I’m not usually much of a horror fan. The tiger cave in Aladdin still freaks me out, and after the horror unit in my eighth-grade film class, I had nightmares for weeks. And these were middle school horror projects we were watching, so, as you can probably guess, my tolerance for anything scary is horribly low.
Even so, I decided I had to review the first episode of American Horror Story’s twelfth season, Delicate, released Sept. 21 on Hulu. Part of me figured, how scary can it really be? It has Kim Kardashian and Poppy from one of my childhood favorite films, Wild Child. Never mind that American Horror Story is known for being completely horrifying, even for horror fans. This was going to go great.
And, surprisingly, it did. The episode felt a lot like an exposition. Focused more on introducing the main characters and their struggles and relationships, it mostly sacrificed jump scares for a few creepy shots of spiders and a dead baby bird. As this is only the first episode, I’m assuming that future episodes in the season will dial up the horror element.
In the episode, Anna (Emma Roberts), an actress on the verge of her big break, is attempting to have a child with her husband, Dex (Matt Czuchry). The couple is having fertility issues and is about to undergo their third round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) administered by a very sketchy doctor. As her IVF treatment starts to work, Anna begins to suspect she is being stalked and struggles to balance her career and relationships with increasingly invasive visions of her stalker. Also, spiders start coming out of her hair, so things are rapidly devolving for her into the next episode.
Notably, the acting in this episode was good. Roberts is convincing in her role and plays the charming actress afraid she’s losing her mind very well. Czuchry was good as her supportive husband, if a little understated. I look forward to seeing where he takes the role as fissures begin to appear in Anna and Dex’s marriage. Cara Delevingne shows up a couple times in eccentric outfits, but she has no lines, so it will be interesting to see her performance in upcoming episodes.
All eyes were on Kim Kardashian in her first big acting performance, and I honestly have mixed feelings. Kardashian plays Siobhan, Anna’s best friend and publicist, who we learn has unsuccessfully tried IVF in the past but is, in this episode at least, supportive of Anna’s IVF success. I noticed that some of her lines were a little forced and wooden, but I wonder how much of that has to do with her character and her possibly forced compassion for Anna. For now, I reserve judgment until I see how her character progresses.
I also liked the episode’s commentary on feminism. At times, it was a little in-your-face, like when the fertility doctor addresses Dex instead of Anna and Anna comments on it, or when Anna and Dex learn the IVF is successful and there is an uncomfortable shot of the doctor touching Anna’s arm. We get it. The guy’s a sexist creep.
But there are little moments where we see conflicts between women that, to me, are most appealing. Yes, Anna has to deal with stupid men who make her uncomfortable, but she also encounters women who subtly isolate her. For example, at Dex’s art exhibition, the featured female artist scares and intimidates Anna then stares at her from afar while in conversation with another woman. Also, Dex’s old female friends make comments that make Anna feel unwelcome and insecure in her marriage.
All the while, as Anna is made to feel isolated and unsure in her marriage, she struggles with the emotional turmoil of feeling like her body is broken because she can’t get pregnant. Then, when spiders and spider webs start sprouting out of her head, her already thin sense of control over her body disappears. It doesn’t help matters that Dex and Siobhan, her support network, gaslight her and treat her like she’s losing her mind.
Taken together, this episode begins to explore how, the more judgment women receive, even from other women, the more vulnerable they feel. As Anna grapples with her infertility, her relationships and interactions with others only exacerbate her fears of deficiency as a woman. The episode really calls into question whether we, as a society, know what it means to support women.
Overall, I really enjoyed this episode and look forward to watching the rest of the season (so long as the scare factor doesn’t increase too drastically). It was surprisingly thoughtful and deep, and I can’t wait to see the direction in which they decide to take it.