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[TV Review] “American Horror Story: Cult” Season Finale: “Great Again”

American Horror Story 711-1

‘American Horror Story’ mostly sticks its landing as it ends a controversial season on a contemplative, cathartic note

“Women can’t lead. Women can’t win.”

After a season that largely fluctuates in quality, AHS: Cult’s final episode, “Great Again,” goes out with its heart in the right place. This finale kicks off with force as the episode jumps forward in time and smashes in everyone’s faces the reality that Kai is now in prison. However, Kai’s incarceration doesn’t slow down his trademark manipulation tricks. Kai might be in his biggest cage yet, but that doesn’t stop him from keeping his title as Divine Ruler. The skinheads that worship Kai in prison are no different than the “dude bros” that were supporting him before. He even hooks his talons into authority figures at the prison and finds new surrogates for past followers. The individuals aren’t important. This is all cyclical for Kai, just like the “Cult Leader Storytime” segments that have reiterated this all season.

Kai’s been in prison for nearly a year, but his plans remain at the same basic level: Women are Evil. Let’s Take Down the Women. It’s an angry, violent cold open that paints Kai as an automaton of sorts. He appears to be on autopilot as his imaginary bestie, Charles Manson, continues to call the shots. Kai may very well run out of rope here, but it makes for an exhilarating introduction to this final hour of the season.

On that note, AHS: Cult deserves some respect for their ambitious work with this finale. Past seasons of American Horror Story are no strangers to delivering a creative, atypical installment to close out the year. AHS: Asylum still manages to be one of the more effective examples of this as the season leans into its journalistic themes and transforms its finale into a documentary from Lana Winters (Lana also gets a pretty delightful shout-out here that brought a big smile to my face). So just when it feels like AHS: Cult is about to pull the rug out from under its audience, it’s deeply encouraging to see the finale remain mostly in 2018 and take its time before flashing back to how everyone reaches this point.

Frankly, I’d have been fine if we didn’t get any of these background details and were simply left to reach our own conclusions on Kai’s incarceration. This still feels like a finale that focuses more on Kai’s future and his rebirth, rather than a tedious lesson on how he falls from grace. It’s a smart decision that makes this final hour come alive, rather than resigning it to be on life support as it bungles the landing. It also doesn’t hurt that Jennifer Lynch directs the hell out of this finale and makes most of its subject matter resonate.

One of the most effective elements of this season has been the complete breakdown of Beverley Hope. Beverley’s mental anguish only intensifies over the past few episodes and Adina Porter does brutal work in her current state. She shuffles around like some lobotomy patient and is just eager for all of this to be over. At one point she wanted to run this show with Kai, but now she just wants the release of death. Beverley acts as a devastating character study of how cults can reprogram people to such shocking degree. Even when Ally tries to give her hope and tell her that change is coming, she doesn’t even know what she really wants anymore. She’s completely void of individuality and it’s just as harsh as any of the violence from this season. In fact, it’s worse. Thank God she’s able to get a moment of redemption before the season ends.

A lot of “Great Again” relies on Ally’s ability to run this show and outsmart everyone. She methodically moves all of her pieces into play so she’s able to pull off her giant coupe on Kai and his army. The success of this episode banks on the fact that Ally has some way to take all of these people down with her. Besides, all of Kai’s goons are too busy focusing on bigger issues, like how to successfully execute 100 pregnant women.

Ally’s success isn’t meant to be a surprise. It’s inevitable and something that has apparently been in the works ever since Kai sent her away for psychiatric help. A lot of this episode simply basks in Ally’s contentment. It’s almost the polar opposite of the season’s premiere where we meet Ally as a frightened, insecure mess. Hell, she’s even able to make a legitimate run for a seat at the Senate now, too. This transformation is no coincidence and after Ally’s triumphant coup, the episode slowly turns up the tension. Will Ally get her happy ending—let alone, does she even deserve it at this point—or is there one final danger that’s going to strike?

The episode plays Beverley’s story as an interesting counterpoint to what Ally experiences after her escape of Kai and his influence. Ally is the “celebrity” of the situation. She’s the survivor that everyone admires and wants to take their picture with while they praise her strength. That’s not wrong, necessarily, but Ally is still guilty of a shocking amount of murder and crime herself. She’s ready to put this behind her and use it to her advantage. At one point Beverley colloquially says to Ally, “You’re the one that we should have been worried about.” That’s the dangerous level of power that Ally plays with now. Even if she thinks that she’s okay, it’s clear that she’s changed and continues to change.

