“American Horror Story” is an anthology series well-known for focusing its terrors on the supernatural — clowns, the paranormal and the (un)dead are just a few fears that “AHS” has lined up in its repertoire. For a show built upon the concept of fear and what is actually considered “scary.” In its newest collection, “AHS: Cult,” the show takes a surprising turn away from the supernatural in favor of reality.
The opening episode of “Cult” begins on Election Night in a small Michigan town, taken from two points of view meant to encompass the dueling concepts of fear. The natural fear of not belonging in a post-election climate and the fear which others use to propel their beliefs forward. In a liberal household we have Ally (Sarah Paulson, “American Crime Story”), who watches the election with baited breath and vocalizes her frustrations when the results are televised. Meanwhile, blue-haired introvert Kai (Evan Peters, “X-Men: Apocalypse”) celebrates the world we’ve suddenly found ourselves thrust into, believing that, in electing Donald Trump as president, we’ve ultimately begun a revolution that will change the world for the better.
In a quiet manner, “AHS” is attempting to mirror reality via two extremes. In the same small town, Ally faces the political aftermath and what it will entail for herself and her wife (Alison Pill, “The Newsroom”), while Kai organizes sinister deeds in the wake of the “good news.” However, that’s not to say that neither party is free from stereotypes. While Ally is portrayed as a liberal snowflake, Kai is played off as deranged, bordering on the edge of psychotic, clearly following what each side has surely slandered about the other. As the run-in with killer clowns last season has taught us, “AHS” is paying attention to the news.
What is also surprising, however, about the seventh season of “AHS” is the trading of paranormal suspense for comedy. A series well known on the terror front for their scare tactics, “Cult” takes on the new season with a different approach, attempting to balance comedic moments with killer clowns in a mix that feels too standoffish for the series to appropriately blend well. While some of the characteristic elements of the disturbing nature of the show are easy to point out — case in point, clowns — it feels as if it is different from previous seasons. On the other hand, perhaps the harmonizing relationship between the viewer and the character is what will allow this new season to resonate well with its audience. If one can see themselves reflected in what they are watching, perhaps the fears of reality can outdo the fears of the supernatural.
It is following the bombshell news of the election coverage that “AHS” finally opens up on deeper fears, morphing into the show that we’ve come to know over the past few seasons. The world suddenly morphs from reality to the paranormal — where babysitters (Billie Lourd, “Scream Queens”) harbor sinister intentions and clowns (John Carroll Lynch, “The Founder”) lurk on corners for the unsuspecting passerby. All things considered, “AHS” is asking us whether the world has always been full of terrors or whether the terrors can come to life on their own.