Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series “American Horror Story” has been a mainstay of primetime television since it’s inception in 2011. The show has had it’s fair share of hits and misses — with the premiere season, “Murder House,” standing far above its successors.
The seventh season of the show, subtitled “Cult,” explores different themes than previous seasons, focusing more on human psychological terror rather than supernatural elements.
The first episode, which aired Sept. 5 on FX Network, begins on election night of 2016, when Donald Trump’s victory was announced. The audience is introduced to two central characters, both standing on extreme opposites of the political spectrum.
Sarah Paulson — an integral part of every “AHS” season thus far — plays liberal, Jill Stein-voting lesbian Ally Mayfair-Richards. She screams in horror as the news of Trump’s victory is announced on television, and later has visions of killer clowns (or are they real?) stalking her in a supermarket, sending her swirling into madness.
On the opposite side of town is Kai Anderson, played with manic intensity by Evan Peters. Kai’s reaction to Trump winning is one of pure elation — he humps his TV while chanting “USA! USA! USA!” before going to the kitchen, blending a bag of cheese puffs and slathering it on his face while practicing his Trump impression.
It is clear from the beginning that Kai is more than a little unhinged. His faded blue hair and fiendish behavior make him feel threatening, especially when telling city council
they should blow up a Jewish community center rather than fund it further.
Kai believes that Trump’s America is founded on fear, making everyone more vulnerable to whatever games he might have in store. He enlists his sister (Billie Lourd, a standout from Murphy’s other hit “Scream Queens,” in a deliciously mischievous role) to help him carry out his plan, although we aren’t quite sure what that plan is yet.
Incorporating real-time events and political commentary is fresh and reinvigorating, reviving a series that can become stale as it progresses. But for dedicated fans, there are still plenty of haunting visuals that make “Cult” a wickedly enjoyable watch.
Most chilling was the murder of Ally’s neighbors by a gang of vicious clowns while Ally’s son Ozzie watched through a window. The masks the gang wore were horrifying on their own, but the added brutality of watching a man get his throat slit — then realizing a child had also just witnessed this — made the scene almost hard to watch. But this is also the style “AHS” fans are accustomed to, so it just felt right.
While providing a new formula that rejuvenates the otherwise trite series, “AHS: Cult” remains true to what makes the series so investing in the first place. It reminds that fear comes in many forms. This particular season doesn’t say anything new about our current political climate — it shows it. A nation founded on fear produces actions driven by fear, and “Cult” shows us fear with a wicked flair.
“American Horror Story: Cult” airs every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on FX Network and is rated TV-MA.