We now live in a world in which Kim Kardashian is the reason to watch a Ryan Murphy show. That's the biggest takeaway from the debut episode of American Horror Story's twelfth season, AHS: Delicate. Once again the reality mogul has proved she is willing to put in the work to do a good job, and love her or hate her, so far she's carrying this show.
This year's iteration of the horror franchise is set in the world of infertility, with Emma Roberts headlining as an actor named Anna Victoria Alcott. Her career trajectory is set out over the first hour, and viewers learn she's gone from a laughable CW star to a bona fide thespian thanks to an indie film everyone is raving about. But while her face is plastered on billboards and it seems like she's finally made it, behind the scenes Anna and her husband Dex Harding (new cast addition Matt Czuchry) are struggling to conceive.
After a bloody flash-forward involving a Rubber Man-inspired intruder kicks off the premiere, the episode rewinds to a week earlier and follows Anna on her way to yet another egg retrieval. Immediately, viewers can tell something is off. She's gotten the time wrong and has to rush to get there. There's a strange woman outside (Cara Delevingne) peering at dead baby birds in a nest on the sidewalk. From there, things only get worse.
In fact, much of the episode follows Anna as she tries to make sense of where she is and how she got there, as she struggles to maintain her own sense of reality. The Rosemary's Baby references are plenty, which makes sense considering this season was based on Danielle Valentine's 2023 novel Delicate Condition — a modern update of Ira Levin's classic story.
The apartment where Anna and Dex live is very much a character, with its long hall and cold, clinical kitchen. Meanwhile, everyone seems to brush off any of Anna's concerns as she attempts to piece together what, exactly, is happening to her. It's all normal for someone going through this process, what with the hormones and all, you know.
With a subject as rich and relatable as infertility, there's plenty to mine. Body autonomy. What it means to be a mother. The very real, emotional journey that both partners go through, not to mention the harrowing physical and financial aspects. Yet this story fell flat from almost every angle, and Roberts — whose own battle with endometriosis led her to freeze her eggs — fails to deliver any real emotion throughout.
Most of the time Anna is onscreen she is groggy, staring at someone no one else can see, or in a weird trance. While it could be argued that's the role, the opportunities for more emotional depth, such as her scenes with her husband, feel expositional and flat. It's hard to discern any chemistry between the actors, in particular in one scene when Dex explains his dead wife was the love of his life and, "The way that she died, no one gets over that."
Perhaps that's the point, for this woman to feel alone and isolated as the series progresses. But right now it feels like a missed opportunity to make viewers care about this woman and her struggles, much less root for her when things take a creepy turn. Like when spiders drop into her hair, or when she dreams her mouth is sewn shut during the embryo transfer. Then there's the absurdly long strand of grey hair that refuses to be plucked, and the Anna doll that follows her around.
In terms of creep factor, the premiere nailed it. That's particularly true of the retrieval and transfer scenes, with the stunning nurse costumes and artistic sequencing. But cinematography and jump scares can only carry a show for so long, and so far this feels like empty calorie viewing.
Which brings us to Kim Kardashian. The personality blew many people away with her debut on Saturday Night Live in 2021, and the hard work she put into nailing that episode was featured during an episode of The Kardashians. From the moment she steps onto the AHS: Delicate scene, you can tell she did the same to prepare here. She immediately commands attention with her strong presence (and opening line!), and it looks like she's been doing this for years.
As Siobhan, Anna's new publicist and BFF, she's perfectly cast, at any rate. She's an animated, A-type personality who went through IVF struggles of her own that didn't work, and viewers learn she met Anna at a support group. In real life, Kardashian also went through the IVF process and had a difficult second pregnancy (which led to surrogacy for her third and fourth children). Her ability to mine those emotions only bolsters the character's credibility.
The other real-life inspiration Kardashian may be drawing on for this role is, of course, her "momager" Kris Jenner. Whatever she reached for on that set though, it worked. Some of the best scenes of the night are the lively ones between Roberts and Kardashian, particularly in contrast to the subdued tone whenever Anna is back home or with her husband.
Surprisingly, there was one other star in the episode, and that was Andy Cohen. The Watch What Happens Live host stopped by to play himself as he interviewed Anna solo, without any other Bravolebrities in attendance. It was Anna's late-night talk show debut, and aside from some bad Tom Sandoval jokes it was another punchy highlight that helped ground this story in reality.
Despite the premiere's many flaws, it's hard not to appreciate those small moments and the updated feel. AHS has struggled these past few years to deliver a truly impactful season, despite the revolving door of prominent actors who have joined the franchise. Notably, only Roberts and Denis O'Hare, who plays renowned infertility doctor Dr. Hill, are the only two returning cast members this season. Everyone else in this cycle is a new addition and judging from the premiere, it's about time.
American Horror Story: Delicate Part 1 airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX and streams the next day on Hulu.