Ryan Murphy dares go there in the latest season of American Horror Story, which takes place in a Michigan town reeling from the aftermath of the 2016 Election. There is no subtlety or nuance here. Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton are characters in this TV horror series, with real-life news footage making a recurring appearance.
Murphy fills the first episode with a nasty dose of fear and hysteria that is rooted in a realism that makes America question just how fictional the “horror” to the American Horror Story is. Murphy forces us to face a polarized political climate that is deadly, quite literally, with a recurring theme of killer clowns who run loose amidst post-election (mental?) anarchy. With an iconic Cheeto moment that exploded Twitter and without-a-doubt, busting-at -the-seams white privilege caricatures, Murphy is careful to not “choose sides.” Instead, Murphy emphasizes a commonality of human experience that ties the Trump voter and Trump resistor, Clinton voter and Clinton resistor together: fear.
One of the two characters that are metaphors for this polarity is Ally (played by queen Sarah Paulson), a white, lesbian mother who enjoys rosé and wine pairings, rides a Prius, and bursts into hysterical tears after learning that Trump is president-elect. She only trusts Rachel Maddow, refers to our previous president as “Barack,” has crippling anxiety and irrational fear of clowns, blood and holes, and shamefully reveals that she voted for a third party candidate in a swing state because she “just couldn’t trust her [Clinton].”
And there’s Kai (played by the talented Evan Peters): a young Trump supporter with blue hair who lives in a basement, who on election night humps his TV screaming “USA! USA! USA!”, makes a cheese puff smoothie and smothers it on his face– practicing Trump’s hand gestures in the mirror while muttering Trump’s “it’s gonna be huuuuge.” After the election, Kai urinates into a condom, throws it at a group of Latino men while shouting racial slurs, and video tapes their violent response to, presumably, future manipulation of public opinion.
The episode delivers on the jump scares, blood and gore– perhaps not as much as in previous seasons, but it’s there. We have scary clowns who murder Ally’s neighbors and follow her around (throw back to the AHS: Freak Show clown, who makes a comic-book appearance). We have Kai and his creepy sister Winter– who actually becomes Ally’s cute son’s babysitter, and who exposes the child to suicide and murder videos on the Dark Web. We see how Kai and Winter open themselves to the darkness of anarchy and violence, and this uneasy feeling is tied in with the overarching Election-era hysteria. This feeling does not leave viewers when they turn the TV off because this feeling finds a basis in our current state of being as a country.
That being said, there are issues with the show that go beyond content. There are zero black characters. Lena Dunham, a very problematic person, is part of the cast.
But love for the core AHS cast, Ryan Murphy’s writing, and a politically conscious theme will hopefully get viewers through the season.