Airing in the UK on FOX, Fridays at 10pm
Writers: James Wong
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Essential Plot Points:
- A woman is lying in bed. Suddenly the lights go out and she’s trapped in a coffin. She screams and suddenly… she’s in a field.
- Rosie and her husband Mark are two more of Doctor Vincent’s patients. It turns out Rosie was locked in a cupboard as a child and has a deathly fear of coffins and Doctor Vincent has been working her through it. She’s cured and he’s so proud of her.
- Rosie and Mark go home and celebrate. Marks tells Rosie he has a surprise for her and…there’s the sound of a struggle.
- Rosie opens the door to their living room. There are two coffins there. The clowns jump them and lock the pair in the coffins.
- Meanwhile, back at the A plot, the body is being taken away. Ally breaks down, sobbing but Detective Samuels tells her that stand your ground laws mean that she’s fine. Ivy comforts her as best she can but Ally is heartbroken, convinced she’s broken their son. Ivy comforts her as best she can.
- The next day they’re driving into the Butchery. They’re horrified to see a demonstration outside with placards with Ally’s face on them over the word MURDERER. Ivy parks nearby and tells Ally to go home while she works at the restaurant. She leaves and Kai appears to congratulate and console her.
- Ally goes home and starts drinking. There’s a knock on the door and the neighbours are there. In sombreros.
- They tear a strip off her for exercising her white privilege. She throws them out.
- That night Ally and Ivy are watching the news. Beverly Hope (Adina Porter, everyone!) reports on the coffin murders from the top of the episode.
- Then a colossal truck ringed in green light and pushing dry ice out of its sides rolls down the street…
- The next morning Ivy comes downstairs to find Ally outside. She’s catatonic, staring at the ground. Where 30 dead birds are slowly decomposing.
- They report it, and it turns out that there were no chemistry transportation trucks authorized the previous night. Winter arrives and while Ally has a go at her, Ivy admits that she asked her over and that it wasn’t Winter’s fault. She’s re-hired. And mentions a man waiting outside who she thought was there to replace them.
- The man turns out to have answered an ad. One which involves sex with both of them. He was there answering a sex ad they claim to have placed on Craigslist. Needless to say they did not, and throw him out.
- The next day Ally is on the phone with Doctor Vincent. He walks her through what he can and suggests admitting her to an inpatient facility for a couple of weeks.
- She turns him down and tells him she’s going to go talk to the protesters. He tries to talk her out of it but she won’t have it. And he doesn’t try that hard… The protestors scream at her and she, predictably, screams at them. Then Kai appears and they leave silently. He tells Ally he told her he’d take care of her and he has.
- That night they find Oz playing with a hamster. Ally massively over-reacts, yet again. Even more so when it becomes clear that the pet was a gift from the neighbours. Ally tells him to say goodbye to the pet and, crying, he says ‘I wish I could say goodbye to you’ and runs off.
- Ally calls the neighbours. WHO HAVE DETECTIVE SAMUELS WITH THEM! AS A HOUSE GUEST! TWIST!
- They berate her. She berates them. They hang up.
- And then the chem truck appears again.
- Ally, because this has worked out so well for her twice already this episode, decides to shout at the truck to get it to stop. It almost runs her over. And when the cloud passes, she has a nosebleed.
- Meadow goes to see Kai who tries the pinky swear. She reveals she’s scared about how her favourite reality TV star may have a drinking problem.
He slaps her, screams at her for wasting his time and she apologizes, saying she hides behind comedy. Kai breaks her down, tells her to stop apologizing, stop taking the blame and to make the rest of the world wrong.
- At the restaurant Ally and Ivy finally have a good night. They’re tasting new ice cream flavours with Oz and for the first time almost since the start of the show, the three are genuinely happy. Especially when Ally tells Oz they can keep Mr Guinea.
- They go home and find the clown sign on their front door. And Mr Guinea in the microwave.
- Ally storms across the street and bursts into the neighbours’ house. They’re out back. And Ally straight out attacks them, screaming at them about the murder of Mr Guinea.
- She tells them about the clown face and suddenly they get very quiet…
- They swear they knew nothing about it but Ally is DONE. She tells them she will kill them both if they mess with her family again.
- And Ivy is done too. A blazing argument is flaring up when Oz points out the clown face has been painted on their house too. Ally doesn’t care, and decides not to tell them anything.
- And then the chem truck rolls around again. And this time, it stops, the driver gets out and starts spraying Ally’s garden. She confronts the driver, rips his mask off and finds the bloodstained clown image underneath. She passes out.
- Harrison takes the pinky test and Kai makes him admit he wished Meadow was dead.
- Detective Samuels is at Ally and Ivy’s house. Ally is convinced ALL of it is down to the neighbours. He tells them that the clown mark seems authentic and recommends setting up some surveillance.
- Oz screams and they run upstairs. He admits that he turned the parental locks off on his laptop. Now he’s seen something bad and can’t turn it off. He tries to stop them from seeing what he was looking at but they open it and…
- It’s Ally and Winter making out from last week.
