‘American Horror Story’ Season 7: Evan Peters engages and terrorizes as a man on a mission in ‘AHS: Cult’

Evan Peters is overdue for awards consideration. The media treats Sarah Paulson, who is first in the credits, as the face of “American Horror Story,” but Peters has appeared in more episodes overall and is alone in having been billed among the main cast for all seven seasons. He is instrumental to the continued success of the franchise and it is absurd that he has not been nominated for a major award for his varied performances. “American Horror Story” has received 83 Emmy nominations, including 21 for acting, but none for its lead actor.

If ever Peters should be recognized by the Emmys, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild or Critics’ Choice Awards, this season might be it. Oscar nominees and winners Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jessica Lange have departed the series, clearing the stage for Paulson and Peters to shine. The three episodes that have aired thus far showcased Paulson’s commitment as a performer; she is essentially a cameo in this week’s episode, as the focus shifts to Peters. “11/9” fills in the gaps of what his villainous character Kai Anderson has been doing in the aftermath of the 2016 United States election while Paulson’s character Ally Mayfair-Richards has been terrorized by demons — both real and imagined.

The significance of this season’s subtitle — “Cult” — becomes clearer, as Kai’s origins as a cult leader are explored. The episode does not reveal exactly when Kai realized his aspirations and capabilities, but it justifies his position. It becomes no surprise that he can convert civilians to his criminal causes because Peters is alternately menacing or nurturing or enraged; he perfectly calibrates his performance depending on how he needs to manipulate his scene partner. The intensity with which he plays key scenes is reminiscent of the acting style of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Whether the catalyst was Peters’s magnetic work or co-executive producer John J. Gray’s script or Gwyneth Horder-Payton’s direction, a rising tide lifts all boats in “11/9,” which is easily the strongest of the four episodes that FX provided to the press in advance of the “Cult” premiere. Critics originally received only the first three episodes; perhaps this was a late addition because early reviews were tepid. Metacritic assigns “Cult” a score of 66, but the reviews counted that did not consider “11/9” average eight points lower than those that do. Billy Eichner, Adina Porter and Emma Roberts also turn in their best work of the season in this episode.

“American Horror Story” co-creator Ryan Murphy has teased that Kai is Peters’s best performance yet and that “Cult” will feature him later playing other roles. Peters has received some minor nominations for his work over the years. He was nominated for a Satellite Award for the second season, “AHS: Asylum,” as well as Gold Derby Awards (voted by the readers of this website) for the first, second and fourth seasons. Gold Derby founder Tom O’Neil would say that more esteemed organizations are snubbing 30-year-old Peters because of “slap the stud” syndrome. The online community seems to appreciate him; his interviews with Gold Derby consistently rank among our most-viewed ever.

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