American Horror Story: Cult: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” Season 7 Episode 2 Review

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Cult clearly draws its connections between killer clowns and Donald Trump, and loses all manner of suspense in return.

The second episode of Cult ends quite literally with a bang, but it hardly elicits the moment of shock it thinks it’s delivering. Unfortunately, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” telegraphs its moves very plainly from the beginning, to the point where you really can’t see the episode ending any other way.

With last week’s premiere, it was difficult to infer the correlations between the killer clowns that Ally and Oz keep seeing and the general Trump election anxiety that ran throughout the episode. This week, the connection makes perfect sense, but this ends up hindering the show more than helping it. In revealing its motives, Cult has lost a bit of its thrill. I guess we really should be careful what we wish for.

The episode opens with Ally seeing a clown in her bed and running terrified to find Ivy. Despite the fact that she fully believes her wife is losing her mind—and that both of them believe their son Oz only imagined seeing his neighbors getting murdered by clowns—Ivy wholeheartedly follows her wife to their bedroom with a knife in hand. Of course, she finds nothing, leading her to believe her wife has only gotten worse.

Later, Ally and Ivy meet their new neighbors Harrison and Meadow (Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman, respectively). You know that couple from high school that’s actually a gay guy and his female BFF who made a pact to get married in ten years if they were both still single? Of course you don’t, because no human beings actually do that. Yet, such is the case with Harrison and Meadow.

They also are Nicole Kidman superfans—who isn’t, though?—and he’s a beekeeper, and she’s obsessively worried about sun damage to the skin. A small child could tell you that something is shady about these two. Just don’t expect that child to be Oz because he’s very blind to the fact that his nanny is seriously fucking with his head.

Despite their real-life implausibility, I, like Ivy, enjoy the eccentricities that Harrison and Meadow bring to the table. Eichner is playing a more straight-laced character than we’re used to, but his comic relief still shines through, particularly when he runs to Ally’s home during a power outage to yell, “Lesbians! We’re under attack!” I hope someone makes a GIF of this soon.

Hopefully Harrison and Meadow’s potential gets used to greater effect in future episodes. Here, they’re squandered as obvious plot devices for Ally’s turn to the “dark side.” In case you were wondering, this is the big connection. Trump supporter Kai’s master plan hasn’t been fully explained yet, but it’s clear that he intends to use fear to get people on his side. Ally, his perfect liberal target, is terrified of clowns. It’s easy to see how the rest plays out.

Kai makes a brief appearance at Ally’s doorstep to introduce himself as a candidate for the town’s local government, but this isn’t even needed for the episode to make its point. As Ally further unravels each time she sees a clown that no one else does, Kai’s scapegoating of minorities takes hold of the public conversation. His staged beating by a group of migrant workers is followed by Ally discovering a racist chef at her restaurant murdered in the meat locker. Actually, her final tug on him as she tries to unhook him is what ends his life, but of course the person the police are most interested in is one of the Hispanic cooks named Pedro who was contentious with him beforehand.

Ally says she is all about building bridges and opening lines of communication, but her phobias only serve to isolate her. Eventually, she turns to Harrison who lets her take a Chekhov’s gun pistol from his collection for protection. Ally wants to be an open-minded, liberal person, but these bizarre incidents cause her to become more and more cautious of everyone around her.

When the power outage happens, Harrison runs to offer Ally some beeswax candles, and to casually let her know that this is probably the work of the Russians or ISIS. Then Winter comes up with a lame excuse for leaving the house so she’s all alone. Whatever sort of cult Kai is putting together, it’s painfully obvious who’s in on it, and who their next target is. As soon as Ivy gets Pedro to run over to their house to give Ally an extra phone battery, I knew what would happen. And this is why the episode’s final bang of her accidentally shooting him doesn’t make much of an impact.

Cult has greatly benefitted from the intrigue surrounding its very topical themes, but if the rest of the season is anything like “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” then it’s fighting a losing battle. A good season of American Horror Story knows how to tease out its devious machinations slowly, but this one may have shown too much of its hand too soon. There’s a solid chance that things could take a completely unexpected turn following this, and that’s what I’m counting on. There’s often a lot of implausibility on this show, but I’d be easily willing to overlook it if things were a little more exciting. Grade: C+

 

Some Other Notes

  • I’ll be covering Cult for the rest of the season, thanks so much to Matt for filling in for me last week! Despite my disappointment in this week’s episode, I’m excited to be reviewing this show again.
  • I’m very curious in the role the detective is going to have over the rest of the season. Is he a part of the cult as well? Since he’s played by Colton Haynes, I can’t imagine he’s just there for bland interrogation scenes.
  • We might be too early on in the season to start second-guessing everyone, but is Ivy just a poorly-written character, or is she up to something as well? Why would she send her clearly unwell wife to go check out the restaurant by herself after the security alarm went off?
  • I actually think this would be a much more interesting direction to go in instead of the Ally’s therapist having shifty motivations. His attempts to stop her from keeping a gun were incredibly feeble, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s only adding to her paranoia instead of trying to subdue it. Still, I hope it’s Ivy.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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