- Ivy storms out, slaps Ally and screams at her for betraying their family. Ally leaves, taking Oz with her.
- And then there’s the sound of sirens from outside. Harrison is screaming. Meadow is nowhere to be seen. And Harrison is covered in blood…
- He screams at Ally, demanding to know where Meadow is and is tackled by the cops.
- And then they notice Oz is in the house. They run in and the neighbour’s house covered with blood and with a new smiley face on the wall.
This is a terrible hour of TV. It’s definitely the weakest episode of Cult so far and it doesn’t come within a mile of Roanoke or Hotel on their very worst day. Remember the Swedish tourist vampires from Hotel? Better than this episode.
That being said it’s at least terrible for interesting reasons. Mostly. Sarah Paulson’s Ally has been very definitely written as one nore, and that note being shrieked, for three episodes now and this week she is just the WORST. Whether it’s yelling ‘I’M ONE OF YOU!’ at the Mexican protesters protesting her straight up murder of her employee or yelling about cis-normative pet names Ally is crushingly unlikable ALL the time. You HATE her. And we’re sure that’s the point and we know that’s the mark Paulson is hitting but there’s nothing else to her. Her characters in the last two years have been both cheerfully awful and carefully written to be nuanced and interesting and, from some angles, likable. Ally is nothing of the sort so far. Paulson’s doing what she can but there’s nothing there beyond what she’s putting on screen. As a result when the increasingly idiotic horror starts being inflicted on her, at least part of you will go ‘…Fair.’
Now that’s probably meant to be the point. The show has set itself up this year to be an extended look at, and brutal parody of, the current American political landscape. Which is fine, but again, it’s all one note. Ally is every terrible left wing opinion combined. Kai is every terrible right wing opinion combined. The show, so far, has done nothing but smash them together and try and convince us that’s smart.
It could be. It isn’t.
A big chunk of that is down to the Meadow/Harrison plot this episode. It plays like a dramatised version of gaslighting, with the pair of them clearly attacking Ally and Ivy at the same time as claiming they’re doing nothing of the sort. That in itself would be interesting but for the fact the show does it with all the subtlety of a hammer to the back of the skull. The moment where they turn up on Ally’s doorstep in sombreros is bad. The moment where Meadow makes a Real Housewives joke in the middle of a pinky swear scene is so, so much worse. The show seemingly has no idea if they’re supposed to be funny or terrifying and they end up being neither.
Then there’s the chemical truck. The one that looks like Michael Jackson should be dancing behind it in a 1990s pop video. The one that no one other than Ally and Ivy sees or seems to care about, even as a frankly bizarre amount of people in hazmat suits spray green chemicals everywhere. And the random clown murders. And the microwave homicide of a guinea pig. It’s not even that the episode doesn’t work as a whole, it fails at every level. By the end of it we’ve learned nothing beyond Ally and Ivy are being driven apart and something is off in the neighborhood. We knew that at the end of episode 1 and didn’t have to sit through the Craigslist or guinea pig murder scenes to find that out.
The cast still do good work, but this is a real low point for the season. It’s mean-spirited and cheap rather than horrific and measured and does nothing for the overall plot but mark time. Maybe next week that will change. It certainly needs to.
- ADINA PORTER! The final AHS MVP is in play!
- ‘Who told you that?’
‘I don’t know…Instagram?!’
- ‘You wanna be somebody? You wanna matter? Then you, make the world, WRONG.’ – This single sequence is the only moment that works in the entire episode. It’s chilling and perceptive and combines the fear and anger you see so often in the people Kai represents into a fist to break the world with. It’s far and away the most interesting thing the show has done so far this season and there is nowhere near enough material of this quality this episode.
- ‘Sweetie come on. You know we don’t like cis-normative pet names.’-Oh for Pete’s sake.
- The entire white privilege conversation aims for profundity. Instead it plays like cheap improv comedy.
- Mr Guinea. In the microwave. Really? REALLY?
- The Craigslist attack. Not just because it’s pointless but because they went for the lowest hanging fruit possible, with a balding, overweight man being the perpetrator. Because why not combine fat shaming with sociopathy, right?
And The Random:
- James Wong has directed Final Destination, Final Destination 3, Willard, Black Christmas and Dragonball Evolution as well as super fun Jet Li/Jason Statham punchfest The One. He co-created the brilliant Space: Above and Beyond with Glen Morgan and directed and wrote for The X-Files and Millennium. This is definitely an off day for him.
- Gwyneth Horder-Payton began work as an assistant director on films like Pacific Heights and The Doors. Like many women directors, she’s found a tremendous amount of work in the small screen. Starting with The Shield she’s directed for everything from My Own Worst Enemy and Battlestar Galactica to Hawaii Five-O and Feud: Bette and Joan.
- While the chemical truck non plot annoyed us tremendously this week, someone has pointed out what may be something very clever about it. What if the truck, with it’s under lit gas, is a literal visual metaphor? What if it’s actual gaslighting? A mysterious super prominent vehicle that looks out of place, no one knows the reasoning behind and is designed to do nothing but make people doubt their sanity? That would be really interesting.
Review by Alasdair Stuart