American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 2, “Massacres and Matinees”

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SPOILERS ABOUND

 

Meep meep meep, meep meep meep meep.

 

American Horror Story: Freak Show claims its first victim from Elsa’s troupe when Meep the Geek is sent to prison for the murder of Detective Bunch. He leaves in a cop car, face pressed to the rear window, and returns in a sack, having been beaten to death by his fellow inmates. Poor simple Meep, killed in his Koo Koo the Bird Girl costume. At least we will now be spared the sight of his biting the heads off chick/ens.

 

Meep's last stand (Ben Woolf, AHS: Freak Show, FX)

Meep’s last stand (Ben Woolf, AHS: Freak Show, FX)


Jimmy takes Meep’s death to heart, and he admittedly bears some of the responsibility. He attempts to frame new strongman/bossypants Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) by placing Detective Bunch’s badge in Dell’s trailer and calling in an anonymous tip to the police. Dell finds out (Jimmy’s not a master of the surreptitious) and moves the badge under Meep’s bedroll. Even though Dell initially convinces Elsa to hire him because he is part of the “carny folk” family, he quickly reveals a disdain for freaks; Meep is an easy target, and as Elsa tells Jimmy, freaks always make good scapegoats.

 

“Massacres and Matinees” could be subtitled “Jimmy Makes A Lot of Bad Judgment Calls.” At the beginning of the episode, he’s already having second thoughts about killing Detective Bunch; the radio is broadcasting the detective’s disappearance, and what if he had a wife and kids? When Jimmy’s fellow freaks try to celebrate to chants of “Kill the copper!” (with Meep standing on the table much like Koo Koo in Freaks), Jimmy rejects his “victory cup” and yells at them all to shut up. He, Paul, and Eve then dig up the detective’s body parts (why did they chop him up if they were burying all the parts together?) so they can be burned; Jimmy pockets Bunch’s badge, and you know that badge is going to come back to haunt him.

 

Mid-dig, Jimmy changes his tune from last week’s, “If they want monsters, we’ll give them monsters,” to, “They just need to get to know us, and then they will see we are people, too.” Perhaps being a monster is not so palatable after all. In part of his new assimilationist campaign, Jimmy takes Eve, Suzi, Paul, Salty and Pepper, and Toulouse (that’s the little person with the mustache) to the local diner. Although Jimmy tries to keep the atmosphere light and reminds everyone to mind their manners, tensions immediately escalate; the waitress begins to take their orders, but a mother expresses “her child’s” discomfort, one patron walks out, and Paul takes his abandoned breakfast plate and begins eating. Dell, who is in town hanging up ads, strong-arms Paul, yells at Jimmy for giving the town a free show, and ultimately beats him up in the street, as the freaks gather to watch through the diner’s window. Fun fact: although Jimmy is unaware, Dell is actually his father; he tried to kill Jimmy when he was in infant because of Jimmy’s deformity, until Ethel ordered him out of their lives—at gunpoint.

 

Dell, and his wife, Desiree Dupree, have arrived in Florida, after fleeing Chicago; Desiree, a three-breasted hermaphrodite, was trying to “cure” a “poof” by sleeping with him, and Dell snapped his neck. Although at first Elsa refuses to employ Dell and Desiree, Dell convinces her that, given the local climate of murder and disappearances, the freak show could use extra protection. Dell demonstrates a real talent for getting what he wants; seemingly in a flash, he and Desiree are members of Elsa’s troupe, and he convinces Elsa, against her better judgment, to hold matinees while Jupiter is under a curfew. Only Ethel—who tells him he isn’t welcome—and Jimmy seem resistant to his spell.

 

Elsa’s tune changes, however, when Jimmy shows her the handbills Dell has been posting; her name appears at the bottom, under the Tattler Sisters and Desiree, and on the same line as Meep the Geek. Her immediate response: “He has to go.” She sanctions Jimmy’s plan to frame Dell with Detective Bunch’s badge, which leads to Meep’s tragic death by the end of the episode.

