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Thursday, April 4, 2024

“AHS: Delicate” Review – “Opening Night” Delivers More of the Same for the Mid-Season Premiere

‘AHS: Delicate – Part Two’ returns with more of the same, yet Anna’s perturbing pregnancy finally starts to crown towards its creepy climax.

“Down will come baby, cradle and all…”

Part Two of American Horror Story: Delicate turns the clock back just over 35 years and begins with an unsettling vignette that chronicles how Emma Roberts’ Anna Victoria Alcott was brought into the world. This is actually an effective and telling prologue that functions as a strong distillation of the season. In fact, this would have been a better way to start off AHS: Delicate as a whole, rather than its second-half. It teases the many unknown and unintentional risks that are associated with pregnancy and childbirth, even when everything plays out normally and there’s no demon baby involved. American Horror Story addresses the twisted nature of “Rock-A-Bye-Baby” and the inherently creepy nature of lullabies. It’s a larger indictment of parenthood’s magical nature and the dark underbelly that’s beneath all the joy. It’s a fairly glib lesson for AHS: Delicate to impart so late in the game, but it still provides some helpful context for Anna.

Anna’s father proves to be a malignant letdown even before he opens his mouth to belittle his wife. He can barely pull his eyes away from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and it seems that this self-improvement text has a better chance of imprinting on him than his actual daughter. “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be,” is one of the many quick lessons that’s preached in this guidebook. It’s hard not to think of this simplistic shortcut throughout the duration of “Opening Night” as men continually fall short of their partner’s – and society’s – expectations. It’s a constructive pillar that helps “Opening Night” build a strong foundation, yet this season continues to erect a hollow monument – like ostentatious artwork at a gallery. “Opening Night” is not a bad episode of American Horror Story. It’s just more of the same as AHS: Delicate crawls to the finish line rather than confidently taking its first steps.

“Opening Night” continues to push the idea of how much mothers need to sacrifice for their children and the happiness and peace that they lose in order to help their offspring thrive. Anna is caught at the crossroads of this concept as her life continually unravels. Dex’s (Matt Czuchry) relationship with his own father is juxtaposed against Anna’s frayed relationship with her dad in order to highlight the stark differences between their families and upbringings. Dex’s father is far from an admirable figure, but he’s a parent who’s genuinely excited to solve his child’s problems rather than ignore them and deflect. Dex is largely a background presence in this episode. However, his struggle helps tie the shaggier elements of “Opening Night” together. The installment’s final act is easily its most compelling material. It matches the intensity of the episode’s prologue so that “Opening Night” can be bookended by parental trauma and sacrifice. The tragedy that Dex walks in on with his mother is genuinely moving and another effective way in which Dex’s life mirrors Anna’s, albeit in a bizarro manner.

Bradley Buecker directs a competent episode with “Opening Night,” yet it still has difficulty breaking free from this season’s repetitive habits – almost as if they’re inappropriate pregnancy cravings. Anna’s collection of disturbing dolls continues to grow like a morbid nursery of displacement. The same is true for AHS: Delicate’s obsession with cat chaos. “Opening Night” literally scratches the surface of something interesting with the rancid raccoon claw that claws out of Anna’s stomach. It’s the best part of the episode, but it’s still pretty standard pregnancy horror iconography. There are similar feelings of ambivalence that surround Michaela Jaé Rodriguez’s Nicolette, who’s evidently been watching over Anna since she was a baby like one of the nanny Disciples of the Watch from The Omen. It’s material that remains so one-note and she’s more of a chilling cipher than an actual character, which has been a consistent concession through this season. Anna finally starts to grow suspicious of Nicolette. However, it’s all just too little, too late.

Anna also appears to accidentally kill someone in a bathroom altercation…until she doesn’t, that is. The strongest element of “Opening Night” is just how fractured Anna’s mental state has become. She increasingly doesn’t know what she can trust as her fantasies blur together with reality. That being said, it’s long overdue for this season to step on the gas and finally take all of this to the next level. This material isn’t fundamentally flawed, but it’s just unfortunate that Roberts brings so little life to the Anna role. It remains one of her least interesting contributions in the entirety of American Horror Story. As much as Sarah Paulson has been overused in the anthology series, I’d be genuinely curious to see what she’d do with this variety of detached character. Roberts at least knows how to confidently chomp down on a bone. So there’s that.

On the other side of the spectrum, Kim Kardashian’s performance as Siobhan Corbyn is somehow AHS: Delicate’s saving grace. Kardashian unironically kills it and is clearly having a ball here. The campy Hollywood satire isn’t nearly as tight or insightful as it could be, but there’s still some fun commentary in “Opening Night” on the artificial nature of awards campaigning and how PR can masquerade as grief and empathy. Siobhan confidently pulls Anna’s strings and lures her into a false sense of empowerment by making sure that she ignores the men in her life. Siobhan can’t stand the idea of Anna quitting acting just because it would be unfair to “bring a baby into a world where none of us are safe.” (Pro Tip: don’t go down on your limo driver). 

Siobhan laments that Anna turning her back on her “gift” wouldn’t just be a loss for her, but for all of motherhood. On that note, it’s absolutely no coincidence that this season doesn’t have Anna pining for an Emmy, but an Oscar – an award that’s a man. Everything that Anna has painstakingly worked towards is still ultimately in service of a man’s approval and the male gaze, even if Siobhan or any number of witches dress it up to be a different form of empowerment. After all, everyone just wants to float; whether it’s in a pool or away from life’s responsibilities and burdens.

To bring it all back to Covey’s self-help book, “Start with the end in mind,” is another mantra that’s preached in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This text might be treated as toxic short-hand in “Opening Night,” but this is hopefully one lesson that’s worked its way into American Horror Story: Delicate. This season continues to bombard the audience with uncomfortable imagery and unreliable illusions as the same ideas circle round-and-round like blood down a bathtub drain. None of this means anything if it can’t stick the landing and provide satisfying closure to this morbid account of motherhood. Halley Feiffer knows where all of this is going and how Anna Victoria Alcott’s story will end. She just needs to let the audience in on the secret and follow through on its creepy contractions.

3 skulls out of 5

American Horror Story Delicate Episode 6 Dark Maidens

The post “AHS: Delicate” Review – “Opening Night” Delivers More of the Same for the Mid-Season Premiere appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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