Evil takes many forms. In the American Horror Story universe, it takes the shape of serial killers and of rapists. Of racists and of clowns. But on Sunday, October 1, evil took the form of an ordinary white male, Stephen Paddock, who opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd of concert attendees. He killed 59 and wounded over 500. The event became the worst mass shooting in American history. Evil needed not take the form of the devil. The devil, in this case, was the white man.
Unfortunately for Murphy, the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult, a series that touches on modern paranoia and political terror, unexpectedly dips into the headlines. I’ve seen the episode, but there will be no spoilers here. In it, one character opens fire on a small political gathering. Multiple attendees are shot. Several die. It certainly wasn’t planned, but in our gun-devoted world, incorporating a mass shooting into your fictional narrative always runs a risk.
I’m reminded of the Emmy 2016 season and the Daredevil 2 press run. During that season, Jon Bernthal took center stage as The Punisher, a violent vigilante who used guns to settle scores. It was and remains a controversial character. Even this week, Netflix hedges on whether or not The Punisher will debut this Friday as a stand-alone series after canceling most premiere events, including New York Comic Con. Still, when we were allowed to interview Bernthal about Daredevil 2, we were instructed not to discuss a recent mass shooting. Terrible thing, we’ve had so many mass shootings that I can’t even remember which one we weren’t supposed to mention. But mute on the subject we remained.
Flash forward to this week, where Ryan Murphy and American Horror Story find themselves faced with an episode featuring a mass shooting. Granted, it’s not on the same scale, and the episode does not wholly focus on the shooting. It opens the episode. We flashback to determine how we got there. We wrap up. It avoids the gratuitous nature that’s corrupted much of the series. In fact, it reminds me most of American Horror Story: Murder House‘s reimagining of the Columbine shootings. It’s never presented as anything but awful and terrifying. Something wrong. Something abnormal.
Still, to respect the Las Vegas victims, Murphy and team opted to edit the episode, focusing less on the events of the shooting. I have not seen the re-edited version, but FX released a press statement indicating that the live viewing episode will be heavily edited. You can view the full version on streaming and VOD platforms later. It’s probably the right move for them, even if including the event may have been wrong-headed to begin with.
At any rate, here’s the statement from FX Networks. Come back to ADTV and tell us what you thought of the episode.
“In light of the tragedy last week in Las Vegas, Ryan Murphy and the producers of American Horror Story: Cult have chosen to make substantial edits to the opening scene of tomorrow night’s episode (Tuesday, October 10, 10 PM ET/PT). This opening, which was filmed two months ago and which portrays an occurrence of gun violence that has sadly become all too common in our country, contains a sequence that some viewers might find traumatic. Only the edited version of the episode will air on the FX linear channel, while the unedited version of the episode will be available on the VOD platform of your cable, satellite or telco provider, as well as on the FX Networks non-linear platforms, FXNOW and FX+.”