’s master plan. Is he going to pit these women against the alt-right heroes that invaded his house? I don’t know, but this is the only part of the episode that was surprising or exciting to me.
It also means that all of that stuff about the Solanas crew being the Zodiac killer is total nonsense too. We only have that on Bebe’s authority, and now that she is compromised as an agent of Kai, we can no longer believe anything about the yarn she spun for the Girl Power Group. Still, I’m happy to keep the cigar-puffing Bebe around for a few more episodes.