[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “American Horror Story: Cult,” Season 7, Episode 11, “Great Again” — the season finale.]
As one cult comes to an end, another begins.
So goes “American Horror Story: Cult,” the ambitious seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s acclaimed horror franchise. After spending an entire season examining a Trump stand-in’s reign of terror, the ending ominously hinted at a new king — well, a new queen. Ally (Sarah Paulson) took down Kai (Evan Peters), stole his senate seat, and began her own quest for greater power — with the help of “some very special, very powerful friends who are going to bring about the better world we were talking about.”
Made clear when she dons her green hood, Ally is referring to the radical feminist cult inspired by Valerie Solanas’ (Lena Dunham) “SCUM Manifesto.” It appears the newly elected senator is ready to unleash the female rage first cultivated by Solanas, later resurrected by Bebe Babbit (Frances Conroy) in the present day, and eventually abandoned by her puppet-gone-rogue, Kai. As the acronym implies — SCUM stands for “Society for Cutting Up Men” — Ally is ready to claim her vengeance on the world that wronged her and all other women. Kai was first, but his cult of fear has been replaced by one that’s ready to kill all men in order to install a female-led society.
Speaking as a white man, well, that actually sounds about right. Go for it.
But aside from the radical vision for the future, the actual ending left a lot to be desired. For one, the twist ending — that Kai’s plan to kill Ally was actually part of Ally’s plan to kill Kai — was as predictable and problematic as the rest of “American Horror Story.” Never once did it seem like Ally wasn’t one step ahead, leading to an overall lack of suspense, and the idea that she convinced a prison guard to have sex with Kai for God knows how long in order to dupe him into escaping is the kind of soapy trademark lunacy that powers much of the series’ conceits.
A lot of the episode clearly sounds good on paper, from the flash-forward intro that pretends to promise a safe ending for Kai, to the actual ending where Ally ushers in an era where the future is exclusively female. It’s in the obvious, flare-less execution and muddled overall message that leads to a shrugging agreement instead of a fist-pumping, wide-eyed agreement.
Let’s see how we got there: The finale begins with Kai in prison. As manipulative and lethal as ever, Kai has quickly amassed a small army in Mississippi’s maximum security prison, but it’s unclear how he got there. So we flash back to 11 months earlier as Kai plans for The Night of 100 Tates, his slightly adjusted master plan (1000 Tates proved too ambitious) to murder over eight dozen pregnant women in the name of Sharon Tate and the Manson family members who murdered her.
Before the fateful onslaught begins, Ally tells Kai a harsh truth regarding his horrific murder of sister Winter (Billie Lourd) in the previous episode. Ally tells Kai he killed the wrong person: Winter didn’t betray him. Some random member of Kai’s posse did (R.I.P. Speedwagon). This sends Kai into a mournful turmoil, but he rallies at Ally’s urging…
…until the FBI shows up. Ally, it turns out, has been working as an informant since she joined Kai’s cult. Agents came to see her after she was institutionalized (following the shooting in Episode 6) and gave her immunity for whatever she had to do in order to expose Kai’s criminal organization. That’s a much-needed legal excuse for how she escaped jail time for all those murders, especially when the raid ends. Ally is elevated to hero status as “the woman who escaped a cult but lost her wife,” and she makes a bid for the vacant Michigan Senate seat.
Seeing this on TV spurs Kai to escape, and thus Ally’s master plan to come together. As Kai waves a gun in her face, interrupting a debate with the other candidate in order to scream “get me a sandwich” at Ally, he pulls the trigger on an empty chamber. The gun given to him by the duplicitous security guard doesn’t go off, but Beverly’s (Adina Porter) does.
“There is something more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man — a nasty woman,” Ally says, right before Beverly pulls the trigger and kills Kai.
From there, Ally wins the election and unveils her membership in the aforementioned cult of SCUM. That idea is one of many intriguing concepts tossed around during Season 7, and “AHS: Cult” did a decent job juggling its many themes centered around women being manipulated, used, and trampled on by men. Its historical references, often weirdly altered to fit the series’ narrative, were a bit rushed and thus ineffectively melodramatic, but Solanas’ rage very nearly fueled the cascade of killings that came after her one-episode appearance.
The finale’s closing message may not be as incendiary as intended — whether it’s meant to be daunting or satirical, the latter being the historically accepted intention of Solanas’ manifesto — but “Cult” managed to engage in a topical conversation throughout the season. Often dulled by a convoluted plot and violence that was either too tame or unimaginatively blunt, this is far from the razor’s edge of socio-political commentary. “The cult continues, and we’re all in one or another” is hardly a revolutionary message, but the show still managed to remind us of what’s been happening to women for so, so long.
Whether it’s what’s been going on in the real world or the show, a vengeful misandrist takeover feels as justifiable as ever right now. Let them reign.
“American Horror Story” has been renewed for Season 8 and Season 9 at FX.