“Bloody Mary” cleverly reworks another well-known legend with a sharp twist.
This recap of American Horror Stories season 2, episode 5, “Bloody Mary”, contains spoilers.
Urban legends are pretty ripe source material for a horror anthology. Just a couple of weeks ago, American Horror Stories reworked that old tale about a driver flashing his headlights at a woman, she thinks to intimidate her, but really to warn her about the man in the back seat who eventually cuts her head off. This week, as is obvious by the title, we’re dealing with a much more well-known and commonly-reinterpreted myth — that of Bloody Mary, the ghostly woman who claws your eyes out if you say her name three times in the mirror.
American Horror Stories season 2, episode 5 recap
The setup is simple enough. Bianca (Quvenzhané Wallis), Elise (Raven Scott), Maggie (Kyla-Drew), and Lena (Kyanna Simone) all recite the name in the mirror and see the same vision of Bloody Mary (Dominique Jackson), who promises to grant their respective wishes just so long as they’re willing to do deeply awful things to make them happen — accuse a school counselor of rape and molestation to get a clear path into Yale, say, or drop someone from the top of a human pyramid to become head of the cheerleading team.
There’s the usual helping of ambiguity here, but it doesn’t last long. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Bloody Mary is as real as she needs to be, especially since the kids all continue to her reflected in every glossy surface at school and elsewhere, reminding them of the pact they made and their obligations to it. The point is that nothing comes for free; that there’s no shortcut to success or personal fulfillment, and that everything comes with a cost. The other point is to make you wonder how far you’d go for your own safety, success, and peace of mind. Is your educational future worth more to you than the life and reputation of someone you barely know? Do you love your significant other — or ex-significant other, in this case — passionately enough that you’d ruin the life of another to be with them?
That’s the central tension of “Bloody Mary” — whether the girls will go to the lengths they’re being asked to in order to save themselves, especially as they begin to be brutally killed for their failure to meet Mary’s demands. That vein of moral compromise is intriguing and only becomes more so when the girls begin tracing the history of the legend and find a similar theme buried deep within it. There was once a woman, we’re told, named Margaret Worth, who ran what is described at one point as a “reverse Underground Railroad”. She lured enslaved peoples to the ostensible safety of her cabin with the help of a friendly face, and then tortured and killed them when they thought they were free. The depths of her cruelty gave her the reputation of a witch, someone whose depravity was so severe it could only be understood in supernatural terms. Eventually, she was stabbed and killed by one of the slaves she kidnapped.
If there’s one thing about this season of American Horror Stories that has made it much improved, it’s the ability it has to contort a played-out setup with a fresh twist. And “Bloody Mary” delivers in that regard. See, when Elise leads Bianca, her younger sister, back to Worth’s old cabin under the proviso of ending the curse once and for all by destroying it at its root, it’s revealed that this is actually the deal she made with Mary. Elise has essentially raised Bianca in place of their disinterested mother and has spent far too many nights sleeping in her car. Bloody Mary promised her power and security. And all she had to do to get it was deliver the blood of three innocents to the cabin.
So, Elise killed Lena and Maggie. And what looked earlier like her preventing them from betraying their own moral principles was really her ensuring that they remained “innocent” so that their blood could be used for her own bargain. Bianca is intended to be the third and final victim. However, Bianca is able to get the upper hand in the scuffle and stab Elise in the eye, at which point Bloody Mary fills in the rest of her backstory. When she realized what Mrs. Worth was up to, she called on the power of Mami Wata for aid, but in her lust for vengeance, killed not just Worth but also the young former slave who had been helping her. She knew the girl had been manipulated by loss and lies, but she was consumed by her own darkest impulses. So, Mami Wata imprisoned Bloody Mary, making her the pure reflection of truth.
Bianca, having been declared pure by Bloody Mary, slices her own hand open to complete Elise’s bargain of setting Bloody Mary free. But to reiterate the theme that has echoed throughout the episode we see once again how all things come at a cost. Bianca switches places with Bloody Mary and becomes the woman in the mirror who shows people who they really are. As the episode closes, someone calls on her, and she appears.