‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Is the Most Confusing Mystery Since ‘Lost,’ and That’s Fine (Commentary)

Is everybody in the clown cult? Are some of these people just murderers and not actually clowns? Who’s spraying bird-killing chemicals? What is going on?

american horror story cult mystery lost

(Note: This post contains spoilers for “American Horror Story: Cult” through the Sept. 26 episode.)

For four episodes, “American Horror Story: Cult” has been weaving a story about a murderous clown cult, and a bunch of other weird stuff, kicked up by the fear and chaos following the contentious 2016 election. Up to now, things have been pretty confusing as the show focused on Ally (Sarah Paulson), a woman with a host of phobias who’s been seemingly terrorized by a group of murder clowns who, at least at points, seemed like they might have been in her head.

Over time, the show has developed the fact that Kai (Evan Peters) is actually the chief creator of chaos on the show. And in Episode 4, we finally see him really at work, taking the side of vulnerable people, no matter what they believe, in order to draw them into his plot.

It seems Kai is the guy behind the clown cult, with its bloody smiley face insignia, and in Episode 4 we see him convince one person to commit murder and another to cut off his own hand on Election Night to ensure he could “pull the lever for go f–k yourself” (Trump, as it happens).

Some of the pieces are coming together — Harrison (Billy Eichner) and Meadow (Leslie Grossman) are apparently a part of the clown cult, as is newscaster Beverly (Adina Porter) — and Kai is definitely involved in murders. And his actions in the first three episodes might mean that the goal of the clowns terrorizing Ally is to get her to join up, like the other characters he’s targeted.

But the questions still outweigh the answers. There’s the weird chemical spray truck and Harrison’s crazy plastic barrels (which are of the variety Walter White used to dissolve bodies on “Breaking Bad,” if you remember). Nothing about Winter (Billie Lourd), Kai’s Hillary-supporting, liberal stereotype sister, seems to make sense at all. And what about Ivy (Alison Pill), who apparently didn’t just know Winter before she and Ally hired her to be their nanny, but kidnapped a guy with her?

It’s not that the hints that “American Horror Story: Cult” is dropping aren’t landing. The first three episodes did a solid job of portraying Kai first as a bigot, then as a manipulator, before finally putting the pieces together to show him as a charismatic murder-leader. There were plenty of clues popping up about Harrison and Meadow, and fans have been suspicious of Ivy from the start.

But what’s interesting, and ultimately confusing, is just how much information the show is throwing at people, and how many questions it’s raising. Not just about who’s in the cult, but what the cult is trying to do, and how seemingly unrelated elements factor in as well.

It’s a lot like “Lost,” really. Not only is there the hatch to wonder about, but there’s the polar bear. And the bus. And the monster. And the numbers. And the strange connection that seems to bind all the characters together.

“American Horror Story: Cult” has that kind of stuff going on as well, and it’s still not even close to clear how everything fits together. For instance, we know Kai is a cult leader, and we know he’s recruited several people — but we haven’t seen anyone as the clowns yet. And the murder of Serina (Emma Roberts) seems to have taken place before any of the other clown murders, as Kai was recruiting Beverly. Three clowns were present for that one. They could have been Kai, Meadow and Harrison, but it seems a bit early to take your new pals out on a murder spree. So does that mean Kai has other recruits waiting in the wings (with knives) that we haven’t seen yet?

There’s one other element that’s exploding a lot of fans’ theories and attempts to understand “AHS: Cult” after four episodes: Harrison and Meadow. At the end of Episode 3, “Neighbors from Hell,” Meadow disappeared and Harrison was found covered in blood. Earlier in the episode, the cult’s smiley face mark was seen on their house.

Why would Kai and the cult target their own? There have been hints about why the cult might kill Meadow, but why leave Harrison alive, when he could potentially turn on everybody? (Also, a quick tangent: Honestly, what is going on with Winter?)

With weird additional elements like the chemical sprayers, it might be a mistake to think that everything in “American Horror Story: Cult” is connected, or at least, connected to the cult. As has been the case in previous seasons of the anthology series, sometimes the links between ancillary things and the main story are a bit tenuous — the scares are more important than everything making sense together.

Then again, maybe we’re just thinking about this mystery wrong. Maybe fans aren’t seeing the big picture yet. Maybe Kai’s clown cult isn’t the only clown cult in town.

It might be confusing, but trying to puzzle out where “American Horror Story: Cult” is headed is the most fun part of the season so far.