In the second-half of American Horror Story Freak Show‘s Halloween episode, disparate threads from the show’s first act come together, and we get back-stories for Paul, Legless Suzy, Twisty, and another piece of the puzzle that is Elsa Mars. We also see the resolution of Twisty’s murder spree and the evolution of Dandy. (Caution—Spoilers below!)
The episode is a bit uneven. It starts strongly—we are simultaneously given pieces of Paul’s story and pieces of Legless Suzy’s story. Suzy was born with a spinal condition that led to the removal of her legs, and that led to abandonment. Her parents left her in an orphanage, and when she grew old enough to leave, it was during the midst of The Great Depression. Paul was born different, and his only escape was to sit in dark theaters watching the latest new film. In perhaps one of the most lump-in-throat moments, he discusses his tattoos with Mordrake–Paul is tattooed practically all over, but there are no tattoos on his face because he couldn’t bear to ruin its beauty. It’s a “pretty man’s face,” he says. With it, and a normal body, he “could’ve ruled the world.”
But these sad stories aren’t what Mordrake and his second head are looking for. He continues his journey to find a “pure freak.” Pepper and Salty are dancing together in the tent. Mordrake smiles a little at their joy, watches them play for a moment, but knows they aren’t who he’s looking for, either. And so he makes his way to Elsa’s tent.
Out in the woods, Jimmy tries to convince Maggie to get off the road. They can’t afford to be caught by the police out in the middle of nowhere after curfew. Maggie is reluctant. She’s a little bit suspicious of Jimmy (who is patently offended that she suggest he’d take advantage of her). But the two are forced off the road by a car, hiding in the bushes until it passes. And there, hiding in the bushes, our two plots converge. Twisty has just had to run after his female captive, who has made a break for it. From their vantage point in the bushes across the road, Maggie Esmeralda and Jimmy see Twisty catch the girl and carry her away. Jimmy elects to follow Twisty and help the girl, and he and Maggie sneak about. Unfortunately, they’re caught by Dandy, who is also lurking in the woods. I must admit an amusement at watching one plot running around in the woods after the other plot and fess up to making lots of bad jokes about it, but it was quite irresistible, the camp of it all.
Back in the tents, Elsa, still buzzed from the opium, from her encounter with Maggie, from her performance, is in rare form. She rambles on about her performance, about the things she wants to work on, but Mordrake silences her, announcing his intention to take a pure freak with him to the grave. Oh, but I’m not a freak, Elsa protests–until the phantoms push her down, reveal her prosthetic legs. Elsa relents, but only slightly.
We’re in the Weimar Republic in 1932. Germany is war-torn from the first war and just about to see the rise of Hitler. Its citizens are looking for release, and Elsa is an incredibly successful dominatrix in an underground wonderworld of depravity. Pushed to reveal more, to talk “about the legs,” she reveals a hazy, semi-conscious memory of a group of men who come in, push her down, take her legs, leave her for dead. (And I’m left going “hey weird” because one of the men in that room is instantly recognizable to me as a history professor at USM. That kind of thing happens from time to time, seeing people I know on the show, but when they’re Nazi leg-takers, it’s a little disconcerting. The cognitive dissonance is high.)
Anyway Mordrake and his band of ghostly freaks are clearly moved by this conversation, excited about what she has revealed, and they’re about to take Elsa. Meanwhile, I’m going no, no, we need Jessica Lange in the whole season. This is important, dammit. It’s reportedly her last season on the show, so let’s make it count. But luckily, Mordrake hears a small tinkle of music that somehow appeals to his ear, and he’s off.
In the clearing in near Twisty’s tent, he and Dandy are trying to stage a show. They’ve got Maggie Esmeralda tied up and are about to saw her in half, but Jimmy escapes and knocks over Dandy. Twisty seems a little taken by this, and he applauds, but he’s far less amused when Jimmy uses the advantage of the moment to encourage everyone to run and his hostages start to scatter. He’s able to grab Jimmy and take him to the trailer, and Dandy is off hunting the others as Edward Mordrake walks up to Twisty.
The two sit and have a chat. Twisty is ordered to remove his mask, and I’m waiting tensely to see more than just the snapshot we got a few weeks ago. And it’s a horror–Twisty is missing most of the right half of his face. Mordrake orders him to calm down, to speak, that he’ll understand. And suddenly, we do, too.
Twisty was a clown in a traveling circus. He loved making children happy, but he hated the freaks, who were always very mean to him. When they accused him of enjoying the children’s company too much, he was horrified at their suggestions and at the idea that others in the town might suspect him, and he fled home, to Jupiter. But his mother, who he was coming to find, had died in his absence. A malaise settles over Twisty, and it worsens when his attempts at constructing toys and selling them are met with resistance. He puts a shotgun in his mouth and pulls the trigger but is ultimately unsuccessful at taking his own life. He fashions himself a mask, though, and decides to continue “entertaining the children.” This now means abducting them, killing their parents, terrifying them.
Mordrake is entranced by the story. It leaves his second, evil head weeping. It’s Twisty who is the pure freak, and our deus ex machina clears up this story-line for us by murdering Twisty and taking his spirit to be a part of the freak show. I’m a bit sad about Twisty’s exit from the show though I understand its necessity to the plot.
But the townspeople of Jupiter are happy to have the killer caught, and they show up in droves at the freak show to make those thanks well known. Cue the entrance of Denis O’Hare, which is exactly what I suspected from Maggie Esmeralda’s fortune telling last week—he’s a “talent scout.” Oh dear. Watch out, Elsa. And across town, Dandy has gone home, wearing Twisty’s mask. He runs into Dora, and the two bicker, as usual. But this time he doesn’t stop when he wants to kill her—he cuts her throat before lifting the mask to smile a large, terrifying grin. Dandy has come-of-age.
Next week, it looks like we’ll see more Dandy and Gloria, Something Bad for Dell and Desiree, and some deviousness on the part of our new talent Scout. And in the coming weeks we’re to get Neil Patrick Harris and Lily Rabe.
Episode Grade: B- Still a solid horror entry, but the deus ex machina ending to Twisty feels too simple, and despite all that happened, I found myself looking at my phone during the last half of the episode for the first time this season.