“Great Again” takes Ally’s run for the Senate and essentially morphs it into a redux of Clinton versus Trump, which frankly is the perfect way to bring this season full circle. The final scenes largely play out like some sort of fan fiction of the 2016 presidential election, but it’s an exaggerated moment that works. In other circumstances, such a conclusion might seem ridiculous, but audiences are more than ready to see Kai Anderson get his at this point.

Fortunately, this problematic season of American Horror Story seems to have gotten rid of most of its kinks at this point. With this season’s slow pace, this finale easily could have been split into two episodes, but it’s a better episode for not spreading story too thin. The year surprisingly ends on a note that not only doesn’t disappoint, but also manages to be somewhat optimistic. American Horror Story: Cult was far from a disaster and it certainly deserves points for ambition, but I’m still waiting for Ryan Murphy to make American Horror Story great again.



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COMMENTS

30 Comments
  • Dayglo

    Like many seasons of AHS, this one could’ve been tightened up a bit. Every character ended up killing another character with impunity while those references to bees went nowhere. (And don’t explain to me that a cult is like a hive, because the writers didn’t think that deeply). Evan Peters is a fine actor but he chewed up 90% of the screen time. Billy Eichner was grating in every one of his scenes and Colton Haynes can’t act. Sarah Paulson elevated everything … again. It didn’t make sense that her neurotic character would suddenly decide to run for office just because she survived a cult. The main problem with all seasons of AHS is that they may at times be gory, but they are rarely ever scary.

  • scream4ever

    A good finale, but one season I don’t think I will ever revisit. Aside from a terrible start, the character’s motivations frequently made no sense. It’s still better than Hotel I’ll give it that.

    • Nick Botic

      Hotel is my number 1 by far. I know that’s the unpopular opinion, but there was so much to it. I will never get tired of that season.

  • Biscoito18

    This season as a whole was clever but exhaustive.

    It wasn’t a happy or optimistic ending, though.

    *SPOILERS*
    Ally just became the monster that Bebe wanted Kai to become. She’s now the leader of her own cult of male-hating feminists.
    Bebe was right about the story repeating itself. Ally is gonna fall when she eventually let her ego gets in the way like Kai and all the other cult leaders did.

    Just like Sister Jude said to Lana Winters in “Asylum”: “Just remember. If you look in the face of evil, evil’s gonna look right back at you.”

    • Blade

      Hmm, idk if she is the same or not. The hood on does imply the SCUM connection but she has a son she clearly cares about, and she says she hopes he will become a man better than those before him. I do think she wants to bring on a change but I don’t think it involves ridding the world of all men, as that would include her child one day.

      • Biscoito18

        This season showed that all cult leaders begin with good intentions, including Kai who began to become a leader after saving the victims of that crazy pastor. But gradually, ambitions increase and radicalism as well. Ally continued to lie about Ivy’s death, killed Speedwagon to continue her plan against Kai alone, then decided to run for Senator, corrupted a police officer, killed Kai, and eventually formed her cult of women. She is following every step towards a future failure.

      • Biscoito18

        Valerie also started allowing gay men into the group, but then began to freak out. Kai started defending his family above all else, but later killed his brothers because of simple suspicions. Ally, with everything she’s been able to do so far, and with power in her hands, will probably follow the same path. That’s what I understood from the hood scene. The story repeats itself.

  • KSE1977

    I feel like, based on the last few reviews of AH here at BD, that the author is watching a different season of Horror story than the rest of us. I didn’t see any kinks ironed out and the issues AH has are prominently on display here. If I see one more season where Sarah Paulson rises up and kicks butt, it will be too soon. This season made Roanoke look a whole lot better.

  • Kyle Cole

    I was a little disappointed. I personally felt that the finale was pretty weak.

  • Cult was being the BEST season ever until they started to focus in feminism and male chauvinism.
    I know the same rights are important but I’m really sick of watch movies or tv shows about that.

    I haven’t seen the last episode but I know it’s all about how women are strong, bad men are weak,… And it’s very typical to watch Ryan Murphy ruining the endings o of his shows.

  • llcc1103

    Didn’t watch. Was this season political at all?

    • This season is a critic to the politic and religion, is really violent and has a lot of plot twists. However the last 2 episodes are a little weak.

  • I actually thought this was the most solid season in years. It started rough with the “gaslight” mess that was so repetitive, but after it settled into its groove, the story soared.

    • Nick Botic

      Agreed. I thought this was a damn fine season.

  • Skulduggery Pleasant

    this finale was such a let down for me. Predictable, boring, rushed and messy. They turned Kai’s interesting, complex character into a flat, boring “meninist” just to kill him off. What a let down to an otherwise decent season.
    They could’ve done so much more with this season if they’d focused more on the cult, society as a whole and had kept the integrity of the characters. I hate that they turned this season into a ridiculous men vs women battle right at the end, turning what could’ve been a compelling end to the season into crap.

