Friday, November 17, 2017

American Horror Story: Cult ~ Season Review

American Horror Story: Cult, the seventh installment of the anthology series, is thankfully behind us. It started by trudging through the misery of 2016's election night, followed by an uninspired stretch of roaming clowns, nasty murders, weird neighbors, and one cringe-worthy ugly cryer. Tedious does not cover it. But it did shift from a pointless political fever dream to an acerbic commentary on gender and power.

There was a brilliant episode with an unhinged Lena Dunham as an extreme feminist/serial killer that showed some real promise. Yet from this high point the show teetered between relevancy and repetition through the bitter end. Ultimately, it didn't add much to the discussion and preferred to be perverse than provocative.

As usual for AHS, the story veered towards the absurd (gather around for sleeping bag storytime cult henchmen) and implausible (my lesbian partner didn't vote for Hilary Clinton so I will drive her mad by exploiting her phobias and join a cult run by an angry little man). Sadly, there was no actual exploration of the characters psyches, motivations or reasons for choosing to do terrible things. If you wanted to know why people choose cults, this was not the show for any enlightenment. Everything is left at face value and unexplored and characters are reduced to histrionics. Evan Peters was supposed to be a charismatic, brilliant ringmaster of the cult but he is drawn as a blue-haired man-child, who dines on Manwich, rages foolishly, and can be easily manipulated. How exactly did he recruit so many male model henchmen? With pinky-swears? The writers confused Peters' vein-popping stare downs and shrill line readings as character development.

The reason to keep watching is Sarah Paulson, the crown jewel of this entire series (Jessica Lange notwithstanding). As annoying as her character was at the beginning, she does eventually turn a corner (albeit, completely off screen) and reemerges as the character we wanted to see. Even with Paulson's masterful work, it's too much too late. It does make you wonder what Paulson would have done if cast as the antagonist instead of the final girl – again. For all the bluster of the season's viewpoint, it certainly didn't break the mold.

Cult suffers from an overbearing, nihilistic and crass tone that made it a chore to watch. Gone was the mystery, the unsettling scares, or the wonder of the other seasons of AHS. This was the first season to completely devoid of any supernatural content, which shuts out a large segment of the fanbase who tune in for the horror (versus a crime/terror/thriller). Instead we once again superficially witness the base instincts of humanity as the worst imaginable evil without any real revelations or insight. Even with the interesting segment recreating famous cults in history, this was easily the least entertaining, scary, or dare I say fun installment yet. Yet another missed opportunity.


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