American Horror Story: Cult has a phobia for everyone.
The classics are represented in the seventh edition of the popular FX horror anthology (Tuesday, 10 ET/PT, ** ½ stars out of four). Clowns? Check. Bees? Check. The confining space of a coffin? Check.
But the latest effort from co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also traffics in more modern-day fears, depending on where you sit on the political spectrum: that President Obama was going to take away your guns; that you might be called a racist even though you’re a card-carrying liberal; that people will find out you voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein instead of Hillary Clinton.
Such primal and political fears are the blessing and the curse of Cult, a horror-political-comedy with its sights set ambitiously on so many targets — including cult leaders who gain power by playing off the public’s fears — that its satire sometimes cuts into the scare factor.
Viewers see Trump and Clinton, in news clips, as the season opens on Election Night 2016 in small-town Michigan. A Clinton viewing party and a lone Trump supporter watch cable news channels announcing Trump’s victory, a real-life horror for his antagonists suffering from a political PTSD (President Trump Stress Disorder).
Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Ivy (Alison Pill), a married couple who run a tony restaurant while raising a school-age son, represent the anti-Trump audience. Ally, the embodiment of a so-called liberal “snowflake,” rejects the result until she can hear it from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and crumbles under a recurrence of her many phobias, including a disabling fear of clowns.
The Trump side doesn’t get off easy. Blue-haired Kai (Evan Peters) exults at Fox News’ declaration of his victory, tries to mount his flat-screen TV and blends cheese puffs into an orange powder — get it? — that he applies to his face. He’s volatile, feeding off societal fears and plans his own run for office, complete with false immigrant statistics.
As Kai’s single-minded craziness is documented, so are his skills of persuasion. He’s a budding demagogue who already wields power over followers, including emotionally opaque Wednesday…