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American Horror Story: Cult is the seventh season of Ryan Murphy's horror anthology series American Horror Story, aired by FX in 2017.

After Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) is deeply distraught. The result has especially triggered her coulrophobia (fear of clowns) despite the emotional support of her wife, Ivy (Alison Pill), and her therapist, Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson).

Elsewhere, blue-haired anarchist Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) revels in Trump's victory, and enlists the likes of his child-hating sister Winter (Billie Lourd) to spread their shared nihilism through a clown-based cult. Their first target? Ally and Ivy's young son, whom Winter is hired to babysit.

Through exploiting Ally's fear of clowns through circus imagery and Twisty the Clown memorabilia, the Mayfair-Richards family find their sanity — and safety — compromised.

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Other returning members of the American Horror Story repertory cast include Adina Porter, Mare Winningham, Frances Conroy, Chaz Bono, and Emma Roberts, while new additions Leslie Grossman, Lena Dunham, Colton Haynes, and Billy Eichner also appear in supporting roles.

See the main titles sequence for this season here.


American Horror Story: Cult provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Advertised Extra: Twisty was a big draw of the initial marketing, but he's only portrayed by John Carroll Lynch in two episodes.
  • And Starring: Any prominent actor not in the main credits receives a "guest starring" mention in that particular episode, but Billy Eichner is billed as a "special guest star".
  • Anyone Can Die: As per usual for the series. After episode 6, which ends with the death of Meadow, every subsequent episode involved the death of at least one major or main character. By the time the season's over, every major character is dead except for Ally, Oz, and Beverly.
  • Advertisement:
  • Arc Symbol: Bees. It's in the page image as well.
  • Ate His Gun:
    • Meadow does this on Kai's command after shooting up his rally.
    • Another one of Kai's followers does this during the FBI's raid of Kai's house.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Oz's full name is Ozymandias Mayfair-Richards.
  • Ax-Crazy: Judging from Kai's... extreme reaction to Trump winning the election, he is clearly insane. This only gets worse as the season goes on.
  • Bee Afraid: One of the teasers Ryan Murphy posted to Instagram depict a person being swarmed by bees.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Possibly. The murders attributed to the Zodiac Killer were carried out by a militant feminist cult founded by Valerie Solanas. Zodiac himself was an associate of the cult who took credit for the killings. However, as the person who stated this was later revealed to be working for Kai to manipulate the female members of the cult, it could be a case of Unreliable Narrator.
  • Betty and Veronica: At first, the show seems to set up Ivy as the reliable, plain Jane wife (the Betty) to Ally (Archie) and Winter as the younger, sexier bad girl (Veronica). After it is revealed that Ivy is in the cult, she becomes the Archie who has already chosen Winter (Veronica) over her wife and mother of her son, Ally (the Betty).
  • Big Bad: Kai Anderson, the leader of the titular cult.
  • Big "OMG!": Ally's reaction upon learning that Donald Trump won the election.
  • Big "YES!": Kai's reaction upon learning that Donald Trump won the election.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Kai ends up dead and gone, with all his power broken and his cults destroyed, the murders are implied to keep going. In beating him, Ally's lost much of what made her a good person (aside from her love of her son) and basically became the powerful villain Kai aimed to be when he started the whole affair, and is part of a new cult herself.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • How Winter kills Samuels.
    • How Ally kills Bebe.
    • How Beverly kills Kai.
  • Breaking Old Trends: This is the very first season without Lily Rabe.
  • The Bus Came Back: Emma Roberts and Mare Winningham both return to the series. The former after missing two seasons since Freak Show, the latter after sitting out the previous one. Unfortunately, neither of them last very long, as they both get killed off in their premier episodes.
  • Call-Back:
    • Twisty the Clown from Freak Show returns in the form of a fictionalized comic book character.
    • The Zodiac Killer, who appeared in Hotel as one of James Patrick March's former students at his Devil's Night party, is revealed to have been a man named Bruce, who was an associate of SCUM that took credit for killing their victims before becoming one of them.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Winter is probably bisexual, but we only see her willingly sleep with women. Ally and Ivy are a lesbian couple. Harrison is closeted; Samuels is gay; Kai is probably bisexual, having sex with both Samuels and Meadow, but it's unknown if he is attracted to either at all or just using them for his own agenda.
  • Casting Gag:
    • In Asylum, Sarah Paulson plays an in-the-closet lesbian who is wrongfully committed to a mental hospital. In Cult, she plays an open lesbian who is, steadily, being driven insane by everything and everyone.
