Tapeworm is the most disturbing episode of American Horror Stories Season 3. While the first two episodes focus on tech-related horrors, episode 3 is about the modern-day hunger to be the best. This episode is definitely horrifying, to say the least. It marries disgust, fear, and anxiety with beauty, with a shocking ending that will scar you for life. This episode focuses on the fashion industry and how far models can go to achieve the perfect beauty standards of said industry. While on the outside, it seems things may have changed, it’s still a difficult cutthroat industry to crack, and people will go to any lengths to make it. Vivian’s story is the same: she’s desperate to show the world that, despite her medical situation, she can be a supermodel.
What Happens In The Episode?
Vivian Lee Finch has just moved to New York from Davenport, Iowa. She wants to crack the modeling industry, and on her first day there, she decides to go to Sheila Klein’s office. Sheila recruits the best models for the industry and will help Vivian reach her dream of being on the cover of Vogue. What Vivian doesn’t know is that this day is also open call day, which is why there are many women waiting to see Sheila just like her. At the end of the row, she sits next to a woman named Heather Billings from Montana. Heather’s been doing this for much longer than Vivian, so she tells her how things work with Sheila. Vivian takes a liking to Heather immediately, asking to be friends. In an industry where sisterhood is a crime, the two decide to stick up for each other. If one of them makes it big, they’ll lend a helping hand to the other.
Vivian gets to audition because Sheila thinks she looks “fresh”. Vivian is jovial, like a cat trying to play with light. After her walk, Sheila tells her how she thinks she is a born supermodel, making Vivian excited. Unfortunately, Vivian is too fat for Sheila, so whatever star quality she has only works if she’s skinny. Seeing how upset Vivian is and because of the promise of supporting each other, Heather tells Vivian about a doctor who helped her lose weight fast and easily. Vivian goes to the dingy little office in what looks like a very shady place to meet Dr. Lau. The doctor is well versed in the modeling and celebrity industries, suggesting a shot named “Mondify” for Vivian to lose weight. This is a continuous course, which must be taken regularly for results. She’s skeptical at first, but she’s also very keen on becoming the next “It Girl”. Vivian and Heather take the shot together back home.
Four months later, Vivian is down two sizes and “perfect” for Sheila, and she signs her. During her big shoot, she stuns everyone and even introduces Heather to Sheila as her roommate and a “very good model”. Sheila tells Vivian that Heather is a hyena, and she would do anything to eat her up and be in her position. It’s probably these words that trigger Vivian, and she faints. When she meets Dr. Lau, he’s shocked to learn that she has a heart condition. Vivian tells him that she doesn’t want it to stop her from living her life, so she thought it was unimportant to tell him. Lau tells her that there’s no way he could let her stay on. Vivian tells him how much she desires to prove to the world that she’s amazing despite her condition. Lau has no choice but to give her something to help her maintain her weight, especially since she’s getting all the big gigs now. He offers her an “ancient” technique, where you swallow a tapeworm and it takes all the weight off you (why would you do this to yourself, eww). It’s a small silkworm-looking thing, and Vivian swallows it down like a pill with some Oolong tea. Lau warns her that she’ll feel very hungry, but she must listen to him very carefully and eat moderately so as not to feed it too much. It seems Vivian doesn’t care for the advice, though, and as soon as she gets home, she stuffs her face with whatever she can get her hands on.
Along with becoming thinner and hungrier, Vivian’s personality changes too. She starts becoming the worst version of herself, hurting people to their faces. At the same time, she’s eating way more food than she should or could otherwise. She snaps at Sheila because she feels like all the other models are making fun of her and runs away in the middle of a shoot. Instead of being mad, Sheila is rather kind to Vivian. Vivian tells her that she has something inside of her, but Sheila believes it to be imposter syndrome. She doesn’t let Vivian tell her about the tapeworm (which may have been a good idea).
Heather uses an instant camera to collect snapshots of her favorite memories. It’s a camera given to her by her mother. She comes home to tell Vivian the good news that her snapshots are going to be used in a small arts magazine, which makes her proud and happy. On the other hand, Vivian is in a closet eating her heart out, and when Heather tells her that she’s acting strange and needs to clean up after herself, she snaps at her too. Heather can’t take it anymore and decides to leave before Vivian says anything worse. Vivian cries and begs her to stay, apologizing for how horrible she’s been. In the end, she tries to tell her that she has a tapeworm inside of her, but Heather thinks Vivian is trying to make fun of her. She says it’s insecurity and jealousy inside of her, which makes no sense considering Vivian has everything she dreams of while Heather has nothing.
Vivian finally has that Vogue show, but she’s too skinny, and the designer flips. Vivian now looks like skin and bones. Again, she goes through the vicious cycle of hurting someone and binge-eating to make herself feel better. Unfortunately, she’s caught by the camera people and told to get it all out of her system before the shoot. Vivian tries hard to bring it all out, but it doesn’t work because the tapeworm is eating all the food. Vivian goes to Dr. Lau immediately to get rid of the tapeworm. She tells him how the tapeworm is hungry for not just food but life itself. Lau explains how the mighty organism is rather simple. Its only goal is to consume, and that itself becomes its defense mechanism. Consume any threat that comes your way. The more the worm gets fed, the more its host assimilates with it. Finally, he gives her a liquid that will help her get rid of the worm through the nearest bodily exit (yeah, the one at the back).
What Does Heather Find?
At home, Vivian drinks the liquid in the bathroom and sits in the tub, awaiting her parasite to come out. Lau had said that if she had eaten the way he had suggested, it would be about one foot long by now, too big to surgically remove. When it comes out, though, Vivian is horrified to realize it’s as big as a mini-snake. Well over 4 feet long. As it opens its mouth in her face, she grabs it by the neck and pulls it out completely. Her biggest mistake is not killing it, because as she lays there crying, the worm attacks her and kills her. Heather arrives to collect her things and finds a dead Vivian. Before she can even realize it, the worm appears from behind her, coiling around her neck as she lays on the floor. The worm enters Heather’s body through her open mouth, making her its new host (eek). The episode ends with Heather showing up at Sheila’s office looking like a completely different person. Sheila asks Heather if she’s hungry, and Heather replies that she’s starving (nah, I need a brain cleanser).
American Horror Stories‘ Tapeworm is an episode that depicts the effects of the hunger to be better than everyone else. While it may be easy to be the best version of yourself, to be better than everyone else, you must make sacrifices, and you end up killing yourself, in this case quite literally. Vivian’s story is a very common one, and it is the industry that devours people like they are its favorite meal, and it has been starving for decades.
This episode of American Horror Stories definitely gives you the chills, and actress Laura Kariuki is to blame for that. She’s an absolute stunner and does a fantastic job of switching between anxious and scary. This was a real horror story and the best episode thus far.