Will American Horror Story: Cult, the latest entry in Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series, swing back into Emmy’s good graces with a politically charged season?
American Horror Story: Cult divided its viewers as much as it told the story of a divided country. Some were immediately turned off by the extreme political slant (I admit that it took me a while to get into the groove), but this season does have its share of rabid fans. Every Ryan Murphy show should be considered when Emmy season comes around, but American Horror Story‘s awards chances has waned considerably in the last few years. Will Cult‘s violent political chapter make viewers pay attention once again?
The central fight in Cult is between Sarah Paulson’s Ally and Evan Peters’ Kai Anderson. There is a lot to unpack here since their relationship symbolizes the fight between men and women and the fight between liberals and democrats. Cult‘s season is incredibly layered and complex, and the show would fail without these veteran actors battling it out all season.
Woman on the Verge
Ally is borderline intolerable at the start of the season, and Paulson goes for broke in every scene. She’s terrified of the direction of our country after the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and Kai capitalizes on that by reigniting her fear of clowns and holes and, well, everything. The season seems like it’s going to be a “woman on the verge” horror opus, but Murphy allows her character to do a huge 180 by the season finale.
Paulson does such a believable job of infiltrating Kai’s cult that we actually begin to suspect that she’s just as crazy as everyone willingly joining Kai’s cult. Ally doesn’t wink at the audience or gives us a clear indication what side she’s on. The scene where Ally poisons her wife, Ivy (Allison Pill), is calculated, cold, and diabolical. That scene alone should put Paulson in contention, and that “nasty woman” line in the final episode is killer.
You can never count Paulson out. She has only missed out nominations for Murder House (granted she didn’t have a big part in that) and Roanoke. Hopefully, the Television Academy won’t overlook her performance this year now that she has won an Emmy.
First Time Nomination?
Evan Peters has never been more impressive than he is as Kai Anderson, the charismatic and deadly cult leader. Even though Peters has been involved with every season of American Horror Story, he has never been in any serious awards contention. Murphy gives Peters the chance to really shine, and you should expect us here at ADTV to really go to bat with him when Emmy season rolls around.
Kai manipulates every person around him. Yes, there is rage within him that explodes from time to time, but he seems most dangerous when he is silent. When you watch him surveying the people around him, you can almost see the gears in his head turning, and you certainly don’t want him to lock eyes on you next. He sees your potential, but he makes you think you are giving it all up for a noble cause. He’s terrifying because he’s so authentic and unpredictable.
It also helps that Peters transforms himself into famous cult leaders and famous figures this season. His Andy Warhol was a delight, and his Charles Manson was eerily convincing. Normally, the same actor playing multiple roles in one season doesn’t make sense and feels too much like an inside joke. Yes, I’m talking about Finn Wittrock pulling double duty in Hotel and that infuriating decision to bring back Lana Winters for the Roanoke finale. For Cult, it only showcases Peters’ strength of an actor and his willingness to push himself.
Cult Members…Emmy Winners?
While Paulson and Peters do some true dramatic heavy lifting, the members of Kai’s cult should not go unnoticed.
Billy Eichner is most known for his angry comedic work on Billy on the Street and Difficult People, but he gets to show us a dramatic side as Harrison, the beekeeper/trainer/cult member. In his biggest episode (“11/9”), we see how Kai recruits people to follow him, and it details how Harrison struggles with the idea of traditional masculinity. At work, Harrison is pushed around by other co-workers, but Kai gives him the strength to stand up for himself. And, you know, murder along the way. It’s a truly effective turn from Eichner.
Chaz Bono also surprises as an alt-right extremist who won’t let anything stand in his way of voting for Donald Trump, and Lena Dunham made an impression in her guest performance as Valerie Solanas. We probably won’t see her nominated since guest performances from limited series don’t have their own categories. It depends on how hard FX pushes her.
The Craft of Cult
Since Cult is mostly contemporary, it will probably miss out on some Emmy nominations that previous seasons received. It should be considered for Production Design for a Contemporary Narrative Program for Ivy and Ally’s house and The Butchery on Main since both sets look like they could be on the cover of Architectural Digest (they have a fireplace in their bathroom!).
American Horror Story has been nominated for both Hairstyling and at least one Makeup category every year since it’s been on the air. Even though Cult isn’t as flashy as, say, Freak Show or Roanoke (which wone Prosthetic Makeup this year), don’t be surprised if it shows up again. The decaying makeup on Cheyenne Jackson in a brief scene in the penultimate episode could clinch it.
The opening credit sequence (a favorite of ADTV) could make its return Outstanding Main Title Design for its use of creepy patriotic imagery mixed in with Halloween masks of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series – Evan Peters
Outstanding Limited Series
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series – Sarah Paulson
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series – Billy Eichner
Outstanding Main Title Design
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special