It takes less than 30 seconds for “Holes,” the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult, to reference its title. WBNR’s Bob Thompson (Dermot Mulroney) might be a pervert, but he’s not wrong to ream out Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) for her recent on-air editorializing and fear-mongering: “There’s all sorts of goddamn holes in your stories!” And throughout the episode, Crystal Liu’s screenplay goes about addressing the holes that Cult itself created with the revelations from the flashback-filled “11/9,” but the answers here aren’t only unsatisfyingly blunt, but only raise more questions, to the point that the show’s narrative up to this point has been retconned.
This is most apparent when it comes to the sudden divide between Ally (Sarah Paulson) and her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill). It was one thing for Ivy to be unable to live with Ally’s delusions, to feel as if their son, Ozzy (Cooper Dodson), was unsafe living in their house. It’s quite another to suggest that Ivy’s been playing Ally ever since the election, feeling betrayed by her country and especially her wife. When she tells Winter (Billie Lourd) that “Radicals are the only people who’ve ever gotten things done,” it seems as if she’s still trying to convince herself of the righteousness of Kai (Evan Peters) and his cult of clowns. If Ivy is in cahoots with Kai, that means that her concern for Pedro was fake, since she knowingly put him in danger, and if so, then it seems a little late for her to suddenly feel squeamish over her part in killing Bob, an open misogynist. It’s even harder to square Ivy’s continued concern for her son with all of the trauma she’s subjecting him to.
Frustrating, though, as it is to endure the way Cult goes about constantly and willfully withholding information from viewers, we can at least glimpse evocative flickers of deep-seated rage behind Ivy’s calm façade. The same can’t be said for Beverly’s cameraman, RJ (James Morosini), who doesn’t even get the benefit of a backstory before he’s turned into grist for the show’s horror mill. He questions Kai’s unimpressive ambition (a seat on the city council?) and states that he’s reluctant to kill, which makes his recruitment into the cult a bit of a mystery in the first place. In the end, he exists only to be the star attraction of a team-building exercise, in which Kai forces each member of his cult to prove their loyalty and dedication by shooting a bound-and-gagged RJ in the head with a nail gun. But at least the sequence vividly captures the emotions of each cultist as they pull the trigger on their literal object lesson: Gary (Chaz Bono) and Harrison (Billy Eichner) happily reclaim their masculinity; Beverly matter-of-factly takes care of business; Winter resolutely follows through on her pledges; and Ivy tearfully takes her first life.
Cult’s first three episodes painted a nuanced enough picture of the sort of selfish and easily frightened white woman who some would say helped elect Donald Trump to the presidency. Now, as the series elaborates on all the things that brought Ally to madness, she’s been placed on the backburner. Regardless of how necessary this is, the rush with which Ally summarizes the last few days of her life in a session with her psychiatrist, Rudy (Cheyenne Jackson), feels like a cheat. We’re quickly told that her hallucinations are worsening (she’s gouged holes in her neck in an attempt to claw out phantom bugs) and that her social skills are deteriorating, as shown by the awkward, desperate way in which she attempts to make a connection during a supervised visitation with her son. And though Paulson’s performance makes these things clear, the script is filled with on-the-nose observations, like how Ally’s distance from Ozzy is “just another hole” she can’t fill.
Given Ally’s condition, living alone in a house marked by serial killers, it seems particularly outrageous that, when she sees Harrison and his secret lover, Detective Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes), seemingly moving a body in the middle of the night, she sneaks into Harrison’s backyard. There, she discovers Meadow (Leslie Grossman) pleading for help from the bottom of an open grave in which she’s presumably to be buried alive. At this moment, Ally becomes every bit the object that RJ was, as all we see throughout this sequence is how the episode’s creators are pulling the character’s strings. First she crawls right up to the edge of the grave so as to allow for that carefully framed overhead shot of Meadow: the perfect revelation with which to cut to a commercial break. Then she runs back to her house and calls Ivy for help so that when Meadow suspiciously frees herself and noisily bangs at Ally’s door instead of fleeing, the revelation that Ivy’s a part of this murderous cult occurs while Ally has her wife on the phone.
The writers are using Ally’s fears as an excuse to do whatever they want with the character, stretching plausibility along the way. They risk doing the same with Kai, though at least there’s a reason for this character to be consumed by a certain illogic, as Kai recruits his followers by teasing them with the promise that he can be anything to them that they desire. In a flashback that reveals Rudy to be Kai’s brother, their mother shoots their abusive, crippled father before killing herself. The emotional Kai we see in that flashback feels far removed from the precise, all-business character who recruits Harrison in “11/9” or the childish Kai from this episode who thinks “Latin is scary” and who takes inspiration for his crimes from late-night HBO. At times he seems more like a dilettante than a mastermind, and while this may work as a grim metaphor for the way in which Trump has half-assed his way through his presidency thus far, it’s understandable if, by the end of this episode, viewers are left wanting for all the holes in this characterization to be filled in so we can finally get a complete picture of who the real Kai is.
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