Review: ‘American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary’

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Bloody Mary is one of those ghost stories that feels universal, with almost everyone I know aware of the tale from a young age. Many long nights with friends ended with us gathered in the bathroom with the lights off, saying her name three times in the mirror. The act of summoning Bloody Mary was a test of courage among friends, seeing who chickens out before the third muttering of her name. So it was only a matter of time before American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary came to be.

Part of me was hesitant after last week’s episode, which was difficult for me to get through. However, as we know, the best thing about American Horror Stories is that each episode has a self-contained story. So if one week doesn’t work, the next one might. Angela Harvey, who served as a staff writer and story editor of Teen Wolf, writes American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary. So did her time on a supernatural series translate well to this horror series? Let’s dive in together.

[Warning: Spoilers from American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary are below!]

Wishes and their price in Bloody Mary

In a scene that felt wildly similar to one from my childhood, the episode opens with a young child standing in a dark room facing a mirror. However, instead of a flashlight, the child has a candle, flickering in her reflection as she murders the saying “Bloody Mary” three times. Golden metallic clawed hands burst through the mirror, reaching for the screaming child.

Switching focus to a group of girls standing in the bathroom, it becomes apparent quickly that what audiences just witnessed was one of the girls, Lena (Kyanna Simone), sharing the tale of Bloody Mary. Sisters Elise (Raven Scott) and Bianca (Quvenzhané Wallis) both seem incredulous at first, but decide to participate when Lena tells them that if they swear loyalty to Bloody Mary, she’d grant them each a wish.

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LtR: Elise (Raven Scott), Lena (Hyanna Simone), Bianca (Quvenzhané Wallis) and Maggie (Kyla-Drew). American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary (FX/Hulu).

So one by one, each girl stands in front of the mirror, speaking the Bloody Mary trice, calling forward a beautiful-looking apparition in the mirror, one that sent chills down my spine at the same time. Each girl asked for their wish, such as being the cheer captain or getting into the college they want, and in turn, Bloody Mary (Dominque Jackson) instructs them on how to achieve their goals. However, these means are questionable, such as spreading stolen personal videos of a fellow classmate or accusing a teacher of sexual assault. 

What plays out is a conflict of conscience, as each girl grapples with the reality of getting what they want under the guidance of Bloody Mary. Adding to that struggle is that some of the girls start dying off by Bloody Mary, the others suspect. So there becomes a race against the clock to stop Bloody Mary from these wicked games.

A flashback to Bloody Mary’s creation

Spread throughout the main story are flashbacks to how Bloody Mary came to be. Seeking refuge in a house during Civil War times, slaves believed to be on the path to the Underground Railroad became trapped by a wicked woman. This woman of the house would lock the slaves in the basement and call slave catchers to return them to their servitude.

One of these slaves that were initially trapped was Bloody Mary, however still human at the time. However, in a desperate attempt to save her people, she used her powers of Mami Wata against the catchers. She protected those in the basement but cursed herself through the misuse of her powers, causing her to assume the role of Bloody Mary. 

American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary
Dominque Jackson as Bloody Mary. American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary (FX/Hulu).

These flashbacks were some of the best and most heartbreaking parts of the episode. It felt connected to American Horror Story: Coven through the use of magic, showing a more diverse use of magic from different cultures. It also wove the horror aspects and the magic into a very real story, about a time period that actually happened. 

That gave the story more depth and more life than some of the other stories in the AHS universe. It also provided context for the tale of Bloody Mary, which while it doesn’t excuse the horrible things she brought about after her transformation, it does make this tale more human.

The good and bad of American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary

I’m not quite sure if it’s because the last episode left such a negative impact in my head or because I truly liked this one, but American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary seemed to stand out for this season. It took something I was super familiar with, a story that is not original but more universal, and added the typical AHS twist to it. I think that adding a human aspect to Bloody Mary made the story that much better. 

I liked that for the most part, this episode didn’t have stars that were AHS staples. It gave the episode new energy that I missed from some of the older seasons. It’s always fun to see fan favorites return to the universe, but sometimes we just need some other talent to join in so it isn’t the same performance over and over.

The one thing that struck me negatively about this episode is that it didn’t have time to properly flesh out the entire story it needed or wanted to explore. The story had some cool concepts, but it needed a longer season of 6 to 10 episodes, allowing for a deeper exploration of the flashbacks and creation of Bloody Mary. As a result, at times the episode felt rushed or hurried through beats that needed more time to breathe. I think it could have even been a similar story to Rubber (Wo)man from season one which required two episodes to tell its story.

Final Thoughts of American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary

While this episode could have benefited from a longer form of storytelling, it didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Dominque Jackson who played Bloody Mary was excellent, bringing a real chill and charm to this ghost story. I would love to see more of Jackson in AHS. SJ Main Muñoz’s work as director on this episode was fantastic, providing audiences with an immersive world to get lost in. I think American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary shows how much effort is being put into this season, which is leagues better than the one that came before it.

American Horror Stories: Bloody Mary is currently on Hulu. What did you think of the episode? Let us know over on Twitter! And if you haven’t already, check out my review on last week’s American Horror Stories: Milkmaids.

Review: American Horror Stories: Milkmaids

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