    • Hayden Koutras

      First person i’ve seen take the words straight out my mouth. Kai was interesting, and when it focused on the cult it was incredible, and he was by far the best character on the show in recent years. i wanted a ending with his cult being cemented in history next to all the names he always wanted his name to be known with. I Don’t know what i expected to be fair, but it certainly wasn’t turning him into a piece of garbage just so they could have Ally win with a whole lot of feminist shit.

  • Necro

    Loved this new season, but the finale was……..meh. I honestly think it would’ve worked better if it would’ve been a two parter or a longer episode. It just felt rushed and somewhat predictable. I wouldn’t say it ruined the entire season, but it brought it down a peg or two. The one thing I do like is how ‘Kai’ ‘cured’ ‘Ally’ if you will, and in a way it was really a mentor/protege relationship. Before this season started here on BD it was stated that they (Kai/Ally) have/share a love story for the ages, well I certainly didn’t see no love story, and it’s probably better they didn’t. ‘Ally’ really owes ‘Kai’ because she in her own way kind of becomes him. She starts out as a fucking mess; paranoid, delusional, depressed and comes out strong, centered, independent, and seemingly ‘cured’ from the way we first met her.

    • It really boggles my mind how Ryan Murphy said that about Ally and Kai. I waited and waited for intimacy between them but there was more action between Ivy and Winter than Kai and Ally ever had. It makes me wonder how much the script shifted since, or if it was just a trick to hype us up. Either way, Ryan can never keep his mouth shut and it ruins something about the show (remember last season when he revealed the second halfs plot twist before the episode aired? It would have been such a good surprise)

    • zombie84_41

      it was weak sauce lol

      • Necro

        Yeah unfortunately it was!

        • zombie84_41

          sadly lol they need to sit down and reinvent this show cus its been sucking hard for years.

          • Nick Botic

            I disagree. Hotel is my favorite season of all, and Roanoke is up there for me too. I have very few good things to say about Freak Show, though hah

          • zombie84_41

            lol. I wasn’t a fan of anything really after covant Asylum is still my fav. But this season was headed in a good direction Its more scary when they base it on real fears. Maybe next season they can do one with Korea or something,

  • umaneo

    Spoiler- I’m glad I kept watching. I was going to give up but had to know what Ally’s fate would be. Her final scene with Ivy was worth it.

  • zombie84_41

    The new season was way better then the last 3 but still lacked. The first three seasons were amazing. The season finale was pretty stupid and predictable I honestly was expecting it to go another route. I think its time this show calls it quits. It’s running out of steam real quick. And soon it won’t have no more to run on.

    • Nick Botic

      You say it was predictable, but that you were “honestly expecting it to go another route”. That’s a huge contradiction. Haha

      • zombie84_41

        Well duh dude I’m a walking contradiction 🙂

  • The Divine Miss M

    I thought the season was good overall but last night was very disappointing. The writers took the lazy way out – of course Ally was going to bring down the cult and go on to great things. Of course Kai would end up dead or in jail or both. Basically, the writers didn’t have the balls or the imagination to write an real horror story ending. They punked out and basically did the Hannibal movie ending instead of the Hannibal book ending. How much more fun – and less predictable – would it have been to watch Allie “turn” – kill Kai only so she could take over the cult herself? I mean, they gave a teeny tiny nod to the idea with Ally donning the SCUM hood, but they could have done so much better. But I guess it’s easier to have the happy, boring PC ending. *yawn*

    Evan Peters was sublime in this season, as always. Paulson was her usual horse faced, wooden, shrill self. Everyone else was forgettable.

  • 1EyeJack

    I’m really surprised by all the bitching and moaning towards this show. This show is still unlike anything else on TV. It has pushed boundaries on sex and violence on TV, but that’s not what makes it great. Every season has shown creative writing, great acting, fantastic sets, and each season with its own style. This particular season touched on a more reality-based horror as much of it’s story is reflected in these current and troubling times. Mind you, this season featured themes of sexual misconduct of high-powered men, mass shootings, and mental illness among others. Oh yeah, and some of the best creepy clown costumes I’ve ever seen! Amazing, considering this season was written and filmed before all of these current headlines in the news today.
    So many commentors stating how it could have been better and what should have happened… If you’re so great at writing screenplays and stories than why aren’t we seeing your shows on national television? Put up or shut up. In the meanwhile just be thankful that we’ve had this many seasons (and hopefully many more) of AHS.

  • sedoi

    The season was very boring. Like with Freakshow it was going nowhere. Unlike Freakshow it didn’t had interesting characters or villains. Honestly it’s second season in the row I’m disappointed in :/ Also whole “horror” was lost in transition apparently.

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