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"Milkmaids" is the fourth episode of the second installment of American Horror Stories. It premiered August 11, 2022 on Hulu.


Synopsis[]

An outcast risks everything in order to save her small town from devastation.[1]

Plot[]

In 1757, plague has ravaged New England. A woman (Rachel Browne) lays dying in bed, as the doctor tells her husband (Thomas) and son (Edward) that nothing can be done for the pain. Her friends and two daughters are also dead, with the richer victims buried in the cemeteries.

Pastor Walter visits the "House of Lazarus", paying Celeste for her sexual services. He notices a lesion on her shoulder, and she reveals it to be the same smallpox that has killed so many. She says she is not contagious, and that her wounds have the power to heal; those who lick her pustules become immune. She convinces him to taste her pus, and he wretches. He accuses her of being an occultist, and she counters that the new minister shouldn't come to her for sex. He leaves, disgusted, as she looks to her statue of St Lazarus for support.

Celeste barges into Rachel's funeral to warn the congregation against Walter. They turn on her, and the mob chases her out of the church. She stumbles and breaks her arm on the hillside. Thomas tells the crowd to leave her alone, as he does not want to further disrupt his wife's funeral with a lynch mob. Later, Walter is affronted at the challenge to his authority. To appease him and challenge the plague that is destroying them, Thomas tells the minister of a ritual he heard about. In a nearby town, he says, the diseased corpses had barely decomposed and the townspeople removed and burnt the hearts of the fallen. The two conspire to see if doing so will help their own town, and cut out Rachel's heart. Walter asks if burning the hearts will heal those living with the infection, and Thomas suggests that it won't but that eating it might. Over Thomas' objections, Walter bites into Rachel's heart.

Thomas is disgusted, but serves it in a stew to Edward. Milkmaid Delilah arrives during dinner to deliver milk, giving Edward an opportunity to sneak the stew to their cat. Delilah has drawn Walter's condemnation for being unmarried and living with animals, spreading the word that she is a witch to the congregation. After she has left, Thomas bids Edward to eat more stew.

Delilah finds Celeste in her barn taking refuge, where Delilah has lived since her house collapsed. Delilah sets Celeste's arm and binds it, while offering her guest a book. It becomes clear that Delilah is not a religious believer, and that Walter will not pursue Celeste to her farm.

At Rachel's graveside, Thomas consoles his son and they discuss grief. Walter approaches and inquires why they have not returned to church since the funeral. The pastor offhandedly comments about their "special communion" and Thomas sends his son home before the truth is spoken. Thomas regrets the horrific act, even if it has brought them robust health. Walter presents the widower with the heart of another parishioner, and chews it in front of him. Walter declares that all should know the source of their salvation.

Celeste reads as she milks, her pustules now covering large patches of her skin. Delilah realizes Celeste's infection and wants to isolate her guest, but Celeste says that she is not sick. Her infection began when she was herself a milkmaid, and she became pregnant. The father was disgusted by her pox and pregnant size and took their child from her after birth. She turned to prostitution and men began to fetishize her boils, becoming immune to contagion as they "feasted" on what fluids her body produced. Delilah wants to reproduce the science that is causing the immunity, but Celeste insists it is a divine miracle — not science. Celeste is frustrated at Delilah's lack of faith, and is unnerved at Delilah's growing romantic attraction to her. Edward covertly discovers the two passionately embracing as Delilah takes on Celeste's healing elixir.

Walter includes the call to cannibalism in his sermon, and the congregation eagerly moves to exhume the recent dead. Under cover of night, they spread out to gather hearts.

The two lovers muse on why some get sick and others don't. Delilah finds blood in her cow's milk, which Celeste is unconcerned about. Delilah explains that scientists have found microorganisms spreading contagions like cowpox (which Delilah had when she was young), but it sparks the idea that there is a link between between surviving cowpox and immunity to smallpox. She hurries away to bring the medicinal milk to Thomas and Edward, leaving a pensive Celeste to milk as much from her cow as possible and to question whether she was ever a true healer.

Edward fills in Delilah on what the townspeople are doing, and Delilah is horrified by the insane notion. He rebuffs the thought of getting sick, saying that he is strong and that those who are weak deserve to die (per Walter's "natural order"). She forces him to drink, then runs to the cemetery to try and spread her cure to the diggers. Thomas intercepts her, saying that she shouldn't be there. He insists that the lack of decomposition is a sign that evil is afoot. She explains that the shallow groundwater means that salty soil preserves corpses so that they don't decompose quickly. Walter intervenes, saying that the milkmaid cannot be trusted. She tells him that she has brought the cure for everyone, but lets slip that Celeste is at her farm preparing more. He scoffs at the prostitute's involvement, and Delilah urges that the men who have survived have done so because of exposure to Celeste. He counters that they are instead saved by righteousness, and answers her call to "stop the madness" by hitting Delilah with a rock. The townspeople rip coffins out of the hallowed ground, eating the hearts fresh out of the afflicted corpses.

Thomas tries to hold off Walter from attacking Celeste, confessing that the woman is Edward's true mother. The father will not yield, and the holy man stabs him in the chest. He menaces Celeste, disregarding her pleas that all she was trying to do was help the community. He responds that there is no altruism, only hunger for power. He assaults her against a barn post, intent on one more tryst before kills her. A newly awake Delilah fatally stabs him in the back. Now safe from their tormentor, the two women embrace. Thomas, still alive, sees his two lovers with disgust. He questions whether the two "wicked" women have corrupted each other, and he blames them for destroying the town with their perversions. He even blames Edward's lack of social affect on Celeste's inherited corruption. Succumbing to his own wounds, he slashes and kills Delilah. Despondent, Celeste walks away with Delilah's cow and burns the barn behind her. She enters Thomas' house to console her biological son, but he doesn't recognize her. She explains that his father is dead, and that she is going to make sure he doesn't get sick. She asks him to trust her, and they embrace. He asks her if she is a milkmaid, and she responds that she is. He says that "nothing is so unclean as a woman that lives with beasts", as he stabs her and eats her heart.

Featured Characters[]

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References[]

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