‘Milkmaids,’ Myth and Mania: Episode 4 of ‘American Horror Stories’ Season 2

Recovering from its blunder last week, the fourth installment of “American Horror Stories” comes back in full force, delivering on aspects of horror both mental and physical.



Promotional poster for “Milkmaids,” which is now streaming on Hulu. (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

Blythe Bouza, Senior Staff Writer

After a terrifyingly disastrous episode last week, “American Horror Stories” (AHS(S)) takes some steps toward redeeming itself with this week’s episode, “Milkmaids.” 

Upon seeing Cody Fern’s name on the casting announcement for this episode, I immediately had higher hopes as well as higher expectations for this episode. A veteran of a plethora of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk projects such as “American Horror Stories” (AHS), AHS(S) and even “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” Fern’s presence put me at ease before knowing the plot of the episode. 

“Milkmaids” follows a community in 1757 New England where smallpox runs rampant. People are dying one by one, and the town’s inhabitants are willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the disease from taking away any more of their loved ones. 

We first meet Celeste (Julia Schlaepfer), a milkmaid and part-time prostitute who offers the services of her body in more ways than one. Covered in boils but never falling ill herself, Celeste believes the pus from her wounds is blessed by Saint Lazarus himself and that the men she has “serviced” are therefore living long and healthy lives. 

This opening scene alone provides strong aspects of bodily horror and gore, something we haven’t seen much of in this season amidst the dolls, ghosts and home invaders. It’s refreshing and jarring, to say the least. 

In comes the evil Pastor Walter (Seth Gabel), a member of Celeste’s clientele and a large hypocrite. Unsure of how to save his congregation from the ever-growing epidemic, Walter manipulates those around him to resort to cannibalism, influencing them to dig up their dead and eat their hearts. Our villainous man of the cloth thinks that these rituals are bound to cure smallpox.

The two plot points mentioned above are a strong start for “Milkmaids,” and the episode only gets more intriguing, gruesome and tension-filled from here. Not only is the plot developed well in its horror aspect but also in relationships between characters. The rift between Walter and congregation member Thomas Browne (Cody Fern) causes an unexpected love (or hate, depending on how you look at it) triangle between three of the main characters in the episode.

While I do want to give the creative team props for developing an episode that feels properly written, organized and holistically thorough, credit must also be given to the actual myth that inspired “Milkmaids.” The fact that there’s a concrete “origin story” for the episode to piggyback on helps this fourth episode to succeed. 

“Milkmaids” brings all facets of its story together quite well, with strong acting performances all around and an alluring narrative. The episode also combines different elements of horror with gross pustules from the smallpox and chilling stories from myth and societal outcasts. It builds a magnificent fictitious world.

I’m hoping that AHS(S) continues to improve with the season’s remaining episodes; however, given the vacillation between mediocre, horrid and solid, we might just have to take it week by week.