Part of the fun of American Horror Story is speculating about each new season's theme. But no matter how many fan theories existed, I don't think anybody saw this coming: According to Ryan Murphy himself, American Horror Story Season 7 is about the 2016 election, as he revealed on What What Happens Live With Andy Cohen on Wednesday. Granted, there are few things more horrifying in our world right now than the outcome of that nightmarish election cycle, but it still seems like an unexpected theme for AHS to tackle. (Ghosts, witches, freaks, and… politicians?) The 2016 election seems like would be better suited to American Crime Story than American Horror Story… and yet, here we are. So, how exactly is AHS Season 7 going to work?
First, let me be clear: I'm not all sure yet that this wasn't some joke on Murphy's part. It will take an official announcement from FX itself to convince me that AHS: Election is really happening, and that Murphy wasn't just drily pulling Cohen's leg. It seems like exactly the sort of joke someone like Tina Fey would make — and in fact she did, quipping last year about the presidential race that, "It's like, Ryan Murphy brings you Horror Election!" So it's hard for me not to imagine that Murphy was simply playing into a joke that's already been made a dozen times before.
But for now, I guess we have to take his words at face value — and so we should tackle the question of what an AHS: Election season would actually look like. Right now, I can imagine two very different options. In one scenario, Season 7 is a straight-up retelling of the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, allowing the "horror" of the show's title to speak for itself. (When asked by Cohen if Trump would be a character in the season, Murphy coyly answered with a vague "maybe.")
On the other hand, I can also envision a very different version of this story, one that is inspired by the election, rather than a faithful retelling of it — an allegory, if you will. In this version, Clinton and Trump would merely be figures occasionally glimpsed on the news, while the real horror was happening at street level, with the constituency becoming divided and confrontational in more and more violent ways. (Think an "alternative facts" version of the story, with an America that more closely resembles The Purge than its current reality.) By bringing the violence in American discourse to the surface and making it literal, Murphy could highlight what a "horror story" our politics have become.
Either way, this theme is certainly intriguing — even if it does turn out to be an elaborate prank of some sort. It's especially exciting to try to predict who Murphy would cast as the two candidates; Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon have already crafted iconic portrayals of Trump and Clinton on Saturday Night Live, but AHS would need to separate itself from those hilarious parodies. We already know Murphy is capable of attracting top-tier talent to his shows, so why not shoot for the moon? Just imagine a version of AHS: Election starring John Travolta as Donald Trump (courtesy of the People v. O.J. Simpson makeup team)… and who else could possibly be worthy of playing Hillary Clinton other than Meryl Streep?
However Murphy decides to tackle this real-life horror story (if indeed he ever really does), he'll just have to make sure its substantively different from the other forthcoming TV show based on the 2016 election. Just two days ago, Deadline reported that Mark Boal and Megan Ellison, the writer and producer behind Kathryn Bigelow's 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, are crafting a limited series about the events of last year's presidential race. Since you can expect the Zero Dark Thirty team to hew close to the political realities of the situation, it would be nice to see Murphy take a stylized, bloody — maybe even supernatural? — approach to the same topic.
Whatever form it takes, and whatever it ends up being about, AHS Season 7 should hit the airwaves this fall… which leaves us eight months or so to continue speculating, theorizing, and building anticipation for what's sure to be a gonzo season.