Warning: This recap of the “Mid‐Western Assassin” episode of American Horror Story: Cult contains spoilers.
American Horror Story is a landmark, audacious series, and even a not-great season is more worthwhile than a majority of the other three million shows currently airing. Yet this is the first year where nothing it could possibly show us will be scarier than real life. It’s truly saying something that this week’s toned-down-at-the-last-minute cold open — which involved an active shooter — came off downright quaint compared to, you know, America’s most recent IRL bloodbath. (Which, depending on when you read this, could be a whole new one by now.)
Horror has traditionally reflected the anxieties of the times, but when all of our worst anxieties continually play out in real time every damn day, do we even need a show like this? The question isn’t even very thought-provoking, because at this point we’re all pretty much beyond provocation, especially when it comes to entertainment. Either help us escape, work through our issues, or GTFO, basically. AHS Cult is like, “Everything sucks now” and leaves it at that. Thanks? Anyway, let’s talk about this week’s episode of American Horror Story: Cult, charmingly titled “Mid-Western Assassin”!
We began with a mass shooting.
Presumably the last-minute re-edit removed exploding squibs and whatnot, so for the most part we gauged the atrocity via Ivy’s shocked expressions. And just when she seemed to be getting her bearings, guess who was holding the literal smoking gun?
It was Sarah Paulson! Had she shot up a political rally? And if so, why? Oh, maybe THIS was why:
KAI DOWN. Repeat: KAI DOWN.
As it happened, that was a flash-forward, so we swept back to the scene in last week’s episode when a frantic Mary Cherry alerted Sarah Paulson to the existence of the killer clown cult (whose membership also included her estranged wife). After Sarah Paulson fielded a phone call from her concerned therapist, she did what any rational person would do: She grabbed a knife and shimmied into the neighbors’ back window to rescue Mary Cherry!
Fortunately Billy Eichner and Detective Colton Haynes were too busy doing sex on the dining room table to notice her stealing their car keys! (Fair enough.)
Within minutes, Sarah Paulson freed her former enemy and the two escaped to a place where NOBODY could find them: The restaurant Sarah Paulson owned and frequented. The cult with her wife in it would never find them there!
At this point Mary Cherry gave what appeared to be a pretty frank and honest explanation of what the cult was, who was in it, and what they were up to. Sarah Paulson remained baffled by most of it, but at least she found comfort in the fact that she hadn’t imagined those clowns or the trucks or the dead birds. They’d all been part of the cult’s campaign of terror designed to trick the populace into electing a jerk to the city council.
We also learned that Mary Cherry had been very gung-ho about the cult and murder mostly because she was extremely in love with Kai, who was very good at sweet talking her in ways that her homosexual husband Billy Eichner never could. The problem was when she overheard Kai giving Ivy the same verbatim sweet talk and realized she’d played herself. But when Mary Cherry attempted to quit the cult, Kai ordered Billy Eichner and Detective Colton Haynes to tie her up and throw her in the closet! It was a kinder fate than murder by nail gun, but still did not look very fun overall.
We then met a local woman (played by the great Mare Winningham) who stepped to Kai during a local townhall meeting and announced that she was going to oppose him in the upcoming election as a write-in candidate. If you were like me you pumped your first excitedly because, hey! It’s Mare Winningham! “Winning” is right there in her name! Also a horse-pig! On the other hand, it was immediately clear that Mare Winningham was going to get VERY MURDERED for messing with Kai’s plan. She probably should have suspected that the active serial killings plus the vacant seat on the city council plus Kai running for city council were all probably related. Use your noggin, local woman!
We also learned the true reason why Ivy had grown to loathe her wife Sarah Paulson. As it turned out, Sarah Paulson was Ozy’s biological mother, and it bugged Ivy that Sarah Paulson was bogarting the baby so much. From there she grew super bitter, and Sarah Paulson’s vote for Jill Stein did NOT help things.
Were all these reasons enough for a mild-mannered lesbian to resort to the ritualized murder of strangers? Guess so! Relationships are hard sometimes.
Anyway, Sarah Paulson sought out Mare Winningham to alert her to Kai’s cult, and after smoking a very chill doob, Mare Winningham agreed that something needed to be done. That’s when the clown cult arrived and murdered Mare Winningham!
Even more dastardly, Kai posted on her Facebook timeline as her! Truly a monster.
Ivy was tasked to run upstairs and look for Sarah Paulson, but when she found her she declined to murder her and instead rejoined the group. Progress! Perhaps their marriage can be saved after all.
We then caught up to the cold open scene, and its big reveal was that Sarah Paulson had not been the active shooter. It had been Mary Cherry, who was fulfilling a promise she’d made to Kai while he was doing semi-consensual sex to her while tied up in the closet.
Yes, he sweet talked her (and sweet YOU-KNOW-WHATTED her) into shooting a ton of strangers, and then shoot Kai himself (non-fatal preferably) so that he looked like a tragic victim and a hero who deserved his ultimate prize of sitting on the city council so that he could, like, approve zoning permits or whatever the F. It was a perfect plan.
And it all went great! Kai was shot in the leg, Mary Cherry committed suicide, and Sarah Paulson was clued into the conspiracy just enough so that she’d sound like a crazy person if she attempted to tell anyone about it. On the other hand Ivy seemed pretty rattled and quite frankly annoyed at the mass shooting, so it was clear she seemed kinda over it now.
“Mid-Western Assassin” definitely provided more explanation for how certain members came to join the cult and why they’d decided to do what they’ve been doing. But I still don’t have a clear picture of where the story is going, or why, or how, or if anything’s worth caring about. What should we expect to see in this season’s final four episodes? More crime? Murder? Has there been a point to all this? Politics are bad and people are afraid? Okay. But what else? Guess we’ll have to stay tuned, friends.
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX
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