American Horror Story Recaps: Great Again
Look, there’s ambiguity, and then there’s shit just straight-up being a garbage way to end a story. And, once again, American Horror Story has landed firmly in the latter.
I go back and read all my reviews for a season of TV before the finale, just to remind myself of what has gone before, and looking over everything again, I think it’s safe to say that I liked this season more than I didn’t. I would go as far to say that it’s my favourite season since Asylum – I still dig Roanoke but also frequently forget it exists, which seems problematic. And for all that Cult fucked up (sometimes in spectacular ways) over it’s eleven-episode run, it was, by turns, wildly entertaining, brilliantly incisive, and head-scratchingly and compellingly ridiculous. But, you know, AHS can never land an ending, and this year’s stodgy finale is no different.
Not to say there wasn’t good here – the scene between Ally and Beverly as they both dance around the questions about what they did and didn’t do while part of the cult puts forth a fantastic set of performances from Sarah Paulson and Adina Porter, while the FBI finally raiding Kai’s cult and bringing him down is a strikingly well-directed scene, from the sparse bulb dangling in the smoky air to Beverly’s triumphant smile towards a pinned-down Kai. But the episode felt clunky and heavy as it tried to pull together all the threads it left hanging at the end of last week’s episode.
It opens with Kai in prison, a jarring start, and then whips up back to the dissolution of the cult at the hands of Ally, who turns out to be an informant. The juddery pacing – as we flip back to the prison in 2018, and then back to Kai reforming his cult behind bars, and then forward again to Ally’s life post-cult – leaves the episode feeling frantic, and I really expect better from the oft-excellent scribe for this outing, Tim Minear. Not to mention that a lot of the shit we’re dealing with this week is just dumb.
Ally decides to pick up and run for office, where she wins a senate seat on a hyper-feminist platform, and then is revealed, in a final-scene sting, to possibly be a part of the SCUM movement that Frances Conroy’s Bebe apparently pushed Kai towards restarting in last week’s episode. Does this mean that Kai was actually successful in unleashing lady-rage and had been working towards this goal (of pushing Ally towards politics and dying in the process) this whole time? Had Ally been part of SCUM all along? Who else is currently in on her new SCUM cult? Why can’t this show fucking leave Valerie Solanas out of this, please and thank you? On paper, Ally’s arc is actually relatively interesting – going from neurotic nag to powerful, assured, violent feminist icon – but somehow they’ve stripped so much of the drama out of it that the whole thing feels flat. I really, really wanted to like Ally’s arc this season, but the show just often seemed to forget about it in favour of Kai jacking off in a shower or pissing into a balloon because this show is nothing without it’s bodily fluids.
And that brings me to Kai – yeah, I have to admit, seeing him get shot through the face at the episode’s climax was pretty damn satisfying, a testament to how much the show has made me hate Evan Peters’ deliciously evil antagonist, but honestly even I was out of patience for the character here, and I’ve loved him all season long. Yeah, I get it, he’s a charismatic cult leader who, at his heart, is a misogynist asshole determined to subjugate women (or is he? See also, above), but, as with earlier this season, the show tipped once more over into parody and left Kai feeling groundless in his final few scenes. I still think he’s a great character overall and it’s my favourite Peters performance on this show, but damn, this was a weak-ass ending for him. And he even got to peel someone’s face off on-screen!
The politics that have saturated this season also feel curiously absent in this finale – I mean, yes, they were there, but I didn’t really know what the show was trying to say with them, if anything at all. Misogyny is…bad? Powerful women are…powerful? I don’t think the show should really come down on one side or the other – it’s stronger when it lurks somewhere in the middle, or outside the spectrum entirely – but for an episode that had a leading character running for senate of a feminist platform, it didn’t seem to have a clue what it really wanted to say. There were hints of interesting notions – Beverly facing no prison time for her role in the cult, echoing back to Kai’s promise of “equal power” and how she, as a black woman, was presumed to be incapable of what he was, for better or worse – but the show didn’t seem to care about really exploring them. But hey, there was a Lana Winters reference, so…connections? Good? Maybe? Ugh, I don’t know. Can you tell that I was bored of this episode ten minutes in?
And honestly, that’s all there really is to cover – Kai and Ally are the only two characters left alive from the start of the season, and perhaps that’s what leaves this episode feeling so empty. Aside from Beverly, who has swung between being central to the plot and mostly outside of it, the rest of the cast is already dead, and that’s kind of a dissapointment. I wanted more Cheyenne Jackson, more Chaz Bono, more Allison Pill, but this show can never resist a bloodbath and that leaves this finale practically echoing it’s so cavernously empty. It’s not their worst ending (hello, Coven, Hotel, Murder House, Roanoke…), but it launched the season back into hyper-camp hysteria once more, and that felt like a shame.
So, we’re done with another season of American Horror Story. If you’d like to read this season’s reviews from the beginning, start here, and you can also find last season’s recaps here if that’s your jam. I’m also currently recapping Riverdale at the moment, which you should so get on if you haven’t already, and you can find more of my writing over at No But Listen if movies are your jam. As ever, thank you so much for joining me for another season of TV’s least consistent, most compelling show, and I hope you’ll be sticking around the Guignol until next year’s AHS season!