American Horror Story: Cult: “Holes” Season 7 Episode 5 Review

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An episode full of big reveals tries a little too hard to shock, rather than move the story forward.

By its very nature, American Horror Story is a show designed to make your skin crawl. While Ryan Murphy & Co. have been able to explore deeper themes within their genre, they also have to deliver thrills each week. Cult has done fairly well in this department, particularly in using specific phobias to create people’s literal worst nightmares (I’m still not over that horrific coffin sequence).

Yet, any horror fan can tell you how easy it is for scares to feel cheap. If there’s no sense of tension or genuine character drama behind it, there’s nothing to really make you jump or cover your eyes. That’s how I felt with this episode’s purportedly gruesome gimp sequence, in which Kai and his crew find the dark secret in Beverly’s boss’ attic.

Aside from very loosely connecting Cult to Murder House, this scene does nothing except show the disturbing image of a man hanging from metal hooks, and then Kai violently ripping his skin from them. It certainly caused my eyes to widen, but after it was over, there was no sense of lingering dread. There just wasn’t anything real at stake.

This feeling seeped through most of “Holes,” which used a lot of reveal sequences intended to shock us, but which ultimately failing to resonate. The episode opens with the reveal that Ivy not only knew Winter before she hired her, but is also fully part of Kai’s cult. This should be a surprise to no one who’s been paying attention to her character’s odd tendencies (or at least unsurprising to anyone who’s been reading my reviews).

Though it was nice to get this bit of confirmation, Ivy’s reveal—and the unmasking of all of Kai’s “clowns,” led to some unanswered questions. Ivy’s reasoning for joining the cult is that she hates America so much she wants to burn it to the ground and start over. She, like Winter, though, probably wouldn’t be working with Kai if Hillary had won. So why are they totally cool being teammates with the one-armed man? Ivy hasn’t forgiven her wife for voting for Jill Stein, but she’s okay working with someone who wholeheartedly voted for Trump?

At least Winter’s reason for being there makes a little more sense. In a flashback sequence, we learn that she is Kai’s sister and Cheyenne Jackson’s Dr. Vincent is his older brother. Through a harrowing story, we see how newly hard times have cause his family to turn against each other, so much so that his mom shoots his dad one night before shooting herself.

This leads to a bit more confusion, as Dr. Vincent tells Kai that they have to keep their parents’ death a secret so they can keep using their disability and pension checks to fund their lives. It’s coldblooded, for sure, but we know almost nothing about Dr. Vincent, so it’s a bit jarring to see him suggest this option so nonchalantly. He clearly has an indirect involvement in Kai’s cult, but it also seems like he’s only looking out for himself. Hopefully we’ll learn more about him soon, otherwise he just seems like an ominous figure who gave Kai the tools for his cult starter kit.

The best thing about Kai’s flashback is actually why it occurs. Kai is compelled to share his dark upbringing with Beverly after they interlock pinkies for his trust exercise, only it’s Beverly who’s asking the questions. When she first agreed to join Kai, she was promised equal power, but “Holes” makes it seem like she’s ready to take full control. She easily gets Kai to become emotional during his story, and is quick to point out and eliminate a weak member of the group.

In one of the episode’s final sequences, Kai forces everyone to shoot a nail gun into RJ’s head because he isn’t fully committed to his cause. This is another moment intended to give us some goosebumps, but since we also know almost nothing about RJ, it’s hard to be too haunted by his unfortunate demise. The only thing worth noting here is how hesitant Ivy is, and what this could mean for her future in the cult.

“Holes” is a lively episode in terms of its many pivotal plot points, but—with the exception of Beverly’s subversive takeover—none of them really connects since they only bring about more questions. Cult already has a lot of topical, interesting things going for it this season. Adding in a gimp and a nail gun murder feels like white noise. Grade: C+

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Another thing “Holes” had going for it was the limited amount of screen time that Ally got. Her attempts to reconnect with Oz at the restaurant are genuinely heartbreaking, and her one screaming episode actually has a purpose as she discovers Meadow’s body and learns that her wife is not to be trusted. She is clearly much better in small doses.
  • Speaking of Meadow, do we think she’s fully dead or also in a gimp costume somewhere? Since we didn’t see her corpse, I hope this means Leslie Grossman will make at least one more return.
  • “Holes” gets its title from Ally’s trypophobia, and the scene of her seeing a bug crawl in and out of holes on her face might have legit given me trypophobia.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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