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American Horror Story: Cult - Advance Preview - “The Revolution Has Begun."

“He didn’t see any clowns having sex in the produce section...”

More so than any previous season, ‘Cult’ allows American Horror Story to truly live up to its name. By that, I mean that the story here is uniquely American. Installments like 'Hotel' and 'Freak Show' touched on specific moments in history and shed light on issues that affect American people, but ‘Cult’ really is a story of its time, and it’s a distinctively American tale. It’s also more grounded in reality than any previous season, which makes things immediately more grim and unsettling.

By now you probably know that the premiere kicks off on election night; in fact, we start with a highlight reel of sorts recapping the turbulent election cycle through news footage of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. We then witness election night at two households in Michigan on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum. Along with her wife and son, Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) watches in horror as Trump is elected president. Elsewhere, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) takes the news very differently. “The revolution has begun,” he murmurs to himself, before elatedly humping his TV and rubbing orange Cheetos dust on his face.

Peters is electrifying as Kai, a man who suddenly finds himself emboldened by the possibilities that he sees as a result of Trump’s surprising election. Throughout the premiere, we get brief glimpses into what exactly Kai hopes to achieve, and his storyline finds him quickly intertwined with the lives of Ally and her family – though they only meet once, briefly, in the first episode.

Ivy (Allison Pill), Ally’s wife, is struggling with the re-emergence of Ally’s debilitating phobias. It soon becomes clear that Ally’s fears are crippling, causing issues both at home and for their business, a restaurant called The Butchery on Main. Plus, there’s the lingering issue of whom exactly Ally actually voted for…

In both 'Murder House' and 'Asylum', the examination of sanity and descents into madness were among the most interesting, and terrifying, themes. Here, those same themes are ramped up to 100. Is Ally seeing things, or is there really a group of killer clowns out to get her and her family? The story literally brings these fears close to home: the main set pieces in the premiere are Ally and Ivy’s house and a local grocery store. By the end of the premiere, we’re not only questioning Ally’s sanity, but also a number of other characters' – and perhaps even our own. Is what we’re seeing real, or are we just privy to someone else’s mind playing tricks on them? Worse yet, is there a greater conspiracy afoot, and if so, who's involved?

Throughout the premiere, aptly titled "Election Night", the election of Trump is used as a catalyst to examine the fears that plague America today, and while it can at times be a bit heavy-handed (“What if I get pregnant now? Where will I get an abortion!?”), the writing is for the most part quite strong. It helps that the cast this year is decidedly smaller than any other season. There are only five regular cast members, all of whom get something valuable to do in the premiere.

Most exciting of all might be the addition of Billie Lourd, who worked with creator Ryan Murphy previously on his campy horror-comedy Scream Queens. Lourd plays Kai’s sister, Winter, a young liberal who gave up on her studies at Vasser to work for the Clinton campaign. By the end of the premiere, she’s working as a nanny for Ally and Ivy’s son, feeding into his fascination with some truly dark subject matter. Lourd is fantastically dry, delivering some of the funniest – and creepiest – lines of the premiere.

Avoiding the supernatural is perhaps the best thing the series could have done at this point. What I’ve missed most during some recent seasons of AHS is the genuine feeling of dread and unease as we got to watch believable characters like Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) and Lana Winters (Paulson) deal with truly terrifying forces. Here, it all feels real... almost too real. Even as the audience is forced to question what we’re being shown, there’s a lingering feeling of doom and anxiety.

Scary Good: Stuff You’ll Love
- There are some truly fantastic one-liners in the episode, perhaps my favorite being the ultra-meta, “One of the proudest moments of my life was when Lena Dunham retweeted me.”
- John Carroll Lynch is indeed back as Twisty The Clown. Though, to be honest, Twisty has nothing on the gang of clowns that start popping up later in the premiere. You've been warned.
- It’s nice to see a mix of AHS veterans like Paulson and Peters along with some fresh faces like Pill and Lourd. Cheyenne Jackson also appears as Ally’s psychiatrist.

Bottom Line: 'Cult' has perhaps the most unsettling season kick-off since 'Asylum'. More grounded in reality than any previous installment, the potential for both scares and effective satire is massive. If the season manages to remain as focused and downright eerie as the premiere, it should end up being the most satisfying installment of AHS in years.

'American Horror Story: Cult' premieres tonight on FX and this Friday on FOX UK. For more on this series and all my other SpoilerTV work, feel free to follow me on Twitter.

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