American Horror Story – Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag
By: Kelly Kearney
As the world focuses on campaigns like #METOO and the struggles of women in a male-dominated world, “American Horror Story’s” peek into the tragic tale of Valerie Solanas couldn’t have been timelier. Andy Warhol was known for his brilliant creative mind, but even the legendary artist struggled with his own misogyny. Andy, much like Kai, fueled the flaming fury of his feminist underlings without remorse. Solanas’ backstory sets the mood for a schism in Kai’s cult between its female members and their fear spreading leader that could lead to his eventual downfall.
DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY!
Flashback to the year 1968 and Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham) is turning tricks to help pay for her feminist movement, one that caught the attention of famed artist Andy Warhol (played brilliantly by Evan Peters). Valerie, whose views can only be described as extreme, is infuriated by Warhol dragging his feet on producing a film of her work. When the angry Brooklynite feminist shows up at The Factory asking about the film, Warhol gives her a weak excuse about misplacing the script. To add insult to injury he says, “Oh, Valerie you know women can’t be serious artists.” Since Valerie gave Andy her only copy of what Solanas describes as her life’s work, she becomes enraged by his Warhol’s brush off. Once again, Valerie feels pushed aside by the men in this world and decides to teach Andy a lesson about taking women seriously. Ignoring the shouts of Andy’s fellow Factory fanboys, Valerie pulls out a gun and aims it at Warhol. At first, Andy doesn’t take the gun seriously. That is until the lethal woman fires, missing him twice, but eventually landing a bullet point blank in his chest. As the legend lies bleeding on the floor, Solanas stands over him screaming, “Down with the patriarchy! Suck my dick, Warhol!”
Back to the present and the tiny Michigan suburb is still reeling from the mass shooting at Kai’s (Evan Peters) rally. Of course, the tragedy makes Kai famous, something he had planned on from the moment Meadow (Leslie Grossman) opened fire in the crowd of his supporters. What better way to spread fear than a public mass shooting that turns Kai into a political martyr? Not only is Kai famous in Michigan, but he’s famous across the nation and his landslide victory in the fight for city council is not a surprise. Not only is the community gripped in fear by this televised shooting, but Harrison (Billy Eichner) works overtime to trash his wife in the media by saying the shooting was politically motivated and payback for Hilary Clinton’s loss. Kai is playing the public like a fiddle by filling the airwaves with his propaganda and the nation is eating it up and joining the movement.
As the cult leader basks in his “Trumpian” success, Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) runs into a cigar smoking, black-haired, throwback feminist named BeBe Babbitt (Frances Conroy) who fills her mind with ideas of overthrowing Kai and taking the cult down a more female-friendly path. It becomes clear that BeBe is more than a random Rosie the Riveter, wandering parking lots and offering her opinions on girl power. She is wise to the cult’s role in the mass shooting since she’s been planning one herself. BeBe knows Meadow purposefully missed killing Kai, making the shooting a false flag in hopes of whipping up support for their cause. Hope wonders how this strange woman knows so much, but BeBe reveals she was once a part of her own movement with her ex, Valerie Solanas. This intrigues Bev and she agrees to talk more with BeBe, but first she heads to Kai’s to discuss their plans for world domination.
When Beverly gets to campaign/cult headquarters she’s faced with Kai’s new friends. A dozen or so slick haired Alt-Reich thugs who snicker at the woman when she demands to see the new councilman. These Hitleresque man children are not what Beverly signed up for when she joined the cult under the explicit request to share the leadership role, a request that Kai is not living up to. Beverly is getting tired of trusting that her partner knows what’s best as she has aspirations and her voice is not being heard. Not to mention the fact Meadow trusted Kai and now she’s dead. Beverly is too smart to fall into that trap, but when she pushes for Kai to listen we see Harrison play bodyguard and escort the woman out. As Beverly leaves, she looks back and sees Kai surrounded by men. In that moment the lines are drawn and a new cult is born.
