American Horror Story: Delicate’s debut echoes the painful rhythm of infertility. A house invasion is flashed forward at the beginning of the episode and returns at the end, exactly one week later. Living in a grand concrete-chic Brooklyn Heights apartment, newlyminted Hollywood A-lister Anna Victoria Alcott (AHS vet Emma Roberts) is a terrified young woman when she wakes up in the middle of the night clutching the chilly open hand of a stranger. She seems to be worried that the trauma has caused a miscarriage as she stares at her crimson hands and holds her stomach.
Dexter, an art gallerist and Anna’s suffering waiting companion, scolds her for almost missing their most recent round of egg retrievals (inadvertently!) without coming across as too dickish. And when Anna doubts his love for her, he tells her it’s not her fault that they can’t have a child. I wouldn’t cast Matt Czuchry as an honest and faithful spouse because of his irrepressible slipperiness; Dex could even believe it.
So far, reality TV star/law student/actor Kim Kardashian plays Siobhan Corbyn, Anna’s best friend/take-no-shit public relations agent, and they’ve relied on her for open-armed closeness. The fact that Kim K.’s first line in a big written part is “suck my clit” is indicative of Siobhan’s badass attitude. Their closeness is genuine, yet their bond is still young. They crossed paths in an infertility support group, and unfortunately, Siobahn’s attempt to become a mother was unsuccessful.
One who excels at this is Kim Kardashian. The fact that she seems at ease in front of the camera is evidence of the extensive acting she has done in her previous series. And I’m not trying to cast a shadow. Thanks to Keeping Up with the Kardashians and other reality shows, we know that Kim can deliver a great pep talk, insult, or line. The function of a best friend is precisely that! Siobahn encourages Anna to “focus on the good” when she begins to spiral from fear that her fertilized eggs won’t make it.
The first episode of Delicate opens in the medical offices of reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Hill (played by the reliably scary Denis O’Hare), and despite the fact that there are few one-liners like Kardashian’s, the entire thing has a darkly comedic vibe. If you find yourself imagining a hostile yet intelligent extraterrestrial race conducting experiments on you during an egg retrieval procedure (or any medicalization of infertility, for that matter), this set is for you. It’s delightfully methodical.
The episode’s plot moves along in a straightforward manner. An unsettling doctor examines a woman as she undergoes in vitro fertilization. Her husband’s business partner, Talia—who also happens to be the best friend of his first wife—has supper with her. On national television, she delivers jokes about fucking Tom Sandoval that are totally on point. At a gallery party, Adeline meets Sonia, the wife of her husband’s art dealer, who happens to look strikingly like Adeline and who paints canvases with her own menstrual blood (Annabelle Dexter-Jones).
I kept thinking about the most recent season of Serial when I watched the debut of Delicate. The women whose experiences are chronicled in “The Retrievals” had in vitro fertilization procedures performed at a facility where a nurse was allegedly substituting saline for stolen fentanyl. Medical gaslighting is a recurring topic in the series, however the women did endure excruciating pain during their retrievals. In what ways might medical professionals alleviate a woman’s suffering? How can we ladies say it when we know it can be misunderstood? Even in the operation room, Anna’s infertility is becoming medicalized. She tells herself she’s wrinkling at the edges (and even says it’s the hormones!) but she knows deep down that’s not true.
Anna also has a difficult time with the implantation operation. In her nightmares, she imagines that Ms. Preecher, dressed in a dress of crimson organza, is kissing her with a bloody mouth, and that her own mouth is sewn shut, as in The Handmaid’s Tale. It concludes after that. Back at her pristine apartment, she’s in bed, drowsy and alone when we resume the home invasion. The sequence moves at a slower pace the second time around. For instance, Anna ejects the intruder from the residence after realizing she is a woman.
“Unto the woman he said, ‘I will multiply thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children.'” (Genesis 3:16) is the biblical verse that the title “Multiply Thy Pain” is based on. In terms as pregnancy descriptions, it is spot on. The twelfth installment of AHS is based on the pregnancy thriller Delicate Condition, written by Danielle Rollins, but the series’ subtitle, “Delicate,” isn’t quite delicate. Bun in the oven and doing things the family way are just two of the numerous ridiculous expressions for expecting. A real estate agent once leaked to me that the previous tenant had “fallen pregnant” and fled to Greece, which explained why I was getting a good price. However, “delicate condition” may be the most misleading way to describe it.
From the exhausting “trying” phase to the early weeks of brain-dulling nausea and all the ways through labor and delivery, pregnancy is a violent condition. Whatever your feelings toward it—delicious, craving, or nostalgic—it remains a gothic tale of survival. In other words, it would work wonderfully on American Horror Story.