***Spoilers for American Horror Story: Cult through Episode 7 follow. Spoilers***
I’m not sure how he did it; Ryan Murphy must be prescient. Last week‘s graphic scenes had to be edited because of the real life Las Vegas shootings and this week, the showrunner has his finger on the pulse of women everywhere finally saying ‘Enough!’ to being harassed and assaulted by men, with a timely focus on real life radical feminist, Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham). Between the fabulous dialogue and Frances Conroy’s triumphant return — as Solanas’ fictional lover, Bebe Babbot — “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag” was a twisy, glorious and gory hour, and one of this season’s most surprising. Fittingly, it was directed and written by women; Rachel Goldberg and Crystal Liu.
Introduced to Dunham’s over the top Valerie in a flashback car-fuck circa June 1968, it’s quickly apparent this is a woman with a thirst for retribution, and an insatiable grudge against men. That she was abused as a child by the men in her family — pregnant twice by the age of 16 — set Solanas on her particular course, which in AHS means the fast edit of her shooting Andy Warhol (Evan Peters) because he wouldn’t produce (in reality, claimed he’d lost and not been able to read) her play (Up Your Ass). Again, this bit of the story isn’t fictional, it’s based on true events.
In the current — 2016/2017 — seasonal timeline, Beverly reports on Meadow’s targeted shooting of Kai, and many bystanders, with Ally still in police custody and refusing to talk. Though I’d been certain her jailing would leave Ally vulnerable to Kai’s machinations again (he’d not press charges, help get her released, and [seemingly] bring her into the fold) after this week’s events, it’s likely Ally’s apparent indoctrination will take a different route. That said, I remain convinced that Ally will pretend to be in the cult and under Kai’s influence, only to subvert him and whichever followers might still be loyal, and to eventually take over as the leader … quite possibly ending the season with a presidential bid of her own.
Before all that happens, though, we’ll get back to this bananas-crazy hour. And my gods, was it a well-paced, twisty-turning, horrific barrel of fun. Both Beverly and Kai are concerned about the state of the group; with members dropping like flies (Meadow appears truly dead this time), and thanks to a little nudge by Bebe, loyalties are in question. Through Babbot’s narrated flashbacks of her shared history with Valerie, the establishment of S.C.U.M (Society for Cutting Up Men), Valerie and her group of groovy gals claim to be the infamous Zodiac killers (real life case still open/unsolved), starting with the murders of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, December 20, 1968 — played out as an actual SCUM attack.
The cutting back and forth between historical flashbacks (fictional and imagined) and Beverly, Kai, Winter and Ivy’s shenanigans make for an exceptionally intriguing seventh hour; tension mounts as anger from the past seems to be seeping into the current cult women. When Beverly introduces Bebe to Winter and Ivy, it’s apparent the gender divide is ripe for exploiting … but what’s Bebe’s angle? We know Beverly’s been on the group’s fringe from the beginning; she’s looking for more control and stability, and Ivy’s seemed squeamish about some of the goings-on, that is, until now. When Babbot’s seeded rhetoric takes root, there’s no stopping the majority anger. While Harrison dreams of building Kai his own Iron Throne, the women have other plans — taking apart Harrison, limb by limb.
Lest we let our adrenaline get the best of us, the episode’s biggest shocker is deliciously saved for our final bite. Winter pops home a minute to check on Kai — who’s having a little quiet time with mom and dad (this keep parents in the bedroom forever thing continues to manage a simultaneous note of humor and depravity) — only to get the terrible feeling he’s onto her. Indeed, her brother’s not just blowing into the wind as we might hope, on the edge of maybe knowing something/just guessing …
As he sits on the couch with a final ominous observation, it becomes clear Kai is not alone; collective gasps flew across the Twittersphere as his companion was revealed. The only things louder was the internal thumping of our hearts.
Adina Porter continues to kick all the ass as Beverly. Her anger is palpable, but not over the top. She’s just fantastic.