 

Jimmy’s final mistake is dismissing Dandy’s pleas to join the freak show. Dandy is having a trying day: his escargot is boring, girls are smelly cows, there’s no cognac in his crystal baby bottle, and his mother Gloria won’t allow him to be a “thespian.” He storms out of the house and heads to St. Petersburg, where they have “real caramel corn.” He shares his purchase with Jimmy, and then begs him to accept him into Elsa’s troupe, assuring Jimmy that he really is a freak on the inside, this is where he belongs, and Jimmy would be saving his life. But Jimmy has no patience for a poor little rich boy with five fingers and sends him on his way.

 

This is a “mistake” insofar as the fact that Jimmy, still chafing from his failed diner sit-in, fails to see Dandy’s real need for the freaks’ community because of Dandy’s wealth and physical “normality”; as a result, he inadvertently sends Dandy straight to the side of Twisty the Clown. After bashing his head on his steering wheel, Dandy returns home, spewing a litany of hate, until Gloria tells him she has a surprise. During Dandy’s absence, she takes a drive, and happens upon Twisty, taking an invigorating walk along the road. (He needed one because he looked positively knackered during his toy store murder scene.) Obliviously calling, “Clown!” as if happening upon one on a deserted road is the most natural thing in the world, Gloria hires him as Dandy’s new friend. Dandy finds him standing stock still, at the end of an indoor croquet court, in the middle of his playroom. Dandy is fascinated. He attempts to engage him in some King and I puppet play (I love that he has his own miniature stage, not unlike the one in Elsa’s freak show), although he admits to the “provocatively” silent Twisty that he prefers “real puppets like you.” While Twisty is sifting through Dandy’s toy box, Dandy peers into Twisty’s bag o’ tricks (and weapons) (and severed heads); Twisty bops him with a bowling pin and lumbers out the door—the Mott household is too twisted even for him. Dandy follows him to his bus and helps foil Bonnie and Corey’s escape, suggesting that they will have to better confine the prisoners if they are to have any fun. Dell’s not the only one concerned with security.

 

BFFs, 1952 (Finn Wittrock and John Carroll Lynch, AHS: Freak Show, FX)

BFFs, 1952 (Finn Wittrock and John Carroll Lynch, AHS: Freak Show, FX)

 

Jimmy does produce one good idea in “Massacres and Matinees” when he suggests that, given the fact that Bette is disappointingly tone deaf, Dot be given a chance to sing. Everyone is impressed with her rendition of “Dream a Little Dream,” except for Elsa; you can see the blood drain out of her face when she realizes that, with Dot’s talent, the twins are going to be more than her warm-up act. At the matinee, Dot delivers a successful rendition of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” with Bette on harmony (again, I thought the anachronistic song choice worked, although the mosh pit and Toulouse’s stage dive seemed a bit of overkill). That night, Elsa visits Bette and pours poison into her ear as Dot sleeps: Bette is the real star and Dot is trying to steal her thunder. She leaves Bette with a small knife, but to what end? Could Bette injure Dot without hurting herself? And is Elsa so fearful of being eclipsed that she is willing to sacrifice the twins, who were to be her show’s salvation? (Yes. Yes she is.)

 

