The season finale of American Horror Story: Cult, “Great Again,” ends on an unmistakably cathartic note. A red-pantsuit-clad Ally (Sarah Paulson), once a terrorized, fearful woman, is no longer willing to be seen as a victim or a survivor. Indeed, she stares down both the slick politician, Herbert Jackson (Dennis Cockrum), whose senate seat she seeks, and then the man who abused her, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters), telling him: “There is something more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man: a nasty woman.”
For many, that line—a reclamation of all that’s been lost since Trump’s election—justifies all of the means of Cult. But it lets Ally, a murderer many times over, too easily off the hook. Whereas Ally once faced criticism as a half-hearted, Jill Stein-voting, white-privileged ally (literally in name only), she’s now praised as a feminist hero. With the image of an emotionless Ally donning the familiar green hood of the SCUM movement’s followers, “Great Again” is content to leave us with one final twist, a half-hearted warning to viewers about blindly worshipping heroes. The episode isn’t really interested in punishing Ally for her similarities to Kai; after all, one notable difference between the characters is that Kai used empowered, radicalized men to seize power for himself, while Ally secretly used empowered, radicalized women, like prison guard Gloria (Liz Jenkins), to reclaim power for women.
The sight of a murderous, misogynistic troll brought down by the women he abused offers unabashed pleasure.
By the end of “Great Again,” Ally has been transformed into both a hero and “nasty woman,” yet somehow the character feels less complex than ever. Up to this point on Cult, Kai has been repeatedly retconned, often via flashback, into anything that will ensure that Ally will eventually look more heroic in comparison. That’s not to take anything away from Ally’s clever defeat of her tormentor, which is total and absolute, and involves her rendering Kai effectively impotent, since she provides him—by way of Gloria—with a phallic gun that’s been emptied of its ammunition. But the fact that Ally breaks Kai out of jail to embarrass him on national television suggests that Kai is nothing more than a paper tiger, used by Ally (and the writers of Cult) to send a clear anti-Trump message, and to encourage the oppressed to #resist.
In the current political climate, that’s a valuable message, but one may wish that it were driven more by character and less by convoluted plot machinations. Where past episodes of Cult used flashbacks to deepen our understanding of the election (“11/9”), the Andersons (“Winter of Our Discontent”), and cults (“Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag”), the whole of “Great Again” is an aspirational flash-forward. The episode doesn’t attempt to explain why people do things, but how things—like the presumably anti-Trump elections of 2018—should go, at least metaphorically (one presumes the show isn’t calling for the oppressed to shoot their rivals.)
The sight of a murderous, misogynistic troll brought down by the women he abused is pleasurable. And it’s understandable that “Great Again” doesn’t want to taint that feeling of relief by harping too much on Ally’s complicity in Kai’s murder spree. She doesn’t have to be punished for her crimes, but it’s a bit unnerving for the episode to spend so much time forgiving, if not outright praising, her: as in Beverly (Adina Porter), substituting one savior for another, sincerely telling the equally scorned Ally that she would’ve been right to murder Ivy. Ally’s restaurant has been revitalized by her instant, unquestioned feminist celebrity. She’s found a perfectly supportive girlfriend, one who isn’t trying to drive her insane. Even the worst of Ally’s appropriations from Kai’s crazy playbook—staging a failed assassination a la the one at the center of “Mid-Western Assassin”—is celebrated, history being written by the victor and all. “Great Again” is perhaps the most cult-like of all Cult episodes, because up until its very last shot, it offers no room for doubt of its true “hero,” nor the righteousness of her unorthodox methods.
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