The third episode of American Horror Stories, titled Tapeworm, explores the dark underbelly of the fashion and film industries. The artists are required to maintain certain body standards, which not only deteriorate their physical but also their mental and emotional health. One can argue that no one forces them to push those boundaries, but we have set certain preconceived notions and if an artist fails to follow those standards, then they will soon be out of work and out of the limelight. Hence, to protect their dreams and their careers, they convince themselves to take extreme measures to look pretty, thin, and perfect. The third episode tells one such story where a small-town girl ends up in a big city to make her dreams come true but is soon hit with the toxic reality of fame. To become a supermodel, Vivian Lee Finch has to lose weight, but unfortunately, there is no easy way to do that. She might lose her life, but she is ready to jump into oblivion.
How Does Vivian End Up in Dr. Lau’s Clinic?
Filled with confidence, Vivian Lee Finch arrives in New York City from Davenport, Iowa. Vivian eats Vogue for breakfast, and her only dream is to be featured on the prestigious magazine cover. She doesn’t waste a moment and steps into the most famous modeling agency in the city, Sheila Klein. However, seeing so many thin and pretty models waiting for their auditions is the first stroke of reality that Vivian is hit with. It is not an easy industry, and there is a lot of competition. You don’t rise up the ladder here, but you claw your way up as blood flows down your fingers.
Coincidentally, Sheila finds Vivian’s face fresh and interesting and quickly calls her for an audition. Sheila assures that Vivian is talented—maybe one of the best she has auditioned for in recent times—but she couldn’t sign her. Vivian is too fat to become a model, and Sheila doesn’t shy away from fat-shaming here. The new girl in town quickly understands the wicked standards on which the industry functions. Talent is not the key here; it never has been. If you fit the bill, you are hired, irrespective of your hard work.
Fortunately, Vivian finds a shoulder to cry on, as she has befriended Heather Billings from Montana, who has been in the industry for a long time. Being naive, Vivian tells her that she would diet and exercise, but those things don’t do overnight magic. Vivian needs something more extreme, so Heather hands her the address of Dr. Thaddeus Lau. The doctor has his clinic in a shady alley in the city, and though it’s been a red flag since the beginning, Vivian is willing to do anything to become thin because Sheila wants it.
What Happens When Vivian Takes Mondify?
It is no secret that many fashion models and celebrities pop pills like “cereals.” And how they get these pills is just another plot that American Horror Stories can explore in one of their episodes. Speaking of Mondify, Dr. Lau himself tells Vivian that it’s a diabetes drug, but he prescribes it off-label. So, this drug peddler in a white coat is giving her medication that can kill her, but that’s the only way she can lose weight and get hired in the Hollywood industry. Vivian has to take one shot of Mondify every week, and her weight will fly off. The thing is, when you consult a dietician or indulge in exercise, your body is not deprived of any nutrients, but Mondify breaks down the entire body and makes you hollow from within. Symbolically, it is what the fashion industry demands: empty shells who don’t question or raise a voice but just stand there silently like mannequins.
In four months, Vivian loses weight like magic. She manages to get another audition with Sheila Klein, who is impressed by her weight transformation and signs her without any fuss. The reason is, Vivian, like a docile small-town girl, hustled to fit in with the standards laid out by agencies like that of Sheila, and it does make them feel like God. These petty humans sitting behind a desk want to feel empowered, and exploiting people is one of their most exciting hobbies.
What is Taenia Asiatica?
I really like the rotten fruits in the background of Vivian’s first photo shoot because, as you can see, that is how the glamor industry looks on close inspection. Nevertheless, Vivian loses consciousness on the shoot and literally breaks her nose. She visits the Doctor Supreme once again and reveals to him that she has neuromuscular scoliosis, which means she has had a curved spine since childhood. Dr. Lau lashes out at Vivian for not revealing this information to him before taking the shots. Yes, he should be angry and worried because if there had been a proper doctor in his place, he should have run the tests before prescribing Mondify, but okay, it’s Vivian’s mistake. In the end, he says that the medication can cause frequent blackouts and kill her in the process, so she should stop it as soon as possible. But Vivian still hasn’t achieved her dream. She is nowhere close to it and, therefore, begs the doctor to give her something natural. Dr. Lau takes her words quite literally, though.
The magical doctor presents ‘Taenia Asiatica,’ a real-life Asian tapeworm found in pigs and humans. Well, please do get the pig references here because society is slowly turning us into one. Nevertheless, Dr. Lau’s tapeworm is surely rare and is as wonderful as Mondify, the only issue being that the parasite stays inside your body and crawls and eats you whenever it wants. Yes, that’s the horror element, or the most creepy part, of American Horror Stories Episode 3. The precautions to take while having a living monster inside you are: don’t overfeed it. The parasite is as greedy as our own desires for fame and name, and therefore, it is going to amplify as it grows. Vivian, on the other hand, doesn’t follow the only instructions that the doctor warned her of and hogs like there is no tomorrow. As a result, she not only loses her senses, but the parasite takes control of her mind, and because of this, she becomes extremely jealous of the people around her. She doesn’t want to share anything with her friends and colleagues, just like the hungry tapeworm doesn’t want to give any food to Vivian’s body and wants to keep it all to itself. Vivian keeps losing weight until she becomes a living skeleton.
How does Vivian die?
As mentioned earlier, the only way to rise up in the fashion industry is to pull the one who is already at the top. Vivian had mentioned to Heather at the beginning of the episode that she would send the rope down, but we only smiled at her naivety because that was the most unrealistic thing she said in the entire episode. In the end, we saw a completely different version of her. She started demeaning people without a second thought. The new IT girl had become a jealous monster, and there was no holding back.
Vivian had the chance to be on the cover of Vogue, but by the time she reached there, she had been turned into a skeleton, and therefore the shoot had to be canceled. In her pursuit of dreams, Vivian started chasing greed. Obsession with anything never ends well, and that is what ultimately happened with the “new girl.” In just 4-5 months, she went from being nobody to being somebody and then being no one again. That is what happens when you run after fame without talent and hard work. Quick success is always fatal.
Vivian ran to the doctor’s clinic once again to get rid of the monster inside her. We have to say that Dr. Lau is one of the funniest doctors we have ever seen. He has never read the phrase that prevention is better than cure. He gives a detonator to a child and expects her not to press the button. After finding out about Vivian’s condition, Dr. Lau gives her a solution that would force the tapeworm to leave Vivian’s body at the nearest exit. He expected the parasite to be a foot long if Vivian had eaten as per his instructions, which she didn’t, so we knew what monster we were going to witness in the end. At home, Vivian drank the solution and pulled out an anaconda version of the tapeworm, which wanted to eat more and more. During American Horror Stories Episode 3’s ending, Vivian’s own greed to become a supermodel killed her and left behind a parasite that would infect others in the vicinity.
What Will Happen to Heather Billings?
The tapeworm represents a circle that is going to repeat again and again, and there is no end to it. Vivian was its first victim, and soon it caught another, i.e., Heather. After becoming a new home for the tapeworm, Heather not only became thin, fitting Sheila’s standard, but also reflected the confidence that was needed to become a supermodel. Sheila quite literally asks her if she is hungry, to which Heather replies that she is starving. We all know how this chain of events would end in her case as well. The parasite would consume Heather just like it did Vivian. The monster doesn’t feed on food as much as it feeds on human greed, which is why it is no surprise that it is not only found in humans but also in pigs. If George Orwell is correct, then there is a very thin line differentiating humans from pigs, and that thin line is greed, symbolized by the tapeworm in this case.