Snowflakes. Deporables. Libtards. You've heard them all.
Nonsensical as they are instantly understandable, these new-school insults are a testament to how polarized we are as a country, as scary as it is kind of funny. We're caricatures of ourselves, which is one of the many brilliant takeaways from American Horror Story: Cult.
This season begins on election night, when Ally (Sarah Paulson) becomes completely undone once Trump wins. She's an archetypical left-winger: a married lesbian with a child, an eco-friendly Prius and oddly specific phobias that'll make her lose control when she's triggered. Ally becomes hysterical once the results come in, howling and bawling like a nuclear blast had already hit or Mike Pence himself was outside her door to personally break up her marriage and take away her son.
"Go to hell Huffington Post!," she wails. "F--k you Nate Silver! How could they have been so wrong about this?!" Her partner Ivy (Alison Pill) comes in to soothe her with something called 'Cookie Breathing' and, no matter who you voted for, this absurd portrait of a liberal hissy fit is something South Park could not have done better.
Ally goes all the way off the deep end in the days after, convinced she sees terrifying clowns all around her. Nevermind that the clowns really do exist and really are killing people — she is, for a time anyway, alone in her hallucinations and at the same time dealing with a post-Obama crash that feels like a long alt-right Saturday Night Live bit. For self-described anti-liberals weary of cable pundits and late-night hosts that mock conservatives, this may seem like an early Christmas gift.
To be clear, there's much more going on in American Horror Story this season; it's as gory, violent, and gruesome as fans expect, with a central premise about the ways manipulative masterminds can use fear as currency to do their bidding. Does it work? Sort of. The three episodes sent to critics hint that the season may be, well, polarizing, as it draws a parallel between our current climate and the horror bad people like Kai (Evan Peters) — who'll also depict Charles Manson, David Koresh and Jim Jones — inflict after they've built a following. There's a lot crammed in, with many allegories and "commentary" either so obtuse it goes over your head, or so obvious you have to laugh.
This is certainly the funniest iteration yet, mostly because of the dead-on parodies of the left. Ally and Ivy are wooed by an evil nanny, Winter (Billie Lourd), who tells them she worked for the Hillary campaign and was excited that Lena Dunham engaged with her on Twitter. Billy Eichner is half of a post-millennial, super-PC couple with an untraditional lifestyle, and eventually tries to destroy Ally with accusations of white privilege and racism.
For sure, Trump supporter Kai is the bad buy: an embodiment of vengeful, hateful behavior clearly meant to provoke disgust. But he's not alone in being dissected. Executive producer Ryan Murphy — a gay man who champions diversity and has raised money for Obama — wisely spreads the slicing around, satirizing lefties with an organic, gluten-free casserole of liberal stereotypes. Somebody still has the ability to laugh at themselves, thank goodness.
For many people, the paranoia Ally represents is no laughing matter. Violence motivated by racial and/or religious hatred is very real and on the rise. Women are justifiably worried as federal protection for equal pay and funding for reproductive health put careers and lives in jeopardy. LGBT folks can't be blamed for panicking when a ban on trans people in the military hints at a grander rollback of rights. Environmentalists, education experts, people who don't want to be annihilated by North Korea — a lot of people are deeply distressed. It's legitimate.
But in Sarah Paulson's fantastic performance as Ally, we witness a woman who lets rational concerns turn into irrational frenzy. She's ridiculous and histrionic, and in its campy way, her performance provides some relief from the suddenly frightening world we occupy. Shockingly gruesome as it is, AHS: Cult opens the pressure valve we've been boiling in since November, a stroke of timely genius we didn't know we needed now.
American Horror Story: Cult premieres Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 10/9c on FX.