'American Horror Story: Cult' recap: The last house on the left

Price Peterson
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This recap of the “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” episode of American Horror Story: Cult contains spoilers.

Storytelling is conflict, but not all conflict is entertaining. Horror has always had the solemn duty of skirting that line, of risking alienating huge swaths of audience just so the lucky few can experience the pleasures of fear. But it means each of us has developed a taste for what does and doesn’t cross the line; for most it’s specific things like overly graphic violence, or violence against animals. But for me it’s the Nobody Believes You trope. That’s the one thing in thrillers I just simply do not enjoy watching! Perhaps it works for some people, but never for me; I need to sympathize with the main character, and I simply won’t do that with someone who can’t articulate the problem or convince others of the truth. You know? I’d rather be shocked at the sight of a dead German shepherd than frustrated by a protagonist who just comes off as crazy all the time. Go get killed already!

Which brings us to this week’s episode of AHS: Cult. As much as I’m already extremely tired of how nobody seems to believe Sarah Paulson’s visions of vicious clowns, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” was a conceptually stronger episode than last week’s premiere. For one thing, it wasn’t as political, and also I think I’m starting to understand how the dual premise works finally? Something something fear itself? Let’s talk about it!

We began immediately where last week’s episode left off … with Ally (Sarah Paulson) lounging in her California king talking to her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill), only to turn and find a clown hogging the duvet! As you can imagine, she immediately scream-stumbled the heck out of there!

To Ivy’s credit, she took Ally’s claims of a home-invading clown at face value and ran upstairs with a knife to check things out. And wouldn’t you know it? Nuthin’! For the 17-hundredth time, Ally had “imagined” a clown when there wasn’t one, and it was really starting to tick Ivy off. And while Ally apologized and they touched foreheads, their son was just down the hallway getting straight-up terrorized by clowns!

It wasn’t clear if he was dreaming or not, but he suddenly found himself chased under his bed and then into the bathroom by his No. 1 horror hero, Twisty!

Also, Dick Nose. But what was going on here? Had both Ozzy (Cooper Dodson) and Ally hallucinated the same clown (Dick Nose)? Or was he actually there in the (latex) flesh? And if so, how do you explain Twisty being back from the dead? We scarcely had time to explore these questions because the next thing we knew, Ozzy was back in bed screaming himself awake. This was a household clearly on the brink of losing their collective minds.

So, remember last week when blue-haired, alt-right anarchist Kai (Evan Peters) picked a fight with migrant workers so that his subsequent beating would be captured on camera? Well, these two creeps were the ones who filmed it. (Hey, Billy Eichner!) Not only that, but then these two had the audacity to move into the newly vacant house across the street from Ivy, Ozzy, and Ally!

And that’s when this show took a turn into The ’Burbs territory… It was weird enough that the pair moved in before the bloodstains had even dried, but their movers carried in what looked like a dozen barrels of industrial chemicals of some kind, and Harrison Wilton (Billy Eichner) was wearing a hazmat suit for some reason? Later, Ivy and Ally went to go meet the new eccentrics next door, and their quirks just kept coming. For example, Harrison is a homosexual who married his straight best friend, who in turn has been recovering from skin cancer and is therefore sun-phobic. Also, they raise bees, obviously. Also, they’d contacted the house’s landlord immediately upon hearing of the double murder, sensing a good bargain. And because we also know they’re somehow in cahoots with Kai, I think it’s safe to say they possibly cosplay as Juggalos every now and again. Anyway, to you and me they were not looking very trustworthy. Ally, on the other hand, grew to trust them completely. Because why not?

Meanwhile, Winter (Billie Lourd) was still babysitting Ozzy and presenting him with mind-benders at every turn. For example, when he asked why she’d lied about seeing those murderous clowns, she convinced him that if you see crazy things, you should never admit it or else people will think you‘re crazy. Then she taught him how to pinky-swear in order to feel less afraid. I will admit, I still don’t understand this Winter lady’s motivations or backstory or intentions, but Billie Lourd remains amazing, so fine.

Later, Ivy found out that her restaurant security system had been tripped, so Ally volunteered to check it out. And what she found there was one of the employees hanging from a meat hook in the freezer! And he had only enough life left in him to vomit blood all over her!

As you might imagine, this was a slightly traumatic event for Ally to have to deal with. Ivy was also pretty troubled by this, mostly because she had to throw all the frozen meat away and buy new meat. Running a restaurant can be very challenging sometimes.

