American Horror Story: Cult - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Review: "Fresh Meat" + POLL By Joel Leaver (September 13, 2017, 4:05 am)
After its freaky premiere last Tuesday night, the latest instalment of American Horror Story returned tonight with much more personality and oomph. The slow-build, in particular, seemed a thing of the past, with a much more exciting and action-packed episode. We had murders, some exciting new characters and a very thrilling final act. So, let's get into things ...
A Likeable Lead?
As I revealed last week, I've rarely been a fan of Paulson's characters in the show (post-Asylum cause Lana Winters and Billie Dean Howard were cool!). Starting off this season, I was sure Ally would suffer a similar fate, and for the most part, she is; I don't enjoy the sense of victim-hood which she seems to wear so proudly, and the way she's such a wimp. I long for the bad-ass Paulson we had in Asylum; finger flipping as she drives off in the back of a car! This week however, Ally didn't come across as whiny, and we saw some fighting spirit. Not once, but twice. After the supermarket incident last week, I was surprised Ally offered to venture out, alone, last at night, to the scene of a possible burglary. And then the episode's conclusion showed a resourceful Ally barricading herself and Oz (played wonderfully by young talent Cooper Dodson) into their home, against the threat of some sort of invasion. Sure, she had a meltdown first, but after her phone battery died, and the possibility of Ivy returning to help her became slim, something within our protagonist seemed to switch - and she took matters into her own hands. She even attempted to shoot a clown, which is more than she did last week, half-heartedly throwing a wine bottle. Alright, it didn't end well because she shot an innocent man, but she tried. Let's give her some credit, at least.
Harrison seems sketchy already.
For a moment I just want to mention how thrilling I found the power-cut scenes. As a fan of (horror) movies that show small numbers of people in an isolated environment, I found the scenes to be fantastic. It was so tense and exciting to watch Ally (and for a little while Winter) wandering around the home, in the dark, with the looming threat of clowns / an invasion by the Russians! For me, it showed some true potential in this season, as did the episode in general, and I thought it was very well shot and written. Much more effective than the comedic supermarket scene from last week. This wasn't comedic at all, leaving room only for excitement, anxiety and a (close to) the edge of your seat viewing. Especially those cut wires ... damn!
Kai-ser Anderson Whilst Ally may be receiving much of the show's focus, Evan Peter's Kai Anderson is still a very present and malevolent force. Whilst last week exposed a crazy, racist Kai ranting at some 'immigrant workers', it was tonight revealed that this was part of a much bigger game plan. It doesn't excuse the racism, of course, but I wonder whether the crazy label is as relevant - perhaps cunning should take his place. There's no denying he's unstable, his interaction with Ally showed that, but he's not some lunatic who can't fully think for himself. He's intelligent, he's a schemer, and he clearly has a plan. Perhaps we should have seen this coming; he reflects Trump. Laughed off as some sort of joke, or idiot, but deep down there was always a game-plan. It was never what it seemed, and Kai is no different. So what is this big plan? Well, we know from tonight's episode that Kai wants a seat on the local council. He's interested in politics and wants to make his own political footprint, but where exactly his ambitions end is unknown, as power certainly seems to go to his head. Ally, shock horror, isn't so supportive of Kai's political antics, and so I would take a wild guess and say she might just run against him. I mean, she could use a distraction, and what better way (in Murphy's mind) to reflect Trump versus Clinton than an actual representation of their political battle on screen. I sincerely hope this isn't the case, as I tend to lean in favour of subduing the political overtones, not enhancing them. Be prepared though, just in case.
Neighbourhood Watch One of the ways I think episode two performed well was the introduction of two new, and entertaining, ensemble characters; unconventional couple, Harrison (Billy Eichner) and Meadow (Leslie Grossman) Wilton. As Grossman herself noted on social media, the pair are "a little different," to say the very least. They're eccentric, creepy and have a very random interest in Nicole Kidman, which in itself is a little odd. Best-friends, Harrison is gay whilst Meadow doesn't like physical contact, and the two married following a pact in their youth. Similarly to the inclusion of a leading lesbian couple in the show (though that in itself isn't really breaking new ground as much, anymore), the introduction of a friendship-marriage is refreshing, I find. I'm sure a fair few gay men out there can relate to Harrison's promise to marry his best-friend should they remain single later in life; I know I've made a few of those 'promises', shamefully or not. Evidently, it's meant to be a little comedic, given the weirdness of the pair, yet at the same time it kinda works. It's an interesting dynamic, and one which will surely be crucial to the narrative somewhere in the story - maybe a love interest for Harrison is involved. As some comments stated following last week's episode, Ivy isn't exactly the perfect wife, failing to often fully support Ally, and so in some ways, the Wilton's can be seem as a strong couple (minus any sex of course, cause Harrison goes out of town for that!).
Even the name Meadow Wilton is interesting.
Unsurprisingly, Ally finds the Wilton's interest in the macabre to be suspicious (and she doesn't seem too impressed by their sex-less marriage either) and makes no attempt to hide such thought. Whilst it's not conventional to feel comfortable moving into a home recently involved in a murder, it's not exactly criminal either. And besides, Ally has other things she should focus on instead of the Wilton's weird interests. That being said; are they suspicious? HELL YES! Whilst Harrison has potential to be a pretty cool character, I immediately suspect Meadow will become a favourite of mine, this season. She's an intriguing character, and as reflected by the shot of the Stepford Wives poster, I wonder what really lurks below the surface with her. Her condition involving sunlight may not be all it appears, and Grossman has the ability to make me feel entertained even with just her body-language and a line or two in a scene.
