‘AHS: Delicate’ struggles to practice what it “Preech”-es as generations of Satanic conspiracies bring the audience back to start.
“You’re having a fucking baby. Of course it hurts.”
American Horror Story is no stranger to more intimate seasons that largely rest on the shoulders of one or two characters. This approach can be successful, but this horror anthology series usually feels the most effortless when it operates like a proper ensemble piece. AHS: Delicate has focused almost entirely on Emma Roberts’ Anna Victoria Alcott and the ticking time bomb that gestates inside of her. It’s proven to be a mixed bag of an approach that becomes even more questionable in “Preech,” Part One’s “finale,” which emphasizes that Anna is not in fact special. She’s merely the latest trend in Satanic subjugation as dark forces give their master plan another go. It’s a turn that presents AHS: Delicate as a much bigger story than it’s initially let on. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it’s a better one and “Preech” reflects a weak formula that’s in dire need of prenatal vitamins to nurse itself back to health.
“Preech” begins with another blast to the past, this time to 1987, as a young Io Preecher (Julie White) experiences her own Satanically-intervened pregnancy. A sprawling exposition dump is never a productive way to advance a story, especially when it conveniently happens out of nowhere. Curiously, Ms. Preecher’s harrowing story isn’t told to Anna, but rather Dex’s mom, Virginia (Debra Monk), which lessens its impact. It feels like AHS: Delicate wants to keep Anna so badly in the dark that it’s willing to give every other character vital information. Virginia has also been subjected to Satanic torture because apparently when it comes to the show’s supporting female characters: all of them witches. “Preech” continues to reiterate the season’s dominant theme wherein “women will do anything for each other,” yet at the same time Anna seethes over Babette Eno’s success and twitches as her pastries get purloined.
The most fascinating turn of events that’s introduced in “Preech” is one that threatens to undercut the entire season’s message. Matt Czuchry is doing as much as he can with Dexter Harding, but he’s hardly been the season’s breakout character. He’s been given even less to do than Roberts as he perpetually vacillates between supportive and skeptical. This makes it especially confusing to hear that Dex is evidently the most important character in American Horror Story: Delicate and the true cause for everything that’s happened. Anna’s Satanic pregnancy is somehow all just a way to get revenge on Dex for his past life decisions. It’s somehow all-too fitting that this feminist slant on Rosemary’s Baby ends up being all about a man.
Ms. Preecher drops her share of bombshells in “Preech.” Unfortunately, Anna–and by proxy, the audience–remain in a frustrating echo chamber of cheap thrills. AHS: Delicate cycles through the same creepy images and ideas that have been around since the season’s start, whether that’s goat midwives or voodoo Barbies, without really developing them or taking them to fresh places. These visuals are even less effective now than before since the audience has grown numb to them at this point. Anna’s recurring blemish is distressing, sure, but does anyone expect it to pay off in a way that’s better or different than Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark’s “Spider Zit” scene? A PG-13 movie shouldn’t be able to dunk on a M-rated cable series.
The same issues are faced when it comes to Roberts’ languishing performance across this season. Roberts is often one of American Horror Story’s strongest players, but Anna Victoria Alcott is no Madison Montgomery. In fact, there aren’t any characters in AHS: Delicate that truly stand out. The closest success story is Siobhan Corbyn, but even she’s sparse by American Horror Story standards. Kim Kardashian is actually really fun in this episode, especially when she’s bouncing off of Dominic Burgess’ Hamish, but it’s camp over quality. Even Annabelle Dexter-Jones doing double duty as Sonia and Adeline isn’t enough to wake this season up. “Preech’s” last act finally allows Roberts to break out of her shell a little, show some range, and do something different. This hints at a promising return for American Horror Story: Delicate, but the season has just been too slap-dash and reliant on vibes over validity. Remember Cara Delevingne’s weird character, Ivy? Remember when Anna ate a rotting raccoon?
“Preech” puts in its due diligence, but the biggest problem with this “finale” is ultimately not American Horror Story’s fault. “Preech” is just a standard episode that ends without much fanfare. Granted, AHS: Delicate attempts to cram a few more revelations into its final moments, but none of these are the major gamechanger or cliffhanger that the season needs in order to keep audiences invested for whenever Part Two rolls around. “Preech” was never written to function as a finale and it’s only being presented this way because of production complications from the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. It’s an unfortunate situation that American Horror Story finds itself in and I’ll be genuinely curious to see if viewership retains over the season’s second-half.
Part Two of AHS: Delicate really needs to up its oxytocin dosage and induce labor as quickly as possible.
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