(Warning: This post contains spoilers for “American Horror Stories” Episode 5, “Ba’al.”)
“American Horror Story” newcomer Vanessa Estelle Williams stars as therapist Dr. Berger in the fifth episode of FX on Hulu’s “American Horror Stories.”
The episode follows Liv Whitley (Billie Lourd), a young, new mom in a constant state of worry, questioning her mothering skills, while Dr. Berger assures her that everything she’s feeling is normal. Then, of course, Liv’s husband, Matt (Ronen Rubinstein) gaslights her into thinking she summoned a demon from a fertility statue (when it’s really just him and his friends putting on a show with special effects and props), slowly but surely causing Liv to further descend into doubt and paranoia. Nevertheless, Dr. Berger – unaware of the true cause of her stress and worrying – continues to ground Liv, prescribing her medication and assuring her that she’ll be fine.
While playing a therapist to a woman being tricked into thinking she summoned a demon into her newborn’s life is a bit of a big ask, Williams said getting into the mindset of the character came to her naturally.
“It’s part of my list of gifts and talents – I’m sort of a psychologist to my friends and family,” the actress laughed. “I’ve learned in later years not to give unsolicited advice, but as an actor and person, I’m curious about the human mind and about how and why we do the things that we do, so this episode was just in line with my curiosity and fascinations.”
The actress also said that she enjoyed doing research into things like postpartum mental health and psychosis and the various pronunciations for the things Dr. Berger thinks Liv is experiencing, as in doing so, her acting became more informed.
“I took a deep dive into it and really broke down what that meant and exactly how it’s affecting her, so, [playing] her doctor, I could say, ‘This is what you’re dealing with, you’re not crazy. You just feel crazy because your mind is making these weird connections. But in fact, this is the normal trajectory for someone going through what you’re going through,'” Williams said.
However, despite Dr. Berger’s logic and determination to help Liv and provide her with the tools and coping mechanisms she needs to feel better, she was also, unwillingly, looped into Matt’s gaslighting scheme, prescribing Liv medication she doesn’t actually need and believing that she’s not getting better, when in reality, it’s her husband and his friends working to drive her crazy.
“She’s been duped into believing that her client had gone off the deep end and why wouldn’t she when there’s a whole production team creating a shock movie to scare her out of her wits?” Williams said.
But of course, there’s another twist, and after Matt’s friends get gorily murdered by a real-life demon, it’s revealed that the demon is actually under Liv’s control and that they worked together to conjure up revenge against her husband and his friends. In fact, Liv makes it clear that she won’t release the demon until she gets what she needs from him.
“[The ending] was gratifying because it wasn’t about Liv being a victim, but about doing right by people, in a way. You can’t just use these dark forces in order to ruin people,” Williams said. “I also love that not only did Liv get her power back in her demeanor, but that the demon had to reckon with her power.”
She continued: “What I like to think is that this [episode] is a metaphor for balancing our ‘shadow’ selves and acknowledging the dark forces around us and being able to defeat and handle them.”
“Really, my main takeaway from this is ‘master your demons,'” Williams laughed.
New episodes of “American Horror Stories” will premiere Thursdays on FX on Hulu.