This post contains spoilers from American Horror Story: Cult.
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As the body count on American Horror Story: Cult climbs, so does the number of suspicious characters. At the center of the madness are Kai (Evan Peters), the blue-haired radical who's launched a sketchy political career in the name of revolution, and Ally (Sarah Paulson), a knee-jerk liberal who's lost her marbles so hard she's begun shooting people.
But as that roving band of maybe-real killer clowns keeps popping up, more and more people seem to be messing with Ally's head. Is this all one big conspiracy? Is she imagining everything? How many people have to die before someone else starts to wonder if more nefarious forces are at work?
Uncertainty breeds speculation, which we are more than happy to indulge. Read on for our running list of culprit theories, which we'll update as we continue to untangle the secrets of these increasingly unhinged characters.
Kai has preached about the importance of fear since the season premiere. "Above all, humans love fear," he told the City Council after Trump's victory. "They yearn to be so scared that they don't have to think anymore, that they don't have to want for anything anymore. Fear will release them from their desires, and their ambitions, and their bullshit needs. And then they will come running to us like children in a feverish nightmare." As the dearly departed Councilman Chang points out, Kai wants chaos to reign so he can acquire unlimited power.
If his migrant worker attack is any indication, Kai is willing to go to extremes to achieve his goals -- a band of murderous clowns doesn't seem like it's out of the question. Still unclear: Does he want power over a community? The world? Michigan? Or just over Ally? Given how young he is, is he really the kingpin of some such cult, or is he the Darth Vader to someone else's Darth Sidious? We'll have to wait to see how his political campaign unfolds to discover his endgame.
Winter has been brainwashed
As Ally's Twitter feed from the premiere showed, Cult has jumped from election night to at least March 2017. Gone is the hyper-devoted, petrified Hillary stan we saw election night. Here's a fearless Winter who calmly waltzed her way into the Mayfair-Richards home and now gets paid to traumatize the couple's child, Oz -- and potentially recruit people for her family's cult?
Winter would have had months of training, which explains why her personality has changed so much, why she used that familiar pinky promise technique, why she tried to erase Oz's claims of seeing clowns, why she teed up the perfect cover for the clowns (making Oz ask the clown he sees if he's asleep or awake), and why she purposely abandoned Ally and Oz in Episode 2 at the perfect time. "People are going to attack," she tells Ally, before stumbling over her follow-up. "I'm not going to wait for some asshole to smash my windows and take my shit." Perhaps Kai's persuasive powers are greater than expected. Or...
Winter joined up with Kai knowing exactly what she was doing
Maybe Winter isn't brainwashed at all, but is merely disillusioned with her previous political beliefs and turns to her brother as someone who can effect change in a big, scary world. It's clear the two are in cahoots in some way, but if they're plotting something bigger involving Ally, the question is still: Why?
Winter is using the DENNIS system on Ally
This is a fun, if not entirely believable, one. Fans of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (also an FX show!) will recognize the DENNIS system, and it's got some striking parallels to Winter's behavior, as one Redditor points out.
Harrison and Meadow are also working with Kai
Ally and Ivy's new neighbors are a peculiar pair: They immediately moved into a home where an alleged murder-suicide occurred; they happened to be ever-so-conveniently at the right place and time to capture Kai's beatdown; they're pushing what seems to be an honest but rather shaky marriage story; they have credit issues; they're beekeepers (a not-so-subtle nod to a cultish hive mind); and they have a full-blown armory in their house.
It's that last part that's made most relevant in Episode 2, as they encourage Ally to nab a handgun for protection. A nice gesture? Maybe. But more likely part of something bigger. At the end of the episode, when the black-out hits, Harrison runs to Ally's house, saying it's a result of terrorism. "Make sure you keep your doors locked. People are going to panic," he adds, promising a flood of looters and criminals. "Stay inside." He's clearly stoking Ally's paranoia, riling her up for a pre-planned tragedy.
