Folks, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you all: American Horror Story is good again.
Last season’s AHS: NYC surprised me, but I doubted that this messy show could keep up the momentum for another season. But five episodes in — and part 1 wrapped up — it’s safe to say that American Horror Story: Delicate is continuing the show’s turnaround.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for American Horror Story: Delicate part 1.]
From the very first episode, it was clear that Delicate is even more subdued than last season, without excessive gore or serial killers stalking the night. But just because it isn’t visually graphic doesn’t mean it’s not unsettling. Delicate is a slowburn, drawing out tension and building up anxiety.
This season follows Anna Victoria Alcott (Emma Roberts), an actress whose career is finally taking off just as she’s trying to get pregnant. But as she ramps up for awards season, she starts noticing figures following her and increasingly unusual pregnancy symptoms. The more disturbing the stalkers and the side effects, the less the people around her seem to believe her.
Unlike seasons of AHS past, Delicate’s horror is psychological. Anna’s anxieties spiral, growing worse and worse as no one listens to her concerns, till it all spills out of her in erratic behavior. The fourth episode, for instance, ends with Anna eating the maggot-infested flesh of a decaying raccoon that she previously swaddled up and lovingly tucked into an old cradle. How much of this is in her own head? How much is it these strange black-clad figures who keep showing up at the corners of her vision?
By the mid-season finale, she’s at a crossroads. Unlike seasons past, it’s not an ensemble show, but every side character and their connection with Anna is its own unique type of unnerving. Her husband (Matt Czuchry) clearly doesn’t believe her, and she’s constantly suspicious that he’s still in love with his dead first wife. Her mother-in-law (Debra Monk) outright despises her. Her doctor (Denis O’Hare) constantly undermines and trivializes her pain.
But the best and most delicious relationship she has is with Siobhan (Kim Kardashian), her manager and best friend. When Siobhan was first introduced she was passive-aggressive and ambitious, but still pretty benign, with Anna’s best interests at heart. Siobhan, initially, felt like Kardashian playing a version of herself: someone image-conscious, social-media savvy, and surface-level. But that was a misdirect, because it’s now clear that Siobhan is more ruthless than Anna even knows — and that Kardashian is actually pretty masterful at subtly turning that shallow pettiness into escalating manipulation. Siobhan seems like a bigger part of Anna’s miseries than we’ve been made to believe, even if I don’t know exactly how yet.
Halfway through and AHS: Delicate is perturbing, tense, and dare I say it… good? The show is still building up to something, holding its cards very close to its chest. But there have been enough skilled plays — disturbing scenes, unsettling characters, and bizarre connective tissue bringing them all together — that it’s shaping up to something promising. I was really hoping I’d tap out of this one, but dammit, AHS got its claws in me once again. I’ll be holding my breath till part 2 — which unfortunately for me, doesn’t drop till 2024.