American Horror Story Delicate is back to let actresses’ freak flags fly

American Horror Story: Delicate is obviously pulling from a variety of sources: It’s based on Danielle Valentine’s book Delicate Condition, but its first half is full of nods to Dead Ringers and Rosemary’s Baby. This isn’t anything new — throughout the good seasons, the bad seasons, and (most frequently) the desperately uneven sequences, American Horror Story has pulled liberally and chaotically from the horror genre. It’s a series that can be almost hauntingly unreliable. However, even at its most unstable points, there is one thing that AHS has always been able to rely on: allowing certain actresses to let their freak flags fly.

In this case, two performers serve as the series’ prime creative outlets. In one corner, we have franchise mainstay Emma Roberts, playing Anna, a young actor struggling with conceiving a child and falling into a rabbit hole of conspiracy and satanic pacts. Roberts doesn’t get anything as maliciously gleeful as, say, her role as a witch in AHS: Coven, but she’s game for anything, no matter how ridiculous — she approaches solemn scenes and scenes where she has to vomit a seemingly endless amount of black bile with the same enthusiasm. And playing the devil on her shoulder is Kim Kardashian, the show’s token bit of stunt casting this season, as her brash publicist, Siobhan. It’s a role that she’s received solid notices for, allowing Kardashian to fit into a long line of scene-chewing AHS stars.

Since the show’s second season, AHS had given up on the pretense of being a straightforward horror series. Instead, it’s best when it blends its gory free-for-all with obvious camp, allowing actresses like Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Lily Rabe (among many others; AHS loves nothing more than finding some new, weird spot for a recurring performer) to go as hammy or vicious as they want to for multiple seasons. In the aforementioned Coven, Bates plays both an unrepentant racist serial killer and a comically hysterical severed head, an encapsulation of what AHS can allow for. This is a sweet spot for Kardashian, an actor who has never really been tested in a way that isn’t blandly self-referential.

Photo: Eric Liebowitz/FX

That’s not to say that we can forget the name behind the character — there are few casting choices more knowing than getting a Kardashian to play a crass, top-floor “You’ll be a star if you stick with me, baby” character in a story about losing your soul (and your autonomy) in the entertainment industry. Kardashian and the AHS crew, though, takes advantage of the franchise’s heavy-handed macabre satire to make it work outside of expectations.

You get the initial Hey, it’s Kim Kardashian! reaction, and then watch as Kardashian turns her familiar cultural status into dead-eyed malevolence. She serves as Anna’s best friend and cheerleader, while also espousing a funhouse mirror of a #girlboss attitude, but every scene reeks of creepy insincerity. Whether this is true to life is likely up to how often one binge-watches her constant reality TV offerings, but Kardashian’s Siobhan seems only pretending to be human.

Divided into two parts, the first half of AHS: Delicate ends with a cultlike presence seeking vengeance and a deal with Satan that promises immense fame. All the while, Anna struggles with her attempts at pregnancy (and the outside forces seeking to undermine and control her) and Siobhan provides her with a siren song of ultimate fame. Overall, it’s fairly slow in comparison to AHS’ prior chaotic offerings, and much of the payoff of Anna’s confusion seems to be reserved for the second half (set to debut in 2024).

But while this may be disappointing to those that prefer their AHS seasons to be a wild and wooly ride from start to finish, it’s a boon for Kardashian. Rather than treated as a novelty act, she’s given the chance to blossom into monstrousness. And that allows her to sit comfortably among TV’s most consistently bizarre ensemble.

American Horror Story: Delicate part 2 premieres Wednesday, April 3, at 10 p.m. EDT/PDT on FX. New episodes will drop every Wednesday and stream on Hulu the next day.

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