For the first several episodes, Cult focused primarily on the fandom of its fictional television show, emphasizing the divide between casual fans of the show (and a few nutters) and the True Believers. This week, though, we got a tiny peek behind the curtain and into the real cult's disturbing origins, including a boatload of kids and a Manson Family-inspired murder. Spoilers ahead.
Admittedly, I'm watching Cult because it is a show about fandom, a show that pokes at notions of "real fans" and roleplaying and spoiler culture. But Cult never feels true to my experience as a TV viewer (except maybe in Skye's funky coma dream, in which she takes strength from her own understanding of the Kelly character), and its melodrama actually seems better suited to its own internal mystery.
We have three major threads in this episode. Inside the show, Kelly is interviewing her nephew, whom Billy Grimm trapped in the trunk of a car with Kelly's sister. We get the cliched psychologist asking the nephew about his various drawings, wanting to know why he drew his mother with blood all over her head. "Mommy hurt herself," the boy explains. Later, Kelly and her partner pass by Billy, who is orating from the courthouse steps about the importance of protecting the children in his group. "It's his thing," Kelly says. "Get 'em when they're young. Minds are easier to twist." I really wish the dialogue on the show-within-a-show was more compelling. Kelly's lines are as banal as anything on a third-rate procedural. This show could use a dash of Detective Munch.
Kelly finds her sister's bloody hair in the trunk of Billy's car; her sister tore out her own hair as a sort of breadcrumb for Kelly to follow. But after Kelly and Billy have their usual song-and-dance in the interrogation room, he's naturally free to go.
As Kelly takes one step forward in her quest to find her sister, back in the "real world" Jeff takes a giant leap forward in his attempts to find his brother. His requisite quirky tech sidekick E.J. has, rather unwisely, compiled a file on dear Detective Sakelik, realizing she must be the cause of their boss Bert's death. The file reveals that Sakelik has a juvenile record. Jeff blackmails an attorney into getting him the record, which in turn reveals that Sakelik was an abandoned child. The file is filled with photographs of children, including a young Sakelik. After interviewing the current owner of the house, a woman named Annabelle, Jeff and Skye realize the truth: Sakelik, Annabelle, and several other children were members of a cult, holed up in a house called Moon Hill.
Annabelle confesses that, when they were all children, the adults suddenly disappeared one day. The children were left to fend for themselves, leaving Sakelik as the leader of a juvenile gang of thieves. Using a map of stars' homes, they robbed wealthy homes to sustain themselves; until one night, when they were surprised by one of the homes' owners: the famed actress Olivia Leland. In a moment clearly inspired by the murder of Sharon Tate, Sakelik murdered Leland, a murder that was never solved. She gives Jeff a bloody map that proves Sakelik's guilt, but is subsequently shot by Sakelik.
Oh, and Annabelle has one of these:
Sakelik, however, is dealing with problems of her own. Her current partner is suspicious of the crime scene where Bert was murdered, deeming it "too clean." He's also beginning to have some hinky feelings about Sakelik, asking her last partner about her. (The old partner none too eager to share details about Sakelik.) Both Sakelik and Annabelle seek the help of Louis, a wheelchair-bound video clerk who is clearly tied up in the cult. He talks a great deal about "what Stewart is doing" and tells Annabelle that everything they hoped for when they were children is coming true. He also sics Sakelik on Annabelle when he fears Annabelle might betray them. Good guy.
Speaking of Stewart, he approaches Roger on set, telling him he's thinking about getting into the film production business. They have an ego-stroking conversation, which ends with Stewart gifting his car to Roger—the same kind of car Billy Grimm drives—the same kind of car Skye and Jeff spy in the photos at Moon Hill. It's vaguely amusing to watch Billy Grimm get Billy Grimmed, largely because Roger is such a cad. But the biggest tidbit we get out of the conversation is that Stewart claims to come from family money, money made in knives.
We also get a brief moment with Cult producer Peter Grey, who's been snooping around Skye's desk an awful lot lately. It turns out that he has a direct line to show creator Steven Rae, and has promised to inform Rae if anyone "gets too curious." Skye is likely that anyone.
As much as this episode solidified Rosalind Sakelik's role as a sometimes cold-blooded murderer, I couldn't help but feel a bit bad for her. Her childhood actions have turned her into an enforcer for the cult, and while she belongs to the group (and offers the occasional kiss), it's not clear that she feels close to anyone. She is forever at odds with her partners and is viewed as a time bomb by those who know her best. For Sakelik, "belonging" comes with an awful lot of isolation. And that's a notion that's far deeper and more interesting than what Cult has said so far about fandom.