mojogobo is back with our continuing recaps of AHS: Freak Show! Due to vacations, holidays, and other extenuating circumstances, we had a lull for a few weeks, but we promise to have the rest of the season covered.
Let’s first review all the deaths that have occurred in the past three episodes because there have been a LOT:
MA PETITE: Hugged to death by Dell, at the behest of Stanley (not so much “behest,” I suppose—Stanley has been blackmailing Dell to kill a freak for him since learning he was gay).
ETHEL: Knife through the eye, courtesy of Elsa, after Ethel threatened to shoot her for Ma Petite’s demise; subsequently decapitated by Stanley to draw focus from the knife wound in the eye.
GLORIA: Shot in the head by Dandy for no good reason (she had him see a psychiatrist once and then proposed a cruise, which sounds delightful and hardly the grounds for murder); drained of her blood for Dandy’s restorative bath.
MAYBE PENNY’S DAD: After he had her face tattooed, tongue forked, and hair shaved into a “Moe from the Three Stooges,” Penny the Lizard Girl (with the assistance of Desiree, Suzi, and Eve), tarred and feathered him; while Penny refrained from castrating him and feeding him to the crocodiles, could he really have survived?
REGINA: Surprisingly not killed by Dandy, at least not directly; all he had to do was promise the cop that had come to arrest him a MILLION DOLLARS, and, without pause, the cop turned and blasted Regina.
AVON LADY: Head removed by Dandy and sewn onto Gloria’s body to form a life-sized Bette and Dot marionette.
TUPPERWARE PARTY GALS: All slain by Dandy (did he have a katana?) and left to float in the swimming pool; in a serendipitous turn, Dandy could use the Tupperware for transporting their blood back to his bathtub.
Then we have the characters who had brushes with death but managed to come out OK on the other side:
PAUL: A stomach wound was nothing that a little TLC from Penny couldn’t fix.
EVE: It’s hard to call this a “brush with death” because, even though Dell attacked her, she promptly kicked his ass.
JIMMY: Dell got him drunk and was ready to clock him with a rock in the alley, but father-son bonding triumphed.
DELL: Plagued by guilt over murdering Ma Petite and even more so by the “shame” of his homosexuality, he attempted to hang himself—but Desiree foolishly cut him down.
ELSA: Ethel shot her in the wooden leg—since the lovelorn Italian artist who created her legs in the first place isn’t around, I guess she’ll need to fill that with putty—but Elsa managed to take Ethel out before she could aim higher.
THE TWINS: Stanley and Elsa found Bette and Dot, who Ethel had squirreled away in a hotel for safety, and took them to the Murder Barn, under the premise that a doctor was coming to separate them; luckily, they decided to skedaddle so Dot could confess her love to Jimmy.
With so much slaughter and almost-slaughter, you would think that Freak Show has been a breath-taking thrill ride. But, to the contrary, I’ve found the last few episodes rather dull. The sheer amount of death has become monotonous, and even though Ryan Murphy promised that no one would be resurrected this season, he found a loophole by bringing back actors as figments of other characters’ imaginations. While I am glad that the show hasn’t lost Kathy Bates, Ryan Murphy’s reliance on having dead characters return in some shape or form has plagued AHS in every season; this tendency diminishes the plots’ stakes because we as viewers don’t ever really need to say good-bye to these characters.
Also par for the AHS course: a lack of focus that typically occurs at this point in each AHS installment. Where is Freak Show headed? Significant relationships have already been unraveled (e.g., Elsa/Ethel and Dandy/Gloria) or resolved (e.g., Dot realizing that she and Bette should remain together). The plot is stagnating; it appears from the previews for next week, Stanley will continue picking off the freaks, and Dandy will continue killing to his heart’s content; he’s decided he is a god among man, and he must have some magical powers in order to so easily get away with murder and manipulate the police force (he doesn’t even have Gloria any more to assist/cover for him). The one new development in “Tupperware Party Massacre” is the revenge that Dandy is taking upon Jimmy by framing him for said massacre; by episode’s end, Jimmy is in jail. I guess his motivation is substantiated; Jimmy rejected him from the freak show, can finger Dandy for working with Twisty, and took away Dandy’s somehow-beloved twins. But the two have barely been established as adversaries, so the fact that Dandy would devote his energies to making Jimmy’s life hell still doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. My fear is that both Stanley and Dandy’s stories are going to be wrapped up in some pat way with the freaks banding together and exacting revenge, in an attempt to get the audience to cheer at the loyalty and moxie of the freak-show family. Sure, it could be emotionally satisfying to see them deliver these villains’ comeuppance, but it’s a too-easy, too-obvious solution.
The anachronistic musical numbers seemed to have fallen by the wayside; the last one we had was Jimmy’s rendition of “Come as You Are.” He delivered a faithful cover (Tate Langdon would be stoked), but why was Jimmy singing in the first place? And for no audience? He just had to jump up on stage to purge his angst? Brian Moylan at Vulture has railed against AHS playing fast and loose with its own rules, and I couldn’t agree more.
Just as the songs have petered out, so has the depiction of Paul and Penny’s relationship. After her father has her tattooed, she comes to Paul, who embraces her. The next time we see them—at Ma Petite’s grave—they don’t even interact, and last week, she was nowhere to be seen. And Paul was again relegated to the role of “holding people back,” this time, restraining Maggie after the police arrested Jimmy. Was “Bullseye” just a one-off for Paul? It would be a shame because there is a lot of material to be mined from his character, and his love affair with Penny, as she adjusts to her new appearance and life. It seems, though, that Ryan Murphy is going to just hopscotch over all that good stuff to rush the plot and make room for “shocking moments.” But the more intimate moments are the ones that resonate with me: Ethel and Elsa’s last conversation, Bette and Dot coming to terms with one another, Dot’s offering her affection to Jimmy. When AHS gives short shrift to its characters’ interactions and development, it strips away the emotional core of and our investment in the storylines. Give the characters their due shrift!
Not to beat a dead horse, but I must again ask: will we ever see the freaks perform their individual acts? At this point, I’m thinking “no.” There are never even spectators to perform to.
Why was Ima Wiggles introduced? Just to fill the freaks’ dwindling numbers with another side show archetype, the fat lady? Or to illustrate the nadir of Jimmy’s drunken grief over Ethel, as he feeds—and bones—Ima? If the latter, it’s pretty insulting to Ms. Wiggles.
When Stanley stops Dell outside of the freak show grounds, why did he pull out his, er, magic wand? Was it to cast a spell on Dell and stop him in his tracks? Even more firmly place him under his thumb by mesmerizing him into “sharing their shame”?
I have taken a poll, and the general consensus is that blood baths are yucky, but Dandy’s bum is not.