Here is a thing I never, ever thought I would say: American Horror Story: Cult is the FX anthology’s best season yet. The political outing is not its campiest or its scariest or its most quotable — save for “Fuck a Manwich!” — but it does blend the narrative consistency of Murder House with the trademark extravagance and beloved core cast we’ve come to expect after the hallowed series-opener. I waited to wait to make that official proclamation until Tuesday night’s Cult finale, “Great Again,” since all Horror Story seasons should be graded on whether or not the ending crumbles in your metaphorical Balenciaga-gloved hand. This one does not.
Instead, the final scene of “Great Again” leaves us with important questions that actually tie back to the season as whole, both plot-wise and thematically. Since the season-ender was entirely wordless, we should probably figure what the Charles Mason it actually means.
While most American Horror Story seasons close with musical nods, like Freak Show and Asylum, or one final one-liner, like Hotel and Coven, Cult wraps with pure silence. Sarah Paulson keeps up her status of being AHS’ consistent Final Girl, or Final Woman in this case, as her latest character Ally Mayfair-Richards has survived the carnage of the titular cult, won a Michigan Senate seat, and fought her way into regaining custody of her son Oz (Cooper Dodson). Now, she can end the season quietly powdering her face while intently staring in the mirror at herself. As the camera pans out, we realise Ally isn’t just wearing her voter-friendly turtleneck. She’s also sporting an ominous emerald green cloak to match the ominous music playing out Cult. As Ally and her cloak walk away from the mirror, we walk away from Cult.
The cloak, as any active season 7 viewer will recall, was first worn by the 1960s SCUM women, led by radical feminist Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham), to carry out the actual Zodiac Killer murders. In the present time we see the late Valerie’s dedicated lover Bebe Babbitt (Frances Conroy) still carrying the SCUM torch and stalking around suburban Michigan in the cult’s requisite cloak to prove it. That is until Ally shoots Bebe in the head as a faux show of loyalty to season villain and cult leader Kai Anderson (Evan Peters), of course. Although many take Ally’s green cloak wearing in the finale to possibly signify she was a member of SCUM all along, which is suspect at best when you take into consideration Bebe's murder, the scene feels much less literal than that.
Instead, the ending seems to suggest we will never escape the danger of cults, or slavish group thought, no matter who is in charge, or what we do. As we see earlier in "Great Again," Ally ran for public office on a platform of cult-breaking, citing the Democratic and Republican Party, the "entire two-party system," as other examples of cults. If elected, Ally promised to "take a sledgehammer to their antiquated system of oppression," and, since she won with a minimum of 80% of women's vote, that's exactly what the newly-minted politician should be doing.
Yet, that game-plan is the opposite of what we see Ally enacting the evening of her win. While putting little Oz to sleep, Ally explains she's going to a meeting of "some very special, very powerful friends who are going to help bring about that better world," she was just waxing poetic about to her son. What kind of friends? "Women, a group of powerful, empowered women who want to change the system." They also happen to apparently be the kind of women who run around in green cloaks during the dead of night.
The way Ally plans to create the change she hopes to see in the world doesn't sound very different from Kai's original scheme, although the senator's worldview is obviously not in the least bit as misogynistic or authoritarian as the felled woman-hating cult leader's dreams. Ally explains she hopes to show her constituents "the way" and "take them to abetter place." Kai also believed that's what he was working towards at the start of Cult before he fell into a pit of narcissism, paranoia, and hatred. Yes, Ally believes talk of democracy and political systems will save her from the same fate that befell Kai and Valerie before her, but, Ally is the one who ends the season wearing a hood.
Over the course of Cult, it's fair to say fans grew to root for Ally. Yes, she started out as a walking, talking billboard for white feminism's greatest blindspots, but she slowly became one of the strongest characters in the season. She recognised voting for Jill Stein in a swing state during one of America's most tense elections was a questionable decision at best. She killed her philandering, spiteful spouse Ivy Mayfair Richards (Alison Pill). And she actually managed to avoid throwing a Black woman under the bus when it came to Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), which very few characters this season could manage. That's why, when Ally grabs the mantle of being a certified "Nasty Woman," and stares Kai in the eyes as Beverly shoots hims squarely in the head, we can all feel good — real politics may cause chaos, but be at least the "right" person is winning in AHS world.
But, in reality, Ally and her cloaked nasty women are set to become just another, albeit better-dressed, cult. After a season steeped in biting, (sometimes) subtle satire, AHS suggested with its darkest thesis yet the same inevitable truth exists out here with all political movements, whether we love or loathe them. That's why Cult ends with its heroine staring at her reflection: American Horror Story isn't only trying to hold a mirror up to Ally, it's trying to hold one up to us as well.
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