SISTERS ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES
After meeting BeBe at her hotel, Beverly takes the woman to the Butchery on Main to tell her story to Ivy (Alison Pill) and Winter (Billie Lourd) – a story that will inspire the female cult members into overthrowing the King and taking the kingdom for themselves. “The Bullets she put in Andy Warhol were the first shots fired of a revolution,” BeBe began and the story of Valerie Solanas paints a picture of a bright and enthusiastic leader that was eaten up and spit out by a male-dominated society. BeBe talks lovingly about Valerie while touching on the obvious fact that she battled a past filled with abuse that pushed her to write a feminist manifesto that went to some genocidal extremes. Valerie was nothing if not passionate about SCUM, a/k/a Society for Cutting Up all Men. She gathered a group of feminist outcasts, murderers, female pimps and even a few men who for some reason or another liked the abuse that Valerie doled out as a side dish to her main event: The Death To All Men. She held SCUM meetings like they were performance art and charged men twice as much to get in as she did the women. Solanas’ movement flourished in the underground scene where she dubbed all men, “Turds,” lighting a fire under her fellow politically motivated feminists. One of those women was BeBe who fell in love with the charismatic leader even though Valerie’s message was about to take a violent turn. Violence, Valerie thought, was the key to overturning the status quo and she preached about killing all men and even the women slept with them. Her passion bordered on terrorism and BeBe was enamored with her.
Shooting Andy was just the beginning Babbitt explains it set off a swath of killings that sparked a revolution. Ironically, their feminist fear movement was hijacked in the media by a man claiming to be the killer and calling himself The Zodiac. BeBe explains that the couples killed by The Zodiac were SCUM murders meant to send a message to women to steer clear of men. It was all planned out by Valerie from her hospital bed for the criminally insane until someone stole their thunder, something Valerie could never get over. Solanas became obsessed with claiming the killings for SCUM and once she was released from the hospital it was clear, no man was safe. In a bloody gruesome scene of castration and murder, Valerie takes her rage out on one of her male SCUM members by cutting him to pieces, twig and berries first, and arranged his body in the sign of the Zodiac. Valerie’s life quickly spirals into obsession and eventual madness. She cannot overcome the fact the name Valerie Solanas is synonymous with Andy Warhol, almost like she doesn’t exist outside of him. The feminist trailblazer has been reduced to a piece of the Warhol legacy. In the end, Solanas died beaten down by a society that did not appreciate her art – a patriarchy that crushed her under its thumb until every ounce of creativity and innovation was exsanguinated from her very bones.
Valerie’s story acts as a warning for Beverly, Ivy and Winter that women never benefit from the quest of men. She tells them they need to own their movement and strike first before it’s too late. Striking first might be more difficult than any of them know since Kai is on to his sister and her new-found interest in The SCUM Manifesto. With what can only be described as passive-aggressive threats, Kai tells Winter that he’s ready for any female uprising in the Cult ranks and that he expects her loyalty.
KAI THE KING
When Kai put Winter and the ladies on notice, he randomly mentioned Harrison’s hatred of women and his idea for a new cult name – MLWB which means Men Lead Women Bleed. Winter knew her brother was one step ahead of her and she tells him that name will anger some members. Knowing his sister and her cohorts are out for man blood, he sets a loyalty trap and uses Harrison as the bait.
The women take the bait and lure Harrison to the Butchery on Main where they interrogate him and eventually kill him by slicing and dicing the man, Zodiac style. As always, reporter Beverly Hope is first on the scene of the crime, but now she uses her airtime to take a stab at Kai’s new promise of law and order. With a smirk into the camera, Beverly is the one putting Kai on the spot, proving she can’t be pushed around. There’s a new sheriff in Cult-Town and Beverly Hope wants Kai to know who’s leading the female brigade.
Watching the news, Kai acts like a proud father as the episode’s final twist is revealed. “They’re at their best when they’re angry. Don’t you think,” he says before turning around to face the cigar smoking BeBe Babbitt? “Aren’t we all,” Babbitt replies?