In the premiere episode from “Multiply Thy Pain,” the first episode from American Horror Story’s 12th season, Delicate cites the Genesis 3:16 bible verse when God cursed Eve after she ate an apple from the Tree of the Knowledge. Parents (hopefully) experience great joy and delight once a child is born, but the process women endure in welcoming the bundle of joy can be hell. Changes in body chemistry, overall pain, and intrusive medical procedures are some of the factors that make the process so difficult.
Anna Victoria Alcott (Emma Roberts) is an actress on the cusp of superstardom. After a long stint on a long-running CW show (that she would like to forget), she started in a small indie film, possibly garnering awards buzz. But if this sudden burst of attention wasn’t enough, Anna wants to have a baby with her artist husband, Dexter (Matt Czuchry). Unfortunately, they have tried two IVF treatments before, and they did not work. However, the third time is the charm, and Dexter is almost insistent on being punctual to an eerie, weird-looking fertility clinic.
This AHS season is adapted from Danielle Valentine’s novel Delicate Condition – that’s, in turn, a twist on 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby. “Multiply Thy Pain” certainly has those vibes, while the occurrences happen at a continual fast frequency within the runtime. In the many chances they’ve tried, Anna wonders if Dexter still loves her. While much of this episode relies upon the tricks of the horror trade in terms of ominous figures suddenly watching Anna, it’s most effective in how complicated this process is.
Anna and Dexter seem close – particularly in one scene where they discuss baby names and possible school ventures. At least on the surface, Dexter does care about Anna’s well-being – but there’s more than meets the eye with his backstory. One of the many mysteries “Multiply Thy Pain” gives breadcrumbs to. Dexter has been married before and lost his first wife to a tragic accident. He won’t give Anna any information as to whether they tried to have children themselves, he’s signed an identical artist of his deceased wife, and he’s a little too buddy-buddy with the fertility doctor Andrew (Denis O’Hare).
Despite her inclinations, all of Anna’s curiosity is explained away by her being tired from the procedures she often has to endure alone. The only person she has left to confide in is publicist/friend Siobhan (Kim Kardashian), who coincidentally met at a fertility group. Siobhan feels like a more Hollywood version of Kardashian herself – complete with her backstory of a failed IVF attempt. She feels she’s looking out for Anna’s best interest, but also disregards a fan’s request asking Anna to sign the body of a discontinued doll of her old character.
This iteration of the series is placing our main character in a disorienting silo – a place that motherhood can feel like. The premiere is complete with the templates one would expect from the American Horror Story series. When Anna starts her progesterone treatments, weird things happen with long hairs and spiders. She notices women (Cara Delevingne and Julie White) watching her, looking at dead baby birds, and turning up at Andy Cohen interviews. Oh damn!
The questions feel like they are neverending in terms of character motivations and whether this pregnancy story will follow horror ones of the past. It would be a shame to travel down the beaten path of these wild occurrences in one woman’s mind. Calendar schedules don’t change out of nowhere. Dexter’s character is unlikable right away, and I feel this might be a red herring (at least, I hope). It’s hard to justify not telling your second wife about how your first wife perished unless they tried this sequence before, and it’s tied to that. Also, he’s a bit too calm in his assessment that everything will work out. (People around Anna are a little too overt what they want).
I recognize everything I’m viewing in the line of sight as a horror fan who has seen these story beats before. It might be worth seeing if Delicate can twist the story in an engaging, updated way.