American Horror Story: Cult: “Great Again” Season Finale Review

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Cult ends its run in the most on-the-nose way possible…but it totally works.

A lot of memoirists have stated that their best work was created once they were able to gain some distance from what they were writing about. With time, we gain perspective, and this helps us to better shape history. I’d be interested to see what the latest season of American Horror Story would have looked like if it were written ten, or even five years from now. When Trump is eventually out of the White House, how will we look back on everything that’s happening right now.

As intriguing as that would be, I get the impulse to act quickly. What is happening right now is insanity, and the need to analyze it is strong within all of us. Cult has been a rather disjointed examination into our post-election anxieties. There have been moments where it’s honed in on some very compelling truths about the corruption of power, but its characters have often been too displaced in order for it to make a lasting impact. Kai, in particular, has come across as a very confusing villain. His motivations are never really clear, and his development has been spotty.

Watching the finale, though, I began to wonder if that was the point. Many of Kai’s actions have left me scratching my head, but then again, so have many of Trump’s actions. Kai’s promise to burn the world to ground has been frustratingly vague and has pivoted on several points throughout the season…but the same can be said for a lot of Trump’s policies. I posited for a while that Kai doesn’t actually believe in Trump, he just believes in chaos. But maybe what Kai believes in most is himself, and that’s one of the most Trump-like qualities you can have.

I say all this because “Great Again” acts as a piece of wish fulfillment for the 2016 election. It’s blunt and way too conspicuous and, at times, downright cheesy. And yet, it totally works. In one of the most uncertain political climates this country has ever experienced, this piece of fan fiction with a high production value was invigorating. Sure, I rolled my eyes when Ally stated that the only thing that could beat a man with a bruised ego was a “nasty woman.” But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t thrilling to watch her and Beverly take Kai down.

In order to fully enjoy this moment, however, you do have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit. It turns out that Ally has been working with the FBI ever since she got out of the psych ward, which means Speedwagon and his tape recorder were just another red herring. We see from the episode’s opening that Kai is able to manipulate his way through anything, even after getting put behind bars. Seeing him smooth talk a guard into joining his cult is unnerving, but the “twist” that Ally has been in communication with her the whole time is a little ridiculous. How would she even know that the guard has been talking with him?

This large plot hole aside, it’s still exciting to watch Kai reemerge at Ally’s senatorial debate (where she’s wearing a red pantsuit, no less), only to be taken down by a badass group of ladies. If this show aired at any other point in time, I would have dismissed it for trying way too hard. But Cult has benefitted from the real-life circumstances surrounding its plot. Ally’s win is very reaffirming.

Of course, this is American Horror Story we’re talking about, so not everything can end with sunshine and roses and female empowerment. The last scene of the episode sees Ally tucking Oz into bed and then donning a green SCUM robe. It seems she’s left one cult and gone on to lead another.

I suppose the message here is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ally becomes a feminist icon after taking down the cult and stepping out on her own, but she certainly isn’t without her own faults…or her own body count. Everyone has some skeletons in their closet.

Maybe a better way to look at the ending is that politics makes everyone go crazy. It’s impossible to play the game without losing yourself to it. So instead of trying to look for a perfect leader with no flaws, we should turn our attention to fixing a broken system. Power belongs to the people, not a select few. That’s how cults get started, after all.

Whichever way you choose to view the ending, it doesn’t takeaway from Ally’s win. Watching a man tell women to know their place, only to be literally shot down by a sisterhood felt really, really good. Grade: B

 

Some Other Notes:

  • That’s a wrap on American Horror Story: Cult! Thanks to all of you for sticking with me through this season. I can’t say that I was overly impressed by it, but I won’t knock its sense of ambition. The concept was engrossing enough to keep me coming back each week, even when characters annoyed me and the plot took weird turns.
  • Certain characters were a lot of fun, and this is partially thanks to another impressive ensemble cast. Evan Peters was fantastic in his many roles this season, and I would easily watch a show where he just impersonates various historical figures. Billie Lourd was also surprisingly magnetic. Her character on Scream Queens was rather one-note so it was great to see her show some range. Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman were always a delight.
  • “Neighbors from Hell” and “11/9” were Cult‘s best episodes because they executed everything we love about American Horror Story so well—dark humor, whipsmart social commentary, and genuine scares. The season’s weakest episodes (“Holes,” “Winter of our Discontent”) went awry by undermining character development in favor of supposedly juicy twists. Also, god was Ally obnoxious before she got over her phobias.
  • I often feel like I’m in a holding pattern when it comes to Ryan Murphy shows. I’ve been burned by seasons of AHS before, but I keep coming back because he’ll get a really great cast or do something spectacular like The People vs. OJ Simpson.
  • That being said, see you all in January for The Assassination of Gianni Versace!

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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