The prime suspect in the restaurant employee’s murder was one of the head chefs, who’d verbally sparred with the employee when he was accused of being an illegal immigrant. It really seemed like Detective-Samuels-(Colton Haynes)-with-Anderson-Cooper-hair seemed convinced that the accented immigrant must’ve done it, but Ivy and Ally stuck up for the poor guy. Side note: Which clown do we think Detective Samuels dresses up as? Dick Nose or Forehead Holes?

A few weeks later, Ivy had grown extra-worried about Ally’s mental state, mostly because she rarely left the house anymore and also installed security bars and gates over every window and door. Ivy even lured Ally’s psychiatrist over to the house, and he attempted to persuade her to, like, be less crazy somehow. But she told him not to worry. She had acquired a handgun!

Yes, it turned out that the new neighbors across the street — despite appearing to be progressive, quirky hipster millennials — were real gun nuts and possible doomsday preppers. Harrison was more than stoked to lend Ally a handgun to protect herself in these trying times.

Speaking of trying times, Kai had decided to run for the city council seat left vacated by the murdered councilman who’d humiliated Kai at the meeting in last week’s episode. It wasn’t clear why police hadn’t immediately investigated Kai’s involvement in that murder, but it was clear that he stood to benefit a lot from it. Add Harrison and his wife moving into the dead guy’s home, and it was now 100 percent certain that this cult of clowns was enacting a widespread plan of some kind. And while Kai at least attempted to convince Ally that her very fear of him was confirmation that she needed him (and people like him) to take over, she did not seem to agree. She was content to hide in her barricaded home and never lay eyes on him again, thank you.

That night, Sarah Paulson was convinced to not take her meds by Winter, who instead suggested that she just drink red wine and luxuriate in a warm bubble bath while Winter, uh, sponged her naughty bits and attempted to make out with her. Typical babysitter-friend stuff. But before things got too literally steamy, the power cut out!

Ozzy woke up from his sleep to find this clown walking through his bedroom, but because he is a very stupid child, he asked the clown if he was still asleep, and the clown was like, “Uh, sure.” So then Ozzy went back to sleep! (Ozzy’s survival instincts are not great.)

Meanwhile, Harrison came to the window and informed Ally that not only was the power out all over the neighborhood, but it was out in several states. And that it was clearly some widespread terrorist attack. Which, OK? Sure beats anthrax or plane crashes or whatever. But I loved that Winter immediately bounced out of there so that she could go home and protect her laptop and ceramics from rioters. Or at least that’s what she claimed. Because seconds later, Ally noticed a mysterious ice cream truck parked across the street, the same one Ozzy had seen last week.

Things got even stranger when Ally realized that the power outage (which, again, affected at least the whole town) was not helped by the fact that her home’s breaker box had been destroyed. Another unhelpful thing was when her candle got suddenly blown out by this jerk!

Yes, that is an adorable ruffled collar, but Ally needed that candle to stay lit! Anyway, that damn clown blew out her homemade beeswax candle, and she had no choice but to run upstairs, avoid the lady clown with the pentagram on her face, and then grab her gun from the bedside table and wave it around in every direction while she attempted to get Ozzy out of the house.

But just when they reached the back door and prepared to make a run for it, a figure stepped toward the door and Ally shot him dead!

Shocking twist: The guy she shot was actually the cook from Ivy’s restaurant, coming to bring Ally some blackout supplies. And she killed him! So yeah, this was probably not going to help her mental state moving forward, and you can quote me on that.

Last week I expressed skepticism about this season’s concepts and how they felt too mashed together. But here is where I tell you that I think I get it now. Cult is maybe not trying to say that liberals are hysterical and conservatives are psycho killers. I think it’s more the case that anyone on any part of the political spectrum will start behaving (and voting) erratically once fear takes hold. Like, it seemed crazy at first that Ally would consider touching a handgun, let alone sleep next to one, but “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” suggested that you’ll go against even your deepest convictions if you think it’ll keep you safe. My guess is that this season will be less about the differences between the right and the left, and more about how society will fall when we give in to our worst fears. Assuming Kai and the clown cult are up to a much larger-scale plot to destroy people, that’s a much more interesting subject than merely rubbing salt in the wounds of distraught voters. Unlike with our current IRL political situation, I’m excited to see how all this plays out!

American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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