Despite it being the title of this season of American Horror Story, the word “cult” has been used sparingly with little explanation. If anything, any relation the show has to an actual cult has been circling around Evan Peters’ maniacal blue-haired demon, Kai Anderson. While he started off as dignified and as subtle as Pennywise, Kai has furthered developed into a truly creepy and deep-rooted villain in the modern climate of media-based deception. Whereas Sarah Paulson’s Ally is Ryan Murphy’s jab at overly comfortable leftists, Kai is a pure puppet master making the angry, jaded, vengeful conservatives dance like they’re on Howdy Doody. With his plan seemingly coming into focus, there’s still the obvious question of how did he do it all?
This week’s episode “11/9″ opens on Election Night (again), though this time at the polling station instead of waiting for results. While we see our usual main cast voting, the episode is jump-started when Kai storms into the station with a rather haggard companion named Gary (Chaz Bono), who is in desperate need to vote despite visibly bleeding on the floor. He does manage to cast his vote for President Trump, which is even more impressive considering he apparently sawed off one of his hands.
From there, we learn a bit more about Harrison Wilton before the torrid election. He was working in a Planet Fitness-esque gym for a meathead boss that probably only knows how to lift things up and put them down. He’d often have to do a “cleanup on aisle four,” meaning a washdown of the steam room after patrons worked out. It’s a sweaty, testosterone-filled hell; that is, until he meets an enthusiastic, blue-haired patron looking for a trainer. Kai starts out friendly enough, but after seeing the abuse Harrison takes from his boss starts to tell him how exceptional he is through his own imagery. Kai calls himself a mirror for Harrison’s greatness, whatever element of Harrison is important can only be seen through Kai. Kai’s words of wisdom fill Harrison with so much confidence that he ends up bludgeoning his boss with a barbell and sawing his head off.
Kai’s next subject is local reporter Beverly Hope (Adina Porter), a true neighborhood muckraker who’s on the verge of being kicked to the curb thanks to her younger, prettier, whiter counterpart Serena Belinda (Emma Roberts). While she’s covering grisly murders and local crimes, Serena’s deep-throating the lead anchor and getting six-part pieces on spa treatment. On top of that, she’s recently out after a stay at a mental hospital after having snapped at too many pranksters using a two-year-old meme for laughs. Then she meets Kai, who buys Beverly a drink and tells her that the rage inside her is exactly what he needs to bring order back to this beloved society. She thinks he’s blowing smoke, until Serena winds up brutally murdered by a trio of clowns (whose mask design might be the work of Meadow Wilton). She then sees Kai is dead serious about making change and she’ll use her camera and microphone to hype up whatever brew he’s stirring.
The episode then brings it all back around by bringing Gary back into the mix. It flashes back to the day before the election when Gary is rallying with Trump supporters and yelling at members of Team Clinton. It turns out Ivy shows up at the rally and has some words with Gary. She asks how anyone could support a man that openly comments about grabbing a woman by her vagina. Gary responds in kind by putting his hand up Ivy’s skirt and running off. Ivy pays it no mind, but someone else at the rally talks her into taking action against Gary. That someone? Winter, who convinces Ivy to kidnap Gary and lock him in a basement on Election Night. When Winter comes home, Kai is waiting at the door asking her what she did. After Winter spilled the beans, Kai heads over to the basement and offers Gary a way out to the voting booth: with a saw.
It’s debatable who the overall MVP of American Horror Story is, but Evan Peters makes a compelling case in “11/9.” His Kai Anderson started off as a cartoon character, but now his evil is crystallizing into something more compelling. John J. Gray’s script manages to cover the various elements that combine the formation of cults with the elements that fueled the Trump campaign. Peters plays Kai with such confidence and comfort, never using intimidation as a means of conversion. When Meadow comes home to see Harrison chopping up his now-dead boss’ body in the bathtub, all Kai does is give a toothless smile to her to make his presence felt. He’s a human venus fly trap, alluring at first sight and unsure of his intentions until the trap closes.
It’s nice that this episode gives some screentime to the deeper supporting cast. Billy Eichner is able to fill out his character with a bit more emotion and hurt in his eyes. With his tall stature but clearly broken spirit, Eichner’s like a left wing Lennie Small. Even as he has a saw to his boss’ neck, he still looks like a lost puppy. Adina Porter is no stranger to being a tough news lady (see her work on The Newsroom) and her storyline about fluff pieces over hard news is frighteningly accurate. Her impact to the story is yet to be revealed (the next episode’s teaser will apparently feature the use of “fake news”), but her backstory is almost entirely justified. She’s driven and just wants to be recognized for her hard work and is fed up for being laughed at for it. Before she becomes entirely a stooge for Kai, she might be the most sympathetic of the lesser characters.
“11/9” belongs to Kai through and through. It’s actually a helpful episode for the fans to see the show’s villain sow the seeds of his dastardly plan. With this completed, Cult has finally moved out of its preamble and will officially get to its point. Where that final point is going is still unclear, but at least we’ll know who got us there.