Now that the hit horror show’s first episode has premiered to its audience, how does this seventh season, Cult, – set against the backdrop of the 2016 Presidential election – shape up, and is it worth your time? (Spoilers ahead)

Ever since my friends first forced me into watching American Horror Story (AHS) in time for the show’s fifth season cycle (subtitled Hotel) in 2015, I have been deeply obsessed with the show. I am constantly in awe of Ryan Murphy’s ability to build a sophisticated world and a convincing selection of characters all in the space of a 10-episode limited series each season and Cult, the show’s seventh season cycle, is no exception.

AHS has become renowned for their marketing campaigns leading up to the season premiere, annually releasing about 30 different short “teaser” trailers to give us viewers some clues as to what the next season is to be about. This season was no exception and the teasers were as eerie and confusing as ever. About half of this year’s selection focused on creepy clowns humming and moving together, seemingly as part of a “cult” as this season’s subtitle would suggest. This came along with the news that Twisty the Clown – the show’s main antagonist from its fourth cycle Freak Show – would return this season and be as creepy as ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REt1tmvSQSM

The other main theme that recurred through a lot of the teaser trailers was the sound and sight of bees; even Cult’s poster features a woman with honeycomb in place of her skull. These teasers mashed together made no sense to me, nor anyone else, until we finally got to see the season’s first episode “Election Night” last Friday.

AHS continues to be as kooky and confusing as ever in its premiere episode this season. For example, the season opens with a selection of presidential campaign clips from last year, culminating with a news report of Trump’s win, leading Sarah Paulson’s character Ally to fall into total despair, crying into the arms of her wife Ivy (Alison Pill). Her severe reaction to Clinton’s loss is exacerbated as the episode continues as her anxieties towards clowns and things with holes in (thus explaining the teaser trailers… kind of), amongst other things, return and start to haunt her. As Ally is followed by a group of serial killer clowns in a supermarket (clowns having sex in the fresh produce aisle, anyone?) and incidents like these continue, her psychiatrist (Cheyenne Jackson) quickly assumes she is hallucinating, as does her wife Ivy, who seems far more concerned that Ally voted for Jill Stein (the Republican candidate) in a swing state simply because she couldn’t bring herself to vote for their Democratic one.

Meanwhile, Kai (Evan Peters) is being just as shifty and celebrates Trump’s win by dry-humping his television and covering his face in Cheeto dust so he can impersonate Trump in the mirror to himself. As if that wasn’t weird enough, he gets into a fight at the local court house (“there is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man”), urinates into a condom and throws it at strangers which gets him beaten up, and seems to recruit his Clinton-supporting sister Winter (Billie Lourd) to start doing his dirty work for him, first port of call being becoming the nanny to Ally and Ivy’s son.

While this season’s backdrop is topical, it isn’t the most exciting one they’ve ever taken on, but that doesn’t make this episode any less endearing. Tensions are running high both between the characters on screen and in the show itself in a vibe that is already starting to feel like a cross between the show’s first season Murder House and previous season Roanoke; it’s very clear that Ryan Murphy is looking to make a season of this show that is much more accessible for a wider audience and is pulling from two of the show’s strongest seasons to strengthen that.

It also became apparent to me that for the first time in AHS history, the season’s villains are – as far as we know right now – real people and not from the supernatural realm in any way shape or form. In fact, with the clown sightings occurring around the same time last year as this season is set, the story shown to us is entirely plausible and makes total sense.  This is probably completely intentional on Murphy’s part as it’s been highlighted throughout the show’s press trail that the real horror story is America’s current political climate, so realism is essential for this horror story’s success.

Previous seasons of AHS have always had comedic elements in them, but this season really lays those moments on thick in a way that makes me wonder if I’m laughing with them or laughing at them. As you would expect from a series that is essentially a very warped version of a satire, we are expected to see the ironies in almost all of the characters – especially Ally and Ivy – who reek so strongly of privileged white liberalism that it’s hard to not see the jokes that are being made about them along the way, be it Ally’s proclamation that she won’t believe the election result until she hears it from Rachel Maddow’s mouth (“she’s the only one I trust!”) or the shade thrown at Lena Dunham (a future Cult guest star who is infamously known as being the face of privileged white liberalism). Even if these jokes aren’t meant to make you dislike the characters ever so slightly (which is unlikely as Murphy is very much in-tune with these kinds of things), they’re so witty and cleverly woven into the script that you accept them regardless and warm to them nonetheless.

While the episode felt rather long, by the end of it, you come to realise that not very much has happened at all, but all of the groundwork now seems to be in place for the wild ride that is to follow. The show’s season premiere has already left me wondering questions like: “who on Earth are Winter and Kai?”, “what do they have against Ally and Ivy?” and “WHERE IS THIS CULT?” Currently, we have absolutely no idea and knowing Ryan Murphy, we won’t be finding that out for a while yet. But until then, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be one hell of a season.

American Horror Story: Cult continues Friday night at 10pm on FOX.