LASTING IMPRESSIONS

  1. One theme I hope that AHS: Freak Show continues to tease out is the position of the freaks with respect to other marginalized identities. Desiree explicitly states that homosexuals are even lower than freaks, and I wonder if this attitude is held by AHS’s freak community at large. It is interesting, yet not surprising, that one minority will discriminate against another, even though they themselves are the target of discrimination. I don’t believe that Dandy is meant to be seen as a repressed homosexual, but Jimmy similarly dismisses his self-professed “difference” because it’s invisible; instead of accepting Dandy as a fellow outsider, he rejects him for not bearing the outer hallmarks of a freak. Race and ethnicity have not been mentioned, but AHS is certainly drawing a parallel between the freaks’ efforts to integrate and the Civil Rights movement. I think it would be far more interesting for the show to continue to explore the attitudes of minorities towards each other than to simply have the freaks stand in for “minority X.”
  2. Finn Wittrock is blowing me away. Prior to AHS, I had only seen him on All My Children in a role that didn’t require the acting chops he displayed on tonight’s episode. It would be so easy to simply play Dandy as nothing more than a spoiled, emotionally stunted rich kid, and while Dandy is both those things, Wittrock taps into the desperation beneath the surface. He throws a tantrum about something as ridiculous as caramel corn and makes you believe that he truly cares about caramel corn. And you feel his utter sincerity in his conversation with Jimmy and that his rejection will be a turning point in his life. Additionally, his line delivery is often hilarious, and he possesses a perfectly insolent jaw.
  3. In just two episodes, AHS: Freak Show has featured more outdoor settings than any other season in its entirety. Under Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s skillful direction, nature, in the glory of all its saturated hues, engulfs the characters; think, for instance, of Gloria driving down the tree-lined country road—the trees and sky are immense, and she and Twisty are tiny specks at the bottom of the screen. The episode’s opening shot circles the freak show tents before zooming in on the radio on the breakfast table; other almost-overhead shots also give a sense of the geography of the encampment. Gomez-Rejon has for seasons been a master of askew interior shots in AHS; here he indulges in his signature style while also composing shots of great symmetry (e.g., Gloria at the long dining room table, Twisty standing in the playroom). Now he also has an opportunity to work in the outdoors, and his vision at moments establishes the characters as overtaken by nature, which appears benign and beautiful, but which we know we can also birth darkness.

 

ASSORTED THOUGHTS

Twisty “hiding” between the life-sized clowns in Hanley’s toy store under signs reading “Halloween fun” = genius.

 

My first reaction to Paul taking the plate of food at the diner was frustration. I contend that AHS has not been doing an effective job of defining the freaks or making them sympathetic; here is yet another unappealing act. However, a friend pointed out that, given their segregation from the outside world, it’s understandable that the freaks’ manners would be lacking. And Paul’s gaffe further ratchets up the discord, which would be harder to believe if the group really had minded their manners.

 

Elsa asks Dell if he “barks.” Technically, someone introducing a freak act would not be called a barker, but rather an “outside talker” or “inside lecturer,” depending upon their position vis-à-vis the tent. “Barker” is not the word a carny would choose; it’ s a term audiences use. Just a nit-pick.

 

I’d like to see the freaks actually perform as something other than a band. We did see what Meep could do, but will we ever be privy to the others’ individual acts? After all, that’s what a freak show is. I am glad, however, to see Mat Fraser featured on the drums; as I’ve mentioned before, he is a professional drummer (see him playing with Coldplay here, at the 2012 Paralympics).

 

Patti LaBelle as Dora, the Motts’ maid! Her main function in this episode, aside from serving snails, is to inform Gloria that she has found animal parts behind the shed (from, no doubt, Dandy’s playtime). I hope she is given more to do in the future.

 

John Carroll Lynch is doing some excellent eye acting as Twisty the Clown. I also found his “robot arms” endearing. Then he shattered my tender feelings by pulling a head out of his bag.

 

What did you think of the reveal of Twisty’s face? I have to say I pretty much expected he would be missing most of his jaw and wished it had really been something surprising (a tiny mouth? a stitched-closed mouth?). But I did appreciate the pulsing tongue and the fact that he still has a few teeth. And his face really is pretty gross.

 

Twice in the episode, the camera ricocheted from one character’s face to another. During “Criminal,” Dot gazes lovingly at Jimmy, Jimmy turns to Elsa for the go-ahead to plant the badge in Dell’s trailer, and Elsa returns her subtle approval, while simultaneously sulking over Dot’s triumph. Later, when the police arrive to search the tents, Elsa looks to Jimmy, knowing what he’s done, Jimmy looks at Dell, anticipating he will be arrested, and Dell defiantly looks back at Jimmy, asking him why he’s so smug. As a friend said, this is clean, economical storytelling and motivated acting, where in each instant you know what that character wants.

 

Dell is not to be trifled with.(Michael Chiklis and Evan Peters, AHS: Freak Show, FX)

Don’t trifle with Dell. (Michael Chiklis and Evan Peters, AHS: Freak Show, FX)