    • Frances Conroy plays Bebe Babbitt, a radical second wave feminist. She previously played Moira O'Hara in Murder House, who was also a second wave feminist. She also played the head of a Mother Nature cult in The Mist.
    • In Asylum, Evan Peters plays a man at risk of racist abuse due to his interracial marriage, who is also wrongfully committed to an insane asylum for crimes he didn't commit. In Cult, he plays a man who deliberately provokes abuse towards him by displaying racist attitudes and, when someone makes an attempt to place him in a psychiatric ward for crimes he actually has committed, stops the attempt and continues on his murderous way.
  • Continuity Snarl: Actually subverted with regard to the scene showing the Zodiac Killer was Valerie Solanas and her SCUM followers. While the Zodiac Killer appeared in the show's fifth season, he was portrayed as a completely different character. We then learn that the entire backstory connecting Solanas to the Zodiac Killer was something that Bebe Babbitt was making up as part of a larger plan, making sure that there's no Plot Hole.
  • Corruption of a Minor: While babysitting, Winter shows Oz snuff films on the dark web.
  • Cult: It is right there on the title. A twist on an Apocalypse Cult, as Kai seeks to end the world by making everyone so afraid they'll "set the world on fire" at his slightest whim. The entire affair is based around the concept of using fear to control and destroy the world.
  • Cringe Comedy: During the sequence where it becomes apparent that Trump will win the election, the people watching naturally have concerns that they're at risk of being persecuted against... While Ally is concerned that Merrick Garland won't be appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Bebe thought she could control Kai's psychosis and use it to jumpstart her feminist revolution. Instead, he uses her lessons to fuel his own agenda, and ultimately turns on her.
  • Fairytale Motifs: The names "Kai" and "Winter" Anderson refer to The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. The story is partially about a mirror whose glass refracts the good and beautiful aspects of the world and magnifies the bad and ugly aspects. When the mirror shatters, the glass gets into people's eyes and makes it so all they can see are those bad and ugly aspects in everything. Given the end goal of Kai's cult and how he seems to infect others with his nihilistic views, it's a fitting reference.
  • Five-Man Band: The Cult.
    • Big Bad: Kai.
    • The Dragon: Winter, reluctantly. Later on, Gary fills this role more willingly.
    • The Brute: Harrison, before he gets murdered by some of the cult's women.
    • The Evil Genius: Beverly serves as the Cult's personal broadcaster.
    • The Dark Chick: Meadow, who designed the masks, before she offs herself after shooting up Kai's pep rally, under his request.
  • Foreshadowing: During election night, the only thing that manages to snap Ally out of her freak out is to hear that the votes Jill Stein received in Michigan might have tipped the election in Trump's favor. Later in the episode it is revealed that Ally herself voted for Stein because she couldn't bring herself to trust Hillary Clinton.
  • Freak Out!: Ally suffers from these almost constantly.
  • Hive Mind: With the cult-theme and the bee imagery, this season seems to play on this.
  • Hysterical Woman: Ally is a fragile bundle of anxiety and phobias who is liable to have a panic attack with little provocation. However, as of episode 8, she takes a level up in badass, pushes herself to get past her fears and dedicates herself to getting her son back, no matter the cost.
  • Incest Subtext: Something is not quite right about the relationship between Kai and Winter, who are brother and sister... As of "Winter of Our Discontent," it's officially not just subtext.
    • Gets even creepier in "Charles (Manson) in Charge," where Kai tells Winter that he's been watching her since their parents brought her home. Apparently this includes listening to her masturbate before bed every night when she was fifteen.
    • This gets even worse when you remember that Kai is at least seven years older than Winter, and would have been about twenty-three when she was fifteen.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Everyone but Ozymandias among the main cast.
  • Karmic Death: Kai manipulated Ally and Beverly into tools of his movement. They ultimately manipulate him into a position where they can kill him in such a way to win Ally a Senate seat.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Ally sells out her only ally Dr. Vincent to Kai when the former is trying to help her, allows (or worse, helps) Kai's escape from jail that results in more deaths in order to boost her Senate campaign, and personally kills Bebe (who was about to do everyone a favor and kill Kai right then and there), Ivy (nasty enough herself that nobody minded much, but still sadistically drawn-out and painful), and Speedwagon (who was a spy trying to help law enforcement take the cult down, and not evil at all) while undercover in the cult. She not only gets away with all of it, but successfully gets elected to the Senate. Had Ivy been her only victim, it wouldn't have been quite so excessive, but she deliberately murdered, directly or indirectly, two non-villainous people who were trying to stop the cult, and saved Kai and allowed him to escape prison purely so she could kill him when it most benefited her, resulting in more death.
    • Beverly, who brutally killed even more people out of petty vengeance and without a shred of remorse, is mistaken as a victim of the cult and let go, becoming Ally's assistant.
