At this point in the season, American Horror Story: Cult is finally living up to its subtitle. We know exactly what Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) is up to with his group of killer clowns from opposite sides of the aisle, and how he plans on accomplishing it. Kai hopes that the citizens of Brookfield Heights will become scared enough to trust him to take over the government. And after last night’s episode, we know how he’s recruiting people to join him as well. For many of his cult members, Kai has leveraged the human emotion that is just as common as fear: desire.
On last night’s episode, Meadow Wilton (Leslie Grossman) explained to Ally (Sarah Paulson) exactly what led to her fierce and fatal commitment to Kai. In previous episodes, we learned of Meadow’s weaknesses. She was trapped in a loveless marriage with Harrison (Billy Eichner), who is gay and not sexually attracted to her. One of Meadow’s deepest fears was that she would never be penetrated by a man again. When she confided this to Kai, he was more than willing to step in with a solution. We now know that Kai used sex to validate many of Meadow’s insecurities. She wanted to feel like she meant something to someone, that she was capable and valuable. Kai offered her those feelings and substantiated it with sexual attention.
And she isn’t the only member of the cult who has been wooed by the promise of a physical connection. Although the terms of his marriage allowed him to be with men once per month, Harrison wanted to be with men full-time. Meadow was also annoying and needy, leaving him feeling just as trapped as she did. On the day that Kai first approached Harrison, Kai made sure that Harrison walked in on him masturbating in the shower. And now that he has joined the ranks, his sexual relationship with Detective Samuels (Colton Haynes) has gotten openly hot and heavy.
Meadow was ready to leave Kai when she overheard him telling Ivy (Alison Pill) the exact same things he shared with Meadow first. But Ivy is a lesbian. And when he locked pinkies with Ivy and heard all about her resentments towards her wife Ally, he offered his sister Winter (Billie Lourd) as a better prize. In a few sexually charged moments it appears that Ivy may have taken him up on the offer. Ironically, Winter also used her sexuality against Ally, as well. In a boundary-crossing scene involving a stressed-out Ally and her bathtub, Winter set Ally up to look like she was cheating on Ivy.
Cults have always had a troubling connection to sexuality. In many cases, the nature of these sexual encounters is non-consensual, abusive and/or toxic. From the “Children of God” to the latest reports of predatory behaviour from R. Kelly, cults almost always involve a sexual component. It’s why the bathtub scene with Ally and Winter was problematic, as was sex between Kai and Meadow, as R29’s Ariana Romero points out.
In the case of Kai’s cult, he has been using desire to get what he wants. And in the same way that his use of fear taps into our heightened anxieties in the Trump era, his acknowledgement of a human drive to feel wanted is just as poignant. In fact, the two emotions go hand in hand, as closeness often feels like the only thing able to combat our fears.