Ivy's trying to cure her wife's phobias
One of the kinder early Ivy readings has her involved with the clown drama as an extreme way to finally cure Ally of her phobias. As we've seen, these phobias are debilitating physically and mentally -- the latter of which is starting to have an impact on Ally's work life, sex life, and family life. Where's the proof? That's the problem. There isn't much to go off of at the moment, though it's possible that Ivy was the clown who blindsided Ally at their restaurant, and that Ivy's rarely around when Ally has her freak-outs.
Or, Ivy's not all that good/Ally's being framed
Ivy is initially painted as Ally's support system, but she's obviously getting to a point where she can't take Ally's bullshit anymore. It's made clear in Episode 2 that Ivy is Oz's biological mom -- the glasses, the hair color, the fact he requests her hug instead of Ally's when he calls for "Mom." It's also made clear someone's using Ally's post-election paranoia to change her beliefs and/or incriminate her. Maybe the clown drama is part of an elaborate ploy to prove that Ally's crazy so Ivy can divorce and retain full custody without looking like a jerk, but it does seem like something fishy is going on with Ivy and Oz.
Another factor that points to Ivy's involvement: The other women who seem to have roles in whatever cult is causing all these problems have nature-based names. Winter and Meadow both seem like members, and Ally is the odd woman out if Ivy's first name is any indication.
The cult is after Ivy and Ally's son, Oz, to be their future leader
Here's another intriguing possibility floating around on Reddit: Oz is seen as the chosen leader of the cult. The evidence is that his full name is Ozymandias, the Greek moniker for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II and the subject of the Percy Shelley poem "Ozymandias." That's quite a name for it to have no significance, so look for Oz to play a key role as the season unfolds.
Oz is Kai Anderson's biological son
Someone had to donate the sperm, and if Oz is Kai's son, it would go a long way toward explaining why Anderson latched onto Ally in the first place, according to one theory. As far as we've seen, there's no direct link that would connect Kai and Ally, so the reasons for Winter infiltrating their household remain shrouded in mystery. Regardless, it's becoming pretty clear that Oz holds the key to unlocking AHS.
Dr. Vincent is helping the cult
Ostensibly, Dr. Vincent wants Ally to take her meds and to stop obsessing over Donald Trump. "Check out of the world and into your life," he says in the premiere. But there's a hint in Episode 2 that he might be more controlling than he's letting on: He reaches out when she starts missing her appointments. At the moment, aside from Ivy, he's the only other person who has detailed knowledge of Ally's fears -- the clowns, the trypophobia. If those freaky clown masks really are tailor-made for Ally and her fears, someone had to inform them. Was it Ivy? This seemingly innocent guy? Both?
Ally is going crazy and killing everyone
Though it's still unclear who murdered the Changs, we've technically seen Ally kill one person (Roger) and shoot another (Pedro). The latter we see in real time; it's a tragic moment of no hesitation, fueled by her paranoia. The former we see via flashback. In other words, we see it in the way Ally chooses to remember it, and though it's painted as a lifesaving attempt gone wrong, there's a possibility it was more intentional than Ally would like everyone else to believe.
As we've noted before, Ally's post-election psychosis could be so severe that her perception of reality is becoming warped. In other words, she could be an unreliable narrator.
Or, even more sinister, what if Ally is just killing people who don't share her political views? One of the Changs voted for Jill Stein, and Roger is clearly a prejudiced guy at odds with Ally's worldview. Some viewers have even started asking, "What if she's the leader of the cult, and we, the viewers, are its members?" It wouldn't be the first time Murphy and Co. twisted our perception of reality with a rug-pull (see: Asylum, Roanoke).
Actually, just kidding, the clowns are real
Murphy and Co. have made the reality of Cult purposely vague. (In one scene, a clown talks to Oz; in another, a clown falls down a flight of stairs and mysteriously disappears.) On one level, the clowns function as heightened social satire, representing uncertainty as much as chaos; they stand as a physical representation of the American political climate, in which no fact can be taken at face value, regardless of its veracity. But, of course, there's a chance that when that midseason or end-of-season twist hits, we learn they've been real all along, part of a Purge-like cult that really does want to establish some sort of violent new world order.
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