  • Landslide Election: Ally's Senate election victory in the season finale.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Ally and Ivy Mayfair-Richards are a lesbian couple, but they don't look any less feminine because of it.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: Evan Peters plays not only Big Bad Kai Anderson but also the (real and fictional) historical characters Andy Warhol, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Jesus Christ and Charles Manson. It helps that most of those historical characters appear in flashbacks related by Kai.
  • Loony Fan:
    • Kai is a big fan of Trump. When he found out that Trump had won the election, he humped his television while letting out an orgasmic scream. However, he's less a fan of Trump's policies and more a fan of the idea that Trump's policies scare the shit out of a lot of people.
    • Valerie Solanas, as played by Lena Dunham, will be featured in this season as well, taking into account when she tried to kill Andy Warhol.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Kai's cult dresses up in ghoulish clown costumes, complete with masks, to conceal their identities and play to Ally's coulrophobia.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Kai knows exactly the right buttons to push to get people to do what he wants.
  • Massive Multiplayer Scam: Everyone Ally encounters is part of the cult. Everyone. Except Rudy.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The opening of the series is a scene showing a much of the cast — save Kai, who is ecstatic — freaking out over the fact that Trump pulled an upset victory.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Siblings Kai and Winter Anderson, relating to The Snow Queen. Their surname is a homophone of its author Hans Christian Andersen, Kai has the same name as one of the main characters, and Winter is named after the story's prevailing theme.
    • Oz's full name is Ozymandias. Given the fact that Winter and Kai seem to plan on corrupting him, it makes sense in relation to the poem the name comes from.
      My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
      Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
      Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
      Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
      The lone and level sands stretch far away.
  • Monster Clown: Twisty returns from Freak Show in the form of a comic book and the first promo features a small army's worth of Red and Black and Evil All Over clowns. Not only that, but Kai and his cult are patterned after Twisty and clowns in general.
  • Murder.com: Winter shows Oz videos of murder on the dark web.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: For a series that isn't one to shy away from Gorn, the flashback to the murder of Sharon Tate has a deliberate Gory Discretion Shot — which, knowing the absolutely horrifying nature of her murder, is more than justified, and makes the scene all the more disturbing for it.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ivy gives a pretty righteous one at the very end of "Winter of Our Discontent" when she finds out that Ally is now in the cult. Pretty justified too, considering Ivy was one of the main reasons that Ally was targeted by the cult in the first place.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Invoked when the cult kill Beverley's boss, and they chant "Hail Satan" in Latin for the recording. When Harrison counters that English would be more easily understood, Kai states that Latin is inherently scary.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: As if being an insane cult leader wasn't bad enough, Kai also proves himself to be a racist, a misogynist, and a homophobe.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the first episode, Kai shouts "FUCK YOU, WORLD! USA! USA! USA!" — it's especially shocking because it's the first F-bomb broadcast uncensored in the entirety of American Horror Story's run.
  • Predecessor Villain:
    • Pastor Charles, a psychotic Sinister Minister who would lure people to his home and, if he decided they were "sinners", torture and kill them for their perceived crimes and put them on display for future visitors. Encountering him is what caused Kai to snap and decide that the world needs to be burned down and rebuilt from scratch.
    • There's also the SCUM organization founded by Valerie Solanas, whose last remaining member, Bebe Babbitt, tries to influence the female members of Kai's cult to rise up and start the long-awaited feminist revolution. She also gave Kai the drive to act on his Pastor Charles-inspired beliefs, believing that his actions would enrage women and start said revolution.
  • Properly Paranoid: Everyone is out to get Ally. Literally, EVERYONE. Kai, Winter, her own wife, her own therapist, the clowns, the guy on the Oatmeal box, everyone. And nobody takes her seriously because they're all in on it, gaslighting her to ridiculous extremes. At least that is the case until Ally herself joins in with the group that's been harassing her in order to get her son back.
    • In later episodes and in a roundabout fashion, Kai. He becomes convinced that the FBI is watching him, and that there is a mole in his cult reporting back to them, which he's right about, though he is wrong about the identity (Ally is the mole, not Winter.).
