(WARNING: This article may contain some spoilers for the show.)
American Horror Story’s 7th season has ended and is being met with mixed reviews.
Rotten Tomatoes critics placed the show at 74% (on the same level as Murder House and above Hotel); audiences are even harsher, ranking the season as the worst with 53%. Metacritic isn’t far off, with somewhat positive reviews from critics but many negative reviews from viewers.
The consensus from many is its political generalizations, and foray into social commentary, hamper the show. They suggest the series’ stereotypes and targeting of “both sides” aren’t appropriate or good horror.
This season’s exploration of cults of personality using fear to drive our social movements and political establishments is utterly terrifying. Why? Because it’s real – it has happened, can happen again, and is occurring right now.
If anything, I believe some of those negative reviews are less about quality and more about how uncomfortable this season made people. People, in general, can’t stand a mirror held to themselves, reflecting their flaws and biases.
The stereotypical characters are based on real-world behaviors, from the relationship between conservatism and sexism to the anxiety of modern liberals. When audiences watched the show, that discomfort may have been from seeing their reflection.
Not to mention, there are many real-world allegories beyond the various cults explored.
Systemic racism and sexism, gaslighting, manufactured incidents, etc. These are very real, very dangerous, behaviors that are all too common. Not to mention the events ripped directly from the headlines, from shootings at political rallies to the murder of a journalist on air.
Also, as much as AHS: Cult attacked both ends of the social and political spectrum, nowhere did the writers say both sides were equally bad. While “progressives,” “feminists,” etc. were all guilty, the main threat was always the misogynistic, white supremacists.
The rise of an authoritarian movement based on fear and hatred was the worst problem, all the way to the end of the show. The power throughout the season lay primarily in the hands of Kai and his blue-shirted jackboots.
Worse, the show pointed out how that ideology was fueled not by a desire for anything positive, but by a selfish man who liked to “troll” everybody.
The reflection of the “liberals,” however, showed that side’s hypocrisy, in addition to how each cult, person, and leader played off each other. There were plenty of subtle jabs at the so-called “left,” from the treatment of gay men by radical feminists to the betrayal of women of color by their white counterparts.
In fact, the final message was an important one: each of these groups had their agendas and were turning on each other while manipulated by the primary cult. Only when everyone stopped their infighting and united together, could the real antagonist be destroyed.
I’m not saying AHS: Cult was perfect; the show lacked the character development of Coven, the story of Asylum, or the horror tropes of Roanoke. I think the low scores and viewer numbers, however, may be influenced less by the show’s quality and more on the unease upon seeing our reflection.
From Silence of the Lambs to Get Out, movies have shown the best horror can have nothing to do with the supernatural. Instead, seeing the dark side of our society, ideologies, and selves dragged into the light can be just as terrifying.
Now put out your pinky and tell me, “What fills your heart with dread?”