American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 11, “Magical Thinking”

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Ding dong, Dell is dead! And what a relief. Although he had some well-acted scenes with Matt Bomer and Evan Peters, Michael Chiklis was severly underused. Dell worked more as a symbol—his homosexuality and associated shame marking him as an interior freak—than a full-fledged character. He did accomplish a few things in this season of AHS: namely, he killed Ma Petite and helped break Jimmy out of jail. I suppose you could say he had a character arc, considerably softening after carrying out Stanley’s demands and establishing a connection with his son. But he always seemed peripheral, and any time spent with Dell meant sacrificing time with better-developed characters, especially when the most recent batch of episodes have been stretched so thin. So I’m not sorry to see him go.

 

If only Ryan Murphy had, over the course of the season, made Dell as interesting as he made Chester Creb in one episode. While I still think introducing a brand-new character this late in the game is a bit of cheat, Neil Patrick Harris has injected some much-needed vitality into the home stretch of AHS: Freak Show. Chester is intriguing, and while he is clearly disturbed and may well be a brutal murderer, Neil Patrick Harris imbues him with undeniable charm and pathos. It’s understandable that the freak show would respond positively to his presence. Even though Elsa gives him a good bit of side-eye when he suggests his ventriloquist dummy, Marjorie, live in Elsa’s tent, she doesn’t renege on selling him the freak show; he may be a chameleon peddler, but his meal ledger somehow demonstrates that he is adequately well-heeled to take over her business. Bette and Dot, on a mission to lose their virginity, immediately zero in on Chester, and consummate the deed, despite the fact that he insists on holding Marjorie while they have the sex. Maybe everyone thinks his relationship with Marjorie is odd, but oddities don’t faze the members of the freak show, and Chester seems like a decent fellow. Right?

 

NPH and Marjorie

What guy isn’t calmed by pre-coital puppets? (Neil Patrick Harris, AHS:Freak Show, FX)

 

The answer depends on whether or not Marjorie is actually responsible for the murders of Chester’s wife, Lucy, and her lover, Alice. Does she really come to life in the form of Jamie Brewer and pummel people to death with a hammer? Or does Chester, suffering perhaps from PTSD and the metal plate in his head, hallucinate her human form while carrying out his own violent proclivities? (We do know that his eyes play tricks on him since when he first looks at the twins, he sees Alice and Lucy). I hope we learn how he and Marjorie were united; did it happen after the war and his injury, in the four years during which he continued to wear his uniform? Was anyone else killed prior to Chester’s arrival in Jupiter? Whatever, the case, Marjorie is creepy, and by the end of the episode she/ “she” is insisting that, for his next magic act, Chester saw Bette and Dot in half.

 

Another positive about Chester: his juxtaposition with Dandy. Chester is on Dandy’s shit list because, as Dandy’s private investigator discovers, the twins seem to be in love with Chester, and they were “supposed to be” Dandy’s; Dandy weeps at their betrayal. I still don’t feel that AHS adequately established the relationship between Dandy and the Tattler sisters or demonstrated how he grew to love them so intensely, but his feelings have driven him to frame Jimmy; in that light, it’s understandable that he would have an even greater animosity for Chester. Jimmy was never a worthy adversary, but in Chester—whom Dandy recognizes as a fellow “sicko”—Dandy may have a legitimate opponent. Both are twisted, but in different ways; Dandy embraces his identity as a “bringer of death” and revels in the mayhem he creates, while Chester fights and represses his inclinations, maybe even disassociating from himself by blaming Marjorie. He doesn’t want to inflict pain, while pain is Dandy’s raison d’etre. I wish Chester had been introduced earlier in the season because I would have liked AHS to have more thoroughly explored the power struggle between him and Dandy and probed what nuances they bring out in one another. There’s not much time now to pit them against each other, but nonetheless I’m more engaged by this storyline than I have been by any since the days of Twisty. I’m not sure what Dandy’s plan is; as my friend Cat noted, all Dandy does is move Chester’s doll. To what end? How can he know what Marjorie will say or do? Even if he somehow has insight into her “reaction,” does he actually want the twins to die? And what does hiding her in the main tent have to do with any of this? Did he really just want to worry Chester? If so, why not just kidnap her? Surely, Dandy is capable of a more diabolical plan than “causing temporary distress.” At least he was rocking an awesome fur coat!

 

dandy coat

Resplendent. (Finn Wittrock, AHS: Freak Show, FX)

 

 

ASSORTED THOUGHTS

 

Jimmy does, in fact, lose both his hands. This really doesn’t seem like a big deal to anyone but Jimmy, so I almost forgot about it, too.

 

There is a nice moment between Dell and Jimmy in the hospital, as Dell helps him eat. Then the writers have to go and ruin it by having Dell say, “I’m almost 60 years old and I’m feeding my son for the first time.” As my friend Angie observed, “Both the audience and Jimmy get spoon-fed at the same time.”

 

How on earth did Maggie manage to abscond with Ma Petite and her tank? While she was at it, she should have grabbed Jimmy’s hands, too.

 

Toulouse speaks! He leans in for a tongue-kiss with Bette, who complains that she wanted him to kiss her, not lick her. He shrugs, “But I am French.” Good one, Toulouse! (And I didn’t realize he is actually French.)

 

The other funny line of the episode, perhaps my favorite of the whole season: as Chester preps to go on stage, Paul tells him to go easy on the rouge because “You look like you just marched out of the Nutcracker Suite.”

 

nph

Having seen NPH in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I’d never begrudge him cosmetics. (AHS: Freak Show, FX)