American Horror Story Recaps: 11/9
Alright, so let’s talk about Evan Peters.
I didn’t have much to say about him in my recap of last season because, well, there wasn’t a lot to say about him. He was barely in it, and his character/s just weren’t up to much. But this season – and 11/9, this week’s episode, in particular – he’s front and centre and the show is soaring because of it.
Evan Peters is always best when he’s playing a villain. He just is; he’s got those pretty-boy good looks, the oodles of charm and charisma, and when you put those towards playing a good guy, it’s just…eh. It’s obvious. It fits too well. In Asylum, Coven (ugh, the dreaded Frakenincest arc), Freakshow, and Roanoke, he puts in undoubtedly solid performances that just weren’t all that interesting. It’s his iconic and star-making turn as spree killer Tate Langon in season one and, to a lesser extent, his chillingly camp performance as twenties hotelier James March that stand out as his finest, most compelling performances, when he takes that all-American charm and twists it into something ugly and violent and subversive. And Cult – touch wood – could well be the best iteration of those Evan Peters performances.
11/9 is by far the best episode of the season so far; last week was wildly entertaining, but this week felt like the show was really pulling it’s pieces together and finally giving us some logic behind what was going on in Michigan after the election. And that revolves around Evan Peters’ Kai Anderson.
The episode picks up on the day of the election, and follows Kai as he recruits several members of the cast to his cult. The episode is roughly split into three parts, bookended by election night – the first follows Harrison (Billy Eichner) and his recruitment, then Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) followed by Gary (Chaz Bono), and each one offers a different look into what makes Peters such a perfect choice as Kai – and what makes Kai so attractive to the people he recruits.
One of the things I disliked about the first couple of episodes of the show was it’s apparent casting of Kai as a parody of a Trump voter – violent, entitled, superior and supercillious. And those traits are all still present in Kai in this episode, but it’s made very clear that Kai was more attracted to what Trump represented than his politics. For Kai, Trump heralded in a time in politics where anything – and anyone – could gain power, and that’s what he’s after. Reframing his motivations like this makes him an infinitely more interesting and nuanced character and allows the script a lot more space to play with his character – having him just trying to recruit people to the alt-right is dull and rote, because we’ve got that here in the real world and AHS isn’t the show to offer cogent comment on that. Having him as a man determined to take advantage of an unsettled and fallow political plane in order to instill his own twisted values, whatever they might be? Now that’s interesting. That’s the kind of character Evan Peters can do something with. And do something he does – Kai is utterly controlled and unhinged in equal measure, chewing down handfuls of Aderall in front of the TV and delivering these chilling, unblinking monologues that are another bullet point to add to the list I’ll be sending the Emmys this year about exactly why Peters deserve one already. For a season like this to work, you’ve got to have someone convincing at the head of your cult, and Peters delivers that with time to spare. It’s a phenomenal, fascinating performance, and I love everything about it.
And really, that’s the best thing I can give this episode: it was actually interesting. Not goofy or funny or silly or exasperating, but actually, genuinely interesting. I loved the different elements of fear and frutrastion it delved into with the three seperate recruitments: with Harrison, it’s an impotence in the face of people controlling him; with Beverly, it’s an industry that refuses to respect or value her as an older black woman; with Gary, it’s the notion that the America he wants, that he felt owed, is being stripped from him. And, in three quarter-hour vignettes, the show does an excellent job chipping away at these characters and depicting, relatively convincingly, their descent into Kai’s violent cult. In a time of uncertainty, Kai is clear-eyed sureness.
I’m talking episode-broad here, so let’s focus in on a couple of the standout moments: Adina Porter and Evan Peters’ first conversation was one of the high points of the season so far, a masterclass in writing, direction, and performance all coming together to create something utterly compelling. Kai, for all his confidence and charisma, feels the need to affirm his IQ and just how long it took to finish his degree, those little flashes of insecurity making his quest for power all the more believable. Beverly is simply exhausted, being chased out of her position by a younger reporter (Emma Roberts, who turns up in the most Emma Roberts of the Emma Roberts roles and gets her nipples tweaked by Dermot Mulroney), and faced with yet another person promising her a chance to succeed. She writes Kai off as nothing more that a white boy with big dreams, but when he delivers – in the form of the brutal murder of her younger rival on camera, one of the season’s most chilling moments – she realizes he’s offering her something real. I fucking adore Adina Porter and can’t get enough of her, and watching her bounce off of Evan Peters’ black-eyed Kai (they embrace when she accepts his offer to join the cult, and she murmurs “equal power” in his ear) is just…ugh. I love it. It’s two superb actors at the top of their game and it’s a gift.
Other pieces slot into place, too – and that alone is something AHS has never done very well, actually fitting stories together beyond their opening salvos. Ivy and Winter met previously, after Ivy was sexually assaulted at a pro-Hilary rally, indicating at least Ivy’s knowledge of the cult and perhaps her involvement in it. Previous scenes of the clowns make a hell of a lot more sense now we have a handle on who’s actually involved. The cult is beginning to take shape, and so far, it’s looking pretty damn fine.
Honestly, there’s so much to love about this episode that I could probably write another thousand words just going over precisely what worked about it, but it’s so sublimely American Horror Story that I suggest you just go watch it already, or watch it again if you’ve already seen it. From Billy Eichner’s ever-evolving and improving performance, to the episode’s sporadic but effective use of violence, to Leslie Grossman’s tragically hilarious Meadow, to Adina Porter beating a kid with her microphone while screaming “I’LL FUCK YOU RIGHT IN THE PUSSY”, this is the show at it’s wild-eyed, wildly entertaining, inimtably clever best.
Now watch them fuck it up next week. As ever, if you like these recaps and want to see more stuff like them, please consider supporting me on Patreon!
Lou’s Wild Fan Theory Corner
- So I was right about Ivy being involved/in touch with the cult – ha! Knew it!
- So, all of what we’ve seen so far is to get Ally to join the cult, right? So when are they going to pull the trigger and reveal the truth to her? And why are they involving the kid, too?
- Winter and Kai appear to be siblings, which makes me wonder – who are their parents? I’m pulling for Cheyenne Jackson, who was curiously absent in this episode.