Based on the novel Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine, American Horror Story: Delicate follows Anna Victoria Alcott (Emma Roberts), a woman desperate to have a baby. The trailers and posters have been nothing if not cryptic, hinting only at the involvement of spiders and pregnancy. AHS and spin-off anthology American Horror Stories have both tackled pregnancy before, both passively in having expectant mothers in both Double Feature and NYC, and as major plot lines in Double Feature and the Stories episode, “Ba’al.”
In “Multiply Thy Pain,” Anna and her husband, Dexter (Matt Czuchry), initiate IVF treatments for the third time. Anna’s publicist, Siobhan (Kim Kardashian), meets with her and encourages her. In addition to trying to conceive, Anna is up for an Oscar. Anna begins to question her sanity as Dex pines for his deceased first wife, and she finds things out of place. She also notices a pair of creepy women stalking her. Anna struggles to balance her career, marriage, pregnancy attempt, and crumbling mental health.
At the beginning of a season of American Horror Story, I usually find myself pleasantly surprised at how scaled-down and accessible it seems. My mind always wanders to more ostentatious presentations like Freak Show (which I couldn’t finish) and Hotel( which I love). However, this time, I’m going to wait and see because the crazy usually comes out sooner or later. I almost found myself bored by “Multiply Thy Pain.” I admit it may be because I don’t like kids and find pregnancy terrifying; Dexter’s friend he meets for dinner is a terrible person, but I agree with her to an extent. She says something like, “Why anyone would want a child boggles my mind,” obviously an unintended slight at the couple desperately trying to conceive. To me, the real horror is the pregnancy itself, so I find it hard to get invested in stories like this. As silly as the alien pregnancies were in the “Death Valley” half of Double Feature, it was more understandable to me as a horror because they were forced to carry alien babies against their will. That’s downright terrifying. I can’t think of many things worse than being forced to be a vessel for a parasite that will grow into a threat to the world. Obviously, more of the actual horror will come along with Anna’s pregnancy itself, which is set to be anything but routine. However, some of the usual AHS-isms are definitely present, like the dismissive husband and the quoted statistics. For some reason, characters in this show frequently throw around statistics and scientific studies in the course of regular, casual conversation. Dexter does this when he says 30% or so of couples struggle with fertility. This isn’t at all how real people talk, at least not in casual chats with a friend or significant other. If my husband said something like that, I’d ask how he knows it and why he brought it up. Of course, AHS has always been surreal and usually campy, so it’s not exactly supposed to mirror a real, “normal” couple. I just find dialogue like this distracting because it doesn’t feel honest.
I get the impression Dexter is cheating with the artist, who looks like Adaline, his dead first wife. I could just be overthinking back to prior seasons, where an inattentive husband is almost always seeing someone else. Dexter seems mostly nice but doesn’t jump to Anna’s defense against his friends and doesn’t apparently care about her mental or physical well-being with the IVF process. This is part of the fear, I think: feeling unsupported by your partner. That’s never good, but I can’t imagine dealing with that while being pregnant/trying to conceive. Anna worries that Dex doesn’t love her as much or she isn’t as good as Adaline was, although, at this point, it’s unclear if that’s a valid concern or if her troubled mind has deteriorated that far. It could go either way, but a common motif in AHS has been husbands trying to make their wives feel crazy while they’re off partying, cheating, etc. I’m not sure why the show so often returns to that, other than that it’s a terrifying prospect. We turn to a spouse or significant other for comfort, reassurance, and understanding. Anna is famous and experiencing a significant boost in her stardom; she’s being stalked, and she’s either misplacing things or being majorly gaslit. For a woman already experiencing and feeling so much, it has to hurt to feel like she’s not “enough” or what her husband really wants.
I don’t know what to make of Kim Kardashian yet. I don’t love the Kardashian family like some people do; I just don’t think they’re all that cool or exciting. It’s interesting that Kim chose to work on this show after its sister series, American Crime Story, poked fun at the Kardashian family in its premiere season. At least she has a sense of humor and doesn’t take herself/her family name too seriously. I did like her line about how people think women deserve to be harassed for being famous. People look for any reason to blame women for the violence or lack of privacy imposed on them by others, and this seems to apply to famous, pretty ones more than most. Kardashian has decent chemistry with Emma Roberts if nothing else.
The horror in this episode is ridiculous at times. There are multiple jump scares and a quick shot of Anna with her mouth sewn shut. She hallucinates this while she’s under for her egg retrieval. As I said earlier, AHS is sometimes more silly than scary, and I don’t usually get frightened by movies and TV anyway. I can’t convince my brain it’s “real” enough to be scared.
Overall, I don’t feel that strongly about “Multiply Thy Pain” one way or another. It has some interesting ideas but is slow at times and too goofy at others. The acting is excellent, as usual, but I’ll just have to wait and see if this one improves.