Nick Banks, HNN’s resident AHS reviewer and commentator, had such a reaction to the pilot episode of Cult that he’s taking a breather under doctor’s orders. You can read the review that sent him over the edge by clicking this link. While he’s resting up, I’ve agreed to share my thoughts of Episodes Two and Three of the season.
I must admit that I’m having a similar reaction to American Horror Story: Cult. After watching the first three episodes, I am developing Ally Mayfair-Richards’ unusual phobia of holes… I find all of the plot holes in the script to be utterly terrifying!
As we all know, Sarah Paulson is an incredible actress who has delivered numerous excellent performances over the years. Unfortunately, the script gives her nothing to work with in her role as Ally. The season’s repetitive plot follows this structure: Ally complains about something in a quiet scene, a loud noise occurs (Have you ever heard an explosion sound when your power turns back on in your house? I ask because that’s what happens when the power turns on in Ally’s house.), then Ally starts screaming and hiding or screaming and fighting, depending on the situation, then the show kind of resets itself to the next morning for a new quiet scene where Ally complains about something else.
In addition to the highly repetitive story elements, the actual words in the script lack variety. Ally said some variation of “You people are crazy!” at least five times this week. We were told early on that the season would be an allegory which satirizes society’s modern political beliefs and partisanship, and the whole “you people” thing could be showrunner Ryan Murphy’s attempt to show that the liberal and inclusive Ally can’t see how she is straying from her beliefs. But American Horror Story’s patented approach to sledgehammer storytelling is not an effective method for attempting the subtle arts of allegory and satire.
Speaking of sledgehammer storytelling, this season cakes on absurd plot devices earlier than any season that has come before it. In every season of AHS, there are usually an early couple of episodes which are restrained and interesting as they introduce the premise. By Episode Three of Cult, we’re up to a pack of murderous clowns, a magical Evan Peters with mind control abilities and a power to show up randomly in any scene which borders on teleportation, Billie Lourd as Winter: the most incompetent babysitter you’ve ever seen who makes a life-threatening mistake roughly every ten minutes without being fired, a neighborhood with no police presence despite the fact that people are being murdered left and right on the same street, and now a big black truck that sprays green bird-killing smoke into the air. There’s no breathing room between these elements because the show is always building towards its next moment of insanity. The lengths it goes to in order to establish the next quiet reset scene can’t be ignored. Billy Eichner (whose comical and subdued performance is the sole engaging element of the season so far) moves in to a new house the day after its previous owners were savagely murdered. Sarah Paulson is out driving around and avoiding protests about her the very next morning after accidentally murdering her employee.
These gaps in plot are highly distracting, but they add up so quickly that the viewer will soon feel foolish to even bother pointing them out. It’s clear that this season exists to communicate a feeling rather than a coherent idea. And that’s where the core of the problem with American Horror Story: Cult lies: it wants to have something to say, but it hasn’t been able to say it yet.