Now in its seventh season, FX’s ‘American Horror Story’ has to work pretty hard to find new ways to shock and disturb its audience. This year’s theme, called ‘Cult’, opens with a pretty ballsy and audacious conceit, and then quickly throws it away to recycle stuff we’ve seen before.
Basically, Donald Trump (the real Trump, not fictionalized or disguised at all) is the villain this year. Sort of.
Well, maybe not. I don’t know.
The season premiere, titled ‘Election Night’, opens with a few minutes of actual footage from the 2016 Presidential race, in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton rant about each other in front of increasingly frenzied crowds of rabid supporters. This is the real horror story. Frankly, the whole season could be 13 episodes of this.
Of course, as we know, Trump eventually wins. Hillary supporter and avowed liberal Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) does not take this well. At all. In fact, she completely loses her shit about it, bawling in tears about how her same-sex marriage will be nullified, all her friends will be deported, and the world will almost certainly end in nuclear apocalypse. Trump’s victory triggers a relapse of some latent mental health issues in Ally. She suffers a host of debilitating phobias, chief among them a fear of clowns and (for some reason) things that have holes in them. Soon, she begins seeing evil clowns stalking and harassing her everywhere she goes. This takes a serious toll on her marriage to her initially supportive but quickly exasperated wife, Ivy (Alison Pill).
Meanwhile, anarchist nutbag Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) delights in the outcome of the election. Subtlety has never exactly been a virtue of ‘American Horror Story’, but the sight of Kai humping his TV while Trump is on the screen and then painting his face in Cheeto dust is a bit on-the-nose, even for this show. His sister, Winter (Billie Lourd), claims to be a Hillary supporter, but they have a weird and uncomfortable bond.
Winter applies for a position as the nanny for Ally and Ivy’s young son, and presents herself as a perfect progressive view-spouting candidate. However, when the women attempt to have a romantic night out, Winter makes their son watch snuff videos on the dark web and brings him across the street to witness a gang of terrifying clowns murdering their neighbors.
Ally and Ivy’s evening is ruined when Ally has another breakdown involving being attacked by evil clowns that Ivy believes she’s hallucinating. They return home to find their neighborhood cordoned off by police tape. Son Oz tells them what happened, and Ally is horrified, but Winter insists that the boy simply has an active imagination, triggered by reading horror comics about Season 4 villain Twisty the Clown (seen earlier in an extended cameo). The police claim that the neighbors’ deaths were a murder-suicide with no signs of external foul play.
Ally believes she’s losing her mind. The episode ends with her turning over in bed to find, not her wife, but an evil clown lying next to her.
‘American Horror Story’ has had its ups and downs over the years, but this is the first season where I’m pretty much done after the premiere. What seems at first to be an audacious conceit of weaving in real-world politics quickly devolves into a recycling of past years’ tropes. We’ve done evil clowns already. Has the show really run completely out of other ideas? Even Sarah Paulson’s character seems to be largely a replay of her high-strung housewife from Season 6.
With only the season premiere to judge by, the political theme is very muddled. I don’t know how far the show is going to take the Trump thing, but it doesn’t seem particularly well thought-out beyond him being an agent of chaos who inspires other crazies. That’s fair enough, I suppose. I’ll also credit the show for skewering both sides by being equally cruel to the Ally character, who’s depicted as a ridiculous Snowflake terrified of anything that threatens her delicate worldview. Even so, that’s not enough to keep me watching.
The season’s opening credits suggest that bees somehow factor into the story as well. Where that’s going, I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t really care.
Although this won’t be the first season of the show I fail to finish, it’s certainly the earliest I’ve bailed. Better luck next year, ‘American Horror Story’.