The CW has a hit show called Cult about a former cult member who goes on to become a detective. When her sister and nephew go missing, she suspects the cult's leader, Billy Grimm, of being behind it. His members are utterly devoted to him and would rather die than displease him. Now, this is all taking place on some fictional version of The CW that has a crazy awesome PR team and a viewership so dedicated, they make even the most zealous Supernatural fans look like casual watchers.
The show-within-a-show thing is going to get confusing fast, so here are some tentative ground rules: The version of Cult that the characters are watching shall hereby by known as Inner Show; Outer Show will be the Cult that you and I watch while trying to predict what will happen next to Matt Davis's hair.
Nate, a fan of Inner Show, has discovered that something really dangerous is going on. He's decoded something about the show, but now fears for his life. He contacts his big brother, Jeff, and pleads his case. Jeff, being a somewhat cynical journalist, doesn't believe him... until baby bro goes missing under bizarre circumstances. Aspects of Nate's disappearance seem to echo what's going on with Inner Show. Jeff's investigation leads him to the set of the show, which conveniently films nearby and has a really short episode lead time. Like, the follow-up to stuff that just aired on TV is now in the middle of filming. Jeff is looking for the show's creator, a mysterious recluse named Steven Rae. He doesn't get to Rae, but he does meet a feisty researcher named Skye who joins his cause. While pursuing another member of the fandom, they run afoul of a detective who seems to be in on the whole thing, somehow. Perhaps strangest of all, just before fans disappear or die, they utter this line: "Hey, these things just snap right off." It's from Inner Show, but the characters there have no idea what it means, either.
About a million more plot developments happen, which I will try to cover in the full weecap. Stay tuned.
The show begins with a clip from a documentary called Cults in America, which a title card helpfully tells us was first posted online in 2009. Despite this, it has the jumpy quality and sputtering sound of a reel-to-reel film. Pretentious filmmakers and their danged computer filters! An interviewer asks Billy Grimm about his followers. He talks about unconditional love and acceptance and how others seek the connection he provides. In the background, a young blond woman frolics with a bunch of sister wives.
Cut to the present day. The young blond from the clip is now a detective, driving with her partner through the rain-streaked night. Her name is Kelly and they're looking for someone named Meadow, presumed to have been taken by Billy. "What was it that latest vic kept repeating?" the partner asks. "It was, 'Well, hey, these things just snap right off,'" Kelly says. Press-on nails? Skin tags? They follow a map to a shed somewhere in the woods. An old red car sits parked outside. Kelly recognizes it from Billy's old compound. Inside the shed are some of the usual hallmarks of creepiness, like old dolls, chains, rusty saws. There are also newspaper clippings about Kelly's escape from the cult. As Kelly shines her flashlight over the floor and up a wall, she realizes a man is staring at her -- from inside the wall. Kelly tears apart the plaster and he tumbles to the floor. "It's Meadow's husband," Kelly says. "Where's my sister? Where's Meadow and Andy?" she asks Wall Guy. He struggles for breath and gasps, "Well, hey, these things just snap right off!" He dies as Kelly and her partner look on in horror.
"Oh, dude, Douglas is dead!" says a voice. Other voices rise up in protest. As the camera pulls back, we realize we've been watching the show-within-the-show. (Previous to that, we were watching a documentary-within-the-show-within-the-show. It's like an onion with the layers, but does it stink? Time will tell.) We're in a bar full of rapt fans as the episode ends. One man in particular seems especially interested in the outcome of the episode as he jots down something in a notebook and compares it to videos on his laptop. "Merriam, I unlocked it," he says to a dark-haired woman. "The man in the wall was the clue I needed." Merriam is stunned. "The next level? You can reach them?" A waitress gives them a shifty glance. Our heavily invested fan gathers up his things and scrams. The name of the bar: Fandomain Cafe. It's like a sports bar, but for nerds. I would totally go.