Despite the fact that there are no supernatural elements, this season of American Horror Story is one of the scariest yet. I think it's actually because there are no supernatural elements: everything that's shown has the potential to happen. The season surrounds a cult that assembles in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The leader, Kai, attracts members who are fed up with their current lives and want to change them by committing murder in clown costumes. Another, more puzzling, activity they do is pinky swear. So how does the pinky game work on AHS: Cult? All the members have done it with Kai.
The first instance was with Kai and Winter in the premiere episode, "Election Night." Winter was devastated that Trump won the election, while Kai was celebrating by wearing a Cheeto dust mask. When Kai realized how distraught Winter was, he motioned to link pinkies; Winter then admitted she felt scared for the future. My first thought was that the members were pinky swearing, promising Kai they were telling the truth. Winter introduced another element of the pinky ritual in the second episode of the season, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." She performed it with Oz when he was scared of the killer clowns, and told him she was going to take his fear away from him.
Oz actually does feel a sense of relief from the ritual, and even asked her to do it again later when he was afraid again. This suggests that there is something deeper to the pinky game than just Kai's followers telling him the truth. Is there power behind it — is there an actual transfer of fear going on? Seeing as there's no supernatural elements this season, I don't think there's anything actually happening like that, but I think Kai may have convinced his followers that that's what the game means.
Kai attracts his followers by making them feel loved and safe — and promising to take away their fear, whatever way he can. He helped Harrison by killing his homophobic boss, Vinny, at the gym. He helped Beverly by killing her professional rival, Serina. He complimented Meadow's drawings and said she had "real talent." Kai tries to position himself as a savior, and this pinky game could be another part of it. Kai could've told them that doing this will transfer their fear to him. In turn, Kai asks them to tell the truth for any question he asks. In the latest episode, "11/9," Kai actually slapped Meadow for lying during the ritual.
Seeing as this is a cult, it is possible this is some kind of initiation. Perhaps Kai figures out who is "right" for his cult by finding out their secrets through this game. He also does this multiple times with his followers, so it could serve different functions. Ryan Murphy said that he drew inspiration from real-life cult leaders like Charles Manson and Jim Jones when creating Kai, so maybe he discovered similar rituals these leaders had with their followers.
I find this pinky game pretty unsettling, especially because of a possible hidden purpose. It's clear that if nothing else, Kai demands his followers tell him the truth when they're pinky swearing. Even if it doesn't mean anything else in the cult, this establishes a power dynamic between Kai and everyone else. Kai is not mandated to tell them the truth, but they must in order to be in his good graces. American Horror Story is known for the plot unfolding as the series goes on, so I'm sure there will be more insight into the ritual in upcoming episodes.
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