Welcome home, Frances Conroy, and Jamie Brewer (Heather), who played one of Valerie’s SCUM girls. It was delightful to see them both, but my gods — is Conroy perfection in every role or what? I really enjoyed Lyla Porter-Follows, who played a young version of Bebe, too.
Evan Peters’ take on Andy Warhol was darned impressive; I enjoyed his affectations and an alternate to Kai’s dark swagger.
I believe Billie Lourd also did double duty this hour, as murder victim Cecelia Shepard, yes?
Lena Dunham as Valerie Solanas: Sure, she was probably perfect casting for this role — at the same time, a little too on the nose. Dunham has already, in a very short period, attained that state where we can only see her as herself. She can’t truly disappear into a role. Still, Dunham clearly had fun with it, so I’m calling it an “okay stunt cast” thing.
If you’ve been reading on the regular here, you know my theory: Ally will “join” the cult, and ostensibly fall for Kai heart and soul (just like Meadow). But, she will eventually prove have pulled the ultimate ruse and she’ll take out Kai (or have others do it for her), and I predict that by the end of the season, she’ll be the new cult leader. After she was jailed last week, I figured Kai would get her out, and he’d believe his “understanding” would convince her to join, fall in love with him, etc. After this hour, I think it’s possible that instead, Ivy — along with Beverly and Winter — may be the ones to recruit Ally, though they’ve obviously already got their sights set on taking out Kai.
The question now becomes, what the heck is up with Bebe?! I confess to being utterly blindsided by the reveal she’s Team Kai, so good on Kai, and the writers. That said, what’s Kai’s particular game here, and what’s Bebe’s? I mean, he’s clearly using her to weed out the traitors (including — eek — his own sister), but once he does that, he won’t have many followers left. Unless he’s got others we don’t know about, which is entirely possible.
I’m calling this one of AHS’ better seasons. After Roanoke, I was pretty sure I was done with the show, but Cult has thoroughly sucked me in.
Kai: “I just got a retweet from Eric Trump.”
Beverly: “I’m Beverly motherfuckin’ Hope and you’re gonna get the hell out of my way.”
Cop at murder scene: “His dick and balls missing.” Other cop: “No they’re not.” (Gah!)
Bebe speaking about Valerie’s ignored Zodiac claims: “It was like she pulled off the heist of the century, and no one cared.”
Valerie: “I made a hit list. Some real disgusting motherfuckers. Like this asshole, Hugh Heffner … Billy Graham, Bobby Riggs, Steve McQueen … what he did to Ali McGraw; she’s a housewife in Malibu, now!
What is it about little girls that scares men so much? Why won’t they let us be artists or scientists? Why is it only men who can create ‘great art,’ as you call it? The game is rigged, you know, and the people making the decisions, the critics, they’re all men. You men, so terrified of what we might do, you keep us stupid, you keep us complacent, you hold all the power.”
Andy to Valerie: “When they hear the name Valerie Solanas, they think Andy Warhol.
Who are you kidding? Shooting me will be the only thing you’re remembered for. I am your legacy.”
Beverly: “We have to strike back. And this time, we won’t miss.”
Winter: “It’s true. They con women into electing them, and then they defund Planned Parenthood, and force us to get transvaginal ultrasounds before we can get an abortion.”
Winter to BeBe on the Zodiac revelation: “I’ve seen that Fincher movie like fifty times; it’s my Baby Einstein.”
Kai to Winter: “The ground is heavy, Winter. I’m making hard choices, every day.
What do you think of FIT? Fear is Truth.
What about MLWB? Men Lead Women Bleed.”
Winter: “I think that one might piss off the wrong people.”
Valerie: You’re a fool to underestimate the rage of a woman!
Has a woman ever started a war?
Ivy to Harrison: “Kai is your king? Don’t you think that’s a little too much?
The surprise is, you’re the guest of honor.
I just drove my wife crazy, I didn’t get her killed.”
Beverly reporting on Harrison’s murder: “The body was found in a pond of scum.”