Whilst we know very little about the mystery Wiltons, we do know a few important facts. Firstly, Harrison keeps bees, and seems very attached. Promos for this season have relied heavily on clowns and bees, so they're clearly going to be an important part of the plot in the coming episodes. At the moment we know Ally has a fear of holes, something her reaction to the bee hive demonstrated, but could bees themselves be something she learns to fear / already does? Probably. Secondly, the Wiltons have some mystery tanks in their garage. Ally is suspicious, but Ivy (Allison Pill) not so much. Something dark clearly inhabits the tanks because this is American Horror Story after all. With that in mind, the contents probably won't be revealed for a few episodes. And finally, the beginning of the episode revealed that it was the Wilton's who recorded the attack on Kai, which we of course know was manipulated, as it was in fact him that instigated the incident. Do the couple know Kai or is this simply an unlikely coincidence? Damn, you can't trust anyone these days!
Poison Ivy Speaking of trusting people, let's discuss the possibility of Ivy's sketchiness. I wouldn't say this week left much suggestion of her involvement in the clown situation, but that doesn't mean she isn't involved. As someone suggested last week in the comments, Ivy may simply have got a clown to scare Ally a little in their restaurant as an attempt to help her get over such fears. After Ivy was in cahoots with Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson) in tonight's episode, could the pair have orchestrated the aforementioned incident? This would suggest neither are involved in the wider clown appearances, though Rudy could have alliances with a variety of different people at this point.
With a really shady Ivy in mind, I paid great attention when she received a text regarding the alarm system. At first, I thought; "oh right, so she'll conveniently leave Ally and Oz, and they'll then get attacked, and she'll say they're crazy". Of course, this was soon dispelled, as Ally, unprompted, decided she would leave. I say unprompted, because it was Oz's sigh which encouraged Ally to leave, rather than Ivy - and I doubt Oz is working with Ivy. He's suffering at the hands of the clowns too, so it seems quite far-fetched to assume the scene was a scheme by Oz and Ivy to make Ally uncover the body in the restaurant. This opens an interesting question though; considering the clowns are targeting Ally, how could they be sure she would find the body? The most effective outcome was Ally finding it, but they surely couldn't be sure of this.
Enough about Ally though, back to Ivy. Like Meadow, it's very possible she may not be the wife, or woman, we suspect she is. Murphy's very own nod to the Stepford Wives, in more ways than just a poster. I just worry that it's going to unfold that a significant amount of people in Ally's life are out to get her, and Ivy would be the cruellest blow (other than Oz). I think it's more likely Ivy has tried to scare Ally, to help, rather than working with the evil clowns, but I wouldn't entirely rule the latter out. Trust nobody, for now!
The Murders Tonight we lost another two characters, but with only a few lines each, I'm sure nobody will exactly miss them. The first victim was found by Ally in her restaurant, hanging from a meat peg. He was still alive at this point and our resident victim Ally, not one to let the poor dead guy have all the sympathy, claims she "killed him", because she tried to help and ultimately made things worse. Get a grip, please - I was starting to (dare I say it) like you, Ally. Ironically, Ally got what she wished for, as she did actually kill our second victim. On an errand from Ivy to help Ally by providing a charger (despite a power-cut?) and a few other essentials, the poor guy was shot, point blank. Ally thought he was an intruder and that was the end of him. Rest in peace, and hopefully in the coming weeks we'll have more significant characters biting the dust too!
Trusting Ivy might take some time.
Several of you mentioned last week that Dr. Rudy Vincent seemed shady. It's a fair assessment, and one which this week unfortunately seemed to neither support nor contradict. His appearance was orchestrated by Ivy, and this was exposed in the episode, so very little shadiness to report. Next week may hold more clues to his involvement (or lack of) in Ally's 'hallucinations'.
Twisty returned again this week, though no longer confined to a comic book. Terrifying poor Oz, the twisted clown crept into real life, opening the possibility that perhaps he's more than a thing of the past. Of course, the show cleverly introduced the possibility that Oz, who suffers from night-terrors, is imagining things, like his mother. Does that seem believable? Well, not entirely. It would make sense considering Oz reads the comic and was presented with a Twisty action figure by Winter (Billie Lourd) this week, but still, seems like too much of a coincidence to be true. If the clowns are in fact some cult, then could Twisty be the leader?
Final Thought: All About Ally
The question I'm most confused and intrigued about is; why is Ally being targeted? If this is all some plot, where numerous characters are involved, then why her, specifically? Of course, she could simply just be one of many, and the show is only showing us her, but even so, what's so special about Ally? She runs a restaurant, which is pretty ordinary, her relationship isn't exactly high profile or rubbed in anyone's faces, and besides that she's the type of individual who isn't very active in the community (or at least not that we've seen!). What does sending her crazy get them, except for some sick gratification? It must be more than that. I would hope some shock reveal provides us with the answer, and perhaps with a connection to a previous season or character - I can hope, at least. Be sure to check out episode three, 'Neighbors from Hell', when it airs next Tuesday night in the US, and next Friday in the UK. Whilst we (impatiently) await the episode, come join me in the comments section below to discuss all things Cult.