American Horror Story Season 7 opens with a montage of news footage from the 2016 presidential election, replaying the very real fears many Americans felt when Donald Trump was declared the winner. Ally (Sarah Paulson), her wife Ivy (Alison Pill), and friends watch the election results come in and can't believe their eyes. Is this really happening?
Viewers of the show were also asking, "Is this really happening?" in another sense when marauding clowns attack Ally, then go on to commit murder. Who or what are these killer clowns? While fan theories have pointed fingers at everyone from Ivy to psychiatrist Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), it's possible that Ally is the real villain of American Horror Story.
Ally suffers from debilitating phobias (most notably coulrophobia, a fear of clowns). She is deeply traumatized by Donald Trump's election and this stress triggers a mental breakdown. Perhaps Ally is schizophrenic and the clowns are hallucinations. Or she may suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) and one of her fractured alter-egos is a deranged clown. It's even possible that whatever mental disorder is leading her to see clowns everywhere has been passed down to her son, too.
AHS:Cult takes its inspiration from an era of "fake news," playing with distorted perceptions, confusion, and unreality. Are the clowns real? Does Ally have multiple personalities? Is Ally just imagining the clowns? Or even more disturbingly, is her imagination causing them to appear in the real world? Let's explore.
WARNING: Season 7 spoilers ahead!
The most obvious sign that Ally is hallucinating? No one else sees the clowns - at least, not initially. Ally has her first coulrophobic panic attack in the grocery store after making small talk with a sales clerk (Chaz Bono) who turns out to be a Trump supporter. Yet the clerk apparently doesn't see the clowns riding scooters down the aisles and having sex in the produce department. This seems to suggest that the clowns exist only in Ally's addled brain.
Later, Ally's wife Ivy tells her that the police didn't catch any marauding clowns. Ally asks, "There wasn't anything on the security camera?" No, Ivy says, and the clerk didn't see anything except a raving women hurling bottles of rosé.
(Of course, the clerk might be in on it, too.)
Hoping to rekindle their marriage, Ivy prepares a romantic dinner for two at the restaurant the couple own. No one is in the restaurant except Ally and Ivy - until Ally catches sight of an evil clown in the kitchen and has another panic attack. Of course, Ivy doesn't see the clown.
Ally also admits in this scene that she hasn't been taken the medication her psychiatrist prescribed for her. "I think I'm going insane," she says to her wife, "I think I'm losing my mind."
(Of course, Ivy may not be as innocent as she seems.)
If the clowns are real, then why is their appearance specifically tailored to upset Ally? Not only is Ally afraid of clowns, but at least one of the clowns also has patterns of small holes on its head, triggering Ally's trypophobia. Ally tells Ivy, "It was like they knew my fears" - something that would make more sense if Ally invented the clowns herself.
(Some conspiracy-minded Redditors think the clowns are real and are being fed information about Ally's phobias from Ivy, or maybe Ally's psychiatrist. But is this too many people who would need to be in on it?)
At the grocery store, Ally watches two clowns have sex on a pile of watermelons in the produce department (when she looks back, the two have switched positions). The three-headed clown has three long, phallic noses, and the female clown wears a ball gag.
Later, Ally and her wife discuss how long it's been since they'd had sex. Ivy complains that the only orgasm she's had in a month came from masturbating. Then shortly after, Ally spots a clown dressed like Ivy masturbating in the kitchen.
Ally seems to be suffering from sexual frustration, which is manifesting itself in the form of copulating clowns.