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Or rather dark anti-hero at best, in any case. By the end of the series, Ally has become a cult leader herself — albeit one with nobler intentions, as she still loves her son — after taking the senate seat that Kai wanted so badly, with her redeeming quality being that she genuinely wants to help.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • Rather than using expies of both figures involved, Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 US Presidential Election is the impetus for Cult's plot.
    • The wave of clown sightings that took place around the same time is also used as a major plot point.
    • This season dwells upon real-world cults (and cults of personality) more than the supernatural elements of prior seasons. Specifically referenced are Andy Warhol and his Factory, Valerie Solanas and her SCUM, Marshall Applewhite and Heaven's Gate, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, Jim Jones and Jonestown, and especially Charles Manson and the Manson Family. Kai in particular seems to be following the trend of the latter few examples, going mad with power and, as of "Drink the Kool-Aid," believing he has supernatural powers.
  • Sanity Slippage: While he's insane to start with, Kai steadily loses what sanity he had left after he actually gets on the city council. This is later suggested to be a side-effect of him taking more pharmaceutical drugs to cope with the constant stress he's under.
  • Show Within a Show: ''Freak Show" alum Twisty the Clown returns as the main character of a comic book.
  • The Social Darwinist: Kai believes that fear should run rampant in society so that the masses can be controlled and ruled by the select few who are not affected by it. He sees Donald Trump's victory as a validation of that worldview.
  • Start of Darkness:
    • Kai's is explored in "Holes". He was a burnout whose mother killed his abusive father and herself in a murder-suicide. He and his brother Rudy covered it up, hiding the bodies so that they could keep collecting their parents' pensions and social security. All this changed Kai, inspiring him to make something of himself, no matter what. Another layer of this is added in "Winter of Our Discontent", in which Winter reveals that she and Kai went to the house of a crazy priest they found on the dark web with the intention of trolling him, only to find that the man was in fact a psychopath who kidnapped and murdered "sinners" as part of his preaching. Kai freed the victims and murdered the priest with one of his own traps, but Winter reveals that this definitely changed Kai.
    • The entire season has been one for Ally Mayfair-Richards, whose mental illness was preyed on as she was terrorized and gaslighted by almost everyone she knew, until she reemerged as a cold, manipulative, and ruthless cult leader herself.
  • Straw Feminist: Valerie Solanas and Bebe Babbitt, as well as the other members of SCUM, are extremist '60s second wave feminists, i.e. the sort of people where most of the attributes of this trope originated.
  • Team Title: Cult is in the title, after all.
  • Trauma Button: In the first episode, Ally experiences a panic attack after seeing a clown-themed comic book.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Donald Trump's victory inspires the formation of the cult itself (even though the cult draws support from people across the political spectrum) and he causes a lot of anxiety in much of the show's cast, but he is not involved with the main plot at all.
  • Villainous Legacy:
    • Twisty's actions from Freakshow led to a series of comic books based of the character that children read, namely Oz, in Cult as well as the possible basis Kai used for his cult.
    • Kai also views himself as the heir to the likes of Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson, taking inspiration from all of them.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "11/9" which reveals the formation of the cult, the backstories of Harrison, Meadow, Beverly and Gary and Ivy and Winter's previous meeting.
    • "Holes" explores Kai's Start of Darkness, and reveals both that Dr. Vincent is Kai and Winter's brother and Ivy is actually part of the cult.
    • "Winter of Our Discontent: Samuels gets shot by Winter, Beverly gets framed for said murder and gets sent off to be tortured, and Kai murders Dr. Vincent after finding out that he was planning on betraying Kai. And even more than that is the fact that Ally was the one who ratted out Dr. Vincent, and is now a member of the cult that's been tormenting her.
    • "Charles (Manson) in Charge" shows Kai finally losing his mind after he finds out there's a mole in his cult. Gary is killed to further Kai's cause, but Bebe Babbitt is furious over the way Kai has been managing his cult and is killed by Ally after she tries to kill Kai. Lastly, Kai strangles Winter to death after Ally makes her out to be the mole; the real mole was in fact Speedwagon.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ally has a severe case of coulrophobia, among numerous other fears.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Kai provokes a group of Hispanic workers by throwing a condom full of pee at them and has someone videotape the resulting beating. It works perfectly and the media paints him as an innocent, upstanding citizen who was attacked with no provocation by the workers, who are arrested while he begins to campaign for City Council on an anti-immigrant, "PC police" bashing platform.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Kai dyes his hair blue.

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