(Note: This post contains spoilers for the Oct. 24 episode of “American Horror Story: Cult.”)
For the whole of “American Horror Story: Cult,” we’ve seen Evan Peters’ character, Kai Anderson, use murder and manipulation to try to bring about his new world order. In the eighth episode of the season, “Winter of Our Discontent,” we might have finally seen the moment Kai became a cult leader.
Previous episodes have featured flashback fleshing things out. We’ve seen how Kai gained the trust of his followers to build his murderous clown cult. And we’ve seen how Kai witnessed the horrifying murder-suicide of his father and mother, which he and his siblings subsequently covered up in order to keep getting disability checks.
But in Episode 8, we got a look at another major event that seems to have shaped Kai. Winter (Billie Lourd), Kai’s sister, is arguing with Ivy (Alison Pill) and Beverly (Adina Porter), about whether Kai still loves her. She’s convinced he’s just misguided, even as he seems to be turning the cult into a women-hating man club. So Winter tells them about an incident that happened before the events of the show.
Two years earlier, Winter and Kai trolling fundamentalist Christians on the “dark web” — a part of the Internet that’s not easily accessible through search engines and other usual means, and ended up being invited to a “Judgment House” by someone who thought they, too, were fundamentalists. Thinking it’d be even funnier to mock fanatics in real life, Winter and Kai go only to discover that the Judgment House isn’t a haunted house full of actors pretending to be sinners. Instead, it’s the real deal, and the guy who runs it, Pastor Charles, has been horrifically torturing and murdering “sinners” who show up.
Kai quickly decides that he and Winter have to try to save the people being tormented by Pastor Charles. He dispatches Winter to go for help while he starts untying them, but Winter ends up being captured by Pastor Charles, who tells her he plans to make her “part of the show.” Kai shows up at just the right time, knocking Charles out to save Winter’s life.
But rather than call the cops, Winter and Kai put Charles in a chair that’s part of the Judgment House show. Kai thinks that justice for Pastor Charles would be to suffer the same fate as the people he’s hurt, and when he puts the question to Winter, she says, “Kill the bastard.”
That moment solidifies Winter’s loyalty to Kai, but it also seems to have kicked off Kai’s desire to change the world. As Winter puts it, he “went deeper into the dark web,” although she doesn’t give any more details. But when Kai found he couldn’t make much of a difference, he decided he needed a different approach: to “burn it all down” and start over.
In building his new world, though, Kai has become a killer and he’s encouraged other people to kill — so it doesn’t seem like it was the horrors that Pastor Charles was inflicting on others that bothered him. The more telling part of the encounter is when Kai confronts Charles with facts about the people he’s imprisoned. Charles didn’t even get the right people for Judgment House, and it seems like Charles’ fanaticism turning the wrong people into victims bugs Kai more than the actual horrific acts he witnesses there.
Whatever sense of justice and right and wrong Kai might have had back then, though, seems to have been twisted as he gets more and more unhinged. He’s killed at least a few people who are pretty wholly innocent, including the Chang family in the first episode to the couple he and the other cultists put into coffins.
It’s pretty clear though that, at least at the start, Kai thought he might be doing the world a favor by reshaping it through his murdery machinations. As a cult leader, though, it’s also pretty clear that he’s losing his grip on reality — especially when he tries to get Winter to help him create a “messiah” in a not-quite-incest ritual he’d just made up. Kai’s getting less and less predictable the longer time goes on, and that doesn’t bode well even for the people close to him in the cult.