A person can never really know how they will react to death until death becomes a part of their life. For Sam (Madison Iseman), witnessing the brutal murder of her mother when she was still young enough to breastfeed led her to an adulthood wherein she feels more comfortable around the dead than she does her friends and boyfriend. And in watching her navigate that existence as someone with one foot happily in the grave at all times, viewers of American Horror Stories are presented with one of television’s rarely touched upon taboos … corpse fucking.
For many people, the topic of death makes them so uncomfortable that they’d prefer to not talk about it at any great length at all. In polite society, it feels as though there’s the shared unspoken fear that dwelling on death somehow brings it closer, and when given the option, most would rather avoid grappling with their own mortality while at work, sipping coffee at a cafe, or enduring yet another night of missionary sex with their partner. Life offers so many opportunities for distractions against the inevitable. But we all know what that inevitable is. We’re all going to die. Even Leonardo DiCaprio. Keeping that fact off-topic doesn’t delay the process any. Sam knows this. She learned it young and sees it every day as she prepares bodies at the funeral home she works at. And more than the sunshine that hits her face as she exits the building after a long day of work, it brings her peace.
At the beginning of this episode, which is given the very on-the-nose title of “Necro,” we get a flash of what happened to Sam’s mother when she was a child, but don’t learn the full details until the end. She never talks about the trauma she experienced with anyone in her life, not even her boyfriend, Jesse (Spencer Neville), but when a handsome new grave digger and death-removal technician named Charlie (Cameron Cowperthwaite) shows up at the funeral home, he pushes her to accept her truth. It doesn’t take much of a push.
Faking his own death with the help of a vaguely explained pill purchased on the internet, and prosthetic autopsy scars applied by a friend of his, Charlie’s body shows up on the slab. When Sam sees that the next body in line for her to prepare is that of the man she was just getting to know, and finding herself falling for, she sheds a few tears and then does what no one reading this would think to do (I hope) but most watching could guess was coming — she makes passionate love to it.
Mid-corpse ride, a loud noise from somewhere in the funeral home scares Sam off of Charlie and she runs out of the room. When she returns, Charlie’s body is gone. Crystal Liu, the writer of the episode, was presumably faced with an option at this point in the story. She could have gone to a place of the supernatural with Charlie turning out to be a vampire, unusually handsome zombie, or any other such thing. But instead she had his character pop back up in the parking lot to reveal that it was all a ruse to shock Sam into admitting that the idea of going to the bone yard with what she thought was a dead guy was exciting to her. Charlie has his own traumatic past as the only survivor in a car accident that claimed the lives of his parents and younger sibling, but his attempt to bond over their shared grief has exceeded even his own expectations. Exchanging historical death facts is one thing; this is all quite the other.
When it clicks for Sam that Charlie faked his own death, she’s mad, as she should be, but Charlie reminds her that nowhere in his scheme did the thought of her mounting his “dead” body come into the picture until she put it there. Various questions on the topic of consent did come to my mind here. Which is worse? Tricking someone into necrophilia, or performing necrophilia on someone who was really just — you know what, no. It’s bad. It’s all bad. The lesser of the evils in this scenario though is the fact that Sam just cheated on her boyfriend. Neither us as viewers nor Sam care too much about that, though, partially because of how messed up the rest of the situation is and partially because Jesse is a guy who thinks that carne asada is exotic.
From this point, we flash forward two months and see that Sam has quit her job at the funeral home and is now working as a makeup artist. She’s miserable, and not cut out for this whole blending-into-society thing — shown comically in that her makeup skills still lean very much funeral-service chic — but she’s getting by. She’s doing what she feels like she should be doing by not doing what she wants to do, which is still to hang out with dead bodies and perhaps continue to bed them. Back with Jesse, her soon-to-be husband, we see her on her wedding day as her friend describes her as the saddest bride she’s ever seen. That sadness turns to shame and then rage, when Charlie interrupts the wedding to declare his love for her.
In a flaccid attempt at romance, Jesse prepared a video montage of photos from his courtship with Sam and as it’s playing, a clip of her on top of “dead” Charlie gets spliced in. With her worst secret out in the open, there’s nowhere for Sam to go from here but fully bat-shit crazy.
Faking being “normal” is about as effective as faking being dead. With her most formative memory being that of spending three days living with the corpse of her mom, feeding bits of cereal into her rigor-mortis-frozen mouth and breastfeeding from her decaying breast, putting on a happy face and faking it to make it was never going to be a viable option. Coming to grips with this, she finally has the sort of freedom she was looking for. The darker side of that reality is that the living part, in and of itself, also no longer seems like an option. Buying a gun out of some random guy’s trunk, Sam confronts Charlie as he’s busy digging a grave and she tells him that he’s the only one who understands her, then she shoots him in the stomach. Pushing him into the grave he just dug, she hits a switch on a piece of nearby machinery that causes dirt to fill the hole. As it’s filling she crawls in and they go at it again. Horny for death till the end. Surprise! It’s another love story!