Freak Show upped the ante last night in its return from the holiday break. In a new and bat-shit crazy plot, the show introduced two new characters in “Magical Thinking,” magician/ventriloquist Chester (Neil Patrick Harris) and Marjorie, his alter-ego/possessed ventriloquist dummy (Jamie Brewer). (Warning, spoilers below!)
In the cold-open, Jimmy is still in jail, and he’s talking to Stanley. Jimmy desperately wants to hire that lawyer, because he’s afraid that if he stays in jail he’ll be killed. And so he allows Stanley to convince him to sell his hand. Yes. Sell. His. Hand. Oh, Jimmy. Evidently, since Stanley only wants one of them, Jimmy is ok with this. And somehow, he’s ok with trusting a man who is willing to sell his hand to put him under, cut off his hand, and wake him back up. Oh, Jimmy.
Cue Stanley slipping Jimmy something to make him ill, a fake ambulance ride, and surgery. Jimmy wakes up in restraints on a hospital cot. Naturally, Stanley has taken both hands. Oh, Jimmy.
Back in the freak show, Bette and Dot are exploring their sensual side. After their brush with separation and death, the sisters are closer than ever. And, well…Yes. They’re looking for someone to deflower them. Their efforts with Toulouse don’t go so well, but when the travelling salesman and magician Chester wanders into the freak show, Bette and Dot feel like they’ve found The One. Never-mind that in a scene which echoes Dandy’s Frankenstein-ed version of the twins Chester looks at them and sees two women who are Not Bette and Dot.
Chester desperately wants to join the freak show. He’s an aspiring magician. Neil Patrick Harris’s performance is already one for the books–Chester is a WWII vet who was on the beach at Normandy and now has a metal plate in his head. He’s also got a doll named Marjorie who is absolutely wicked. But Elsa doesn’t really need a magician. She doesn’t want parlor tricks. What she does want, though, is money, and Chester has money. He also knows how to manage it. So in what might be the worst business decision possibly ever, Elsa hires Chester as a book-keeper and allows him to warm up the crowds before shows.
Back in the hospital, Dell goes to visit Jimmy. He’s shocked to find Jimmy in such a state. Of course, I suppose that’s quite natural, all things considered. Anyway the two have a heart-to-heart, and they decide they’ll go into business together and buy the freak show. And they’ll get Jimmy some new hands.
When Dell returns to the show looking for Stanley, everyone seems terribly surprised about what has happened to Jimmy, but no one really seems all that horrified. It’s all very strange. Eve agrees to help Dell keep Jimmy from being transported back to jail, and people start looking for Stanley.
But not Bette and Dot. They’re in the midst of a discussion with Chester. He wants them to be his assistant for his magic act. He’s found a sawing box, and he wants the to help distract the audience–not because they’re freaks, but because they’re beautiful. But he still sees those other women when he looks at them. And we start to get flashes of his old life, in which he returned home from the war to find his wife living with her new lover, Alice, whose husband died in the war. Alice detests Chester. And Chester is, well…Odd. He wears his uniform 4 years after the war’s end. He insists on keeping his doll, Marjorie, nearby. He doesn’t want to join the sexy-times. Instead, he watches them from a chair beside the bed, Marjorie on his lap. Shudder.
And then we get what might be the weirdest of weird sex scenes. Dot and Bette go to Chester’s tent in their negligee. Chester is initially reluctant. His head starts hurting horribly, and he needs Marjorie to relax him. The twins tell him it’s ok. “Whatever you need,” Dot says. And suddenly, Neil Patrick Harris and two Sarah Paulsons are having sex. And there’s a ventriloquist dummy. It’s all so bizarre that my head still spins a bit.
But, oh dear. Marjorie is unhappy about Chester’s tryst with the twins. That’s when we first really see Majorie as a person rather than just the doll, in a flash back. And she’s terrifying. Jamie Brewer (whose voice I was thrilled to recognize, and I’m glad she’s getting screen-time) is back, and she’s bludgeoning people with hammers and giggling about it. No idea if she’s some kind of specter that inhabits the dummy or a Mrs.-Bates-style other personality manifested through the doll, but either way, she’s fascinating. .
Chester, meanwhile, has bought the freak show from Elsa for the sum of $1,000. Elsa insists that the show remain intact and in its regular order. She gives Chester some serious side-eye when he says he’ll give the big tent to Marjorie, but she says nothing.
Dell and Eve do manage to break Jimmy out, using the old throw-a-rock-through-the-window-then-beat-the-cops-to-death trick. It’s no surprise, then, when the police show up at the freak show looking for Jimmy and the bodies of the dead policemen, but they don’t find anything.
Dandy shows up at the freak show and meets Chester. He tells him that Marjorie is angry, that she’s waiting for Chester in the big tent. I cannot wait to see how Harris and Wittrock play Dandy and Chester off one another. And Marjorie is waiting. She delivers the news that Chester must do the dirty work this time, must saw the twins in half–for real this time, not in the magician sort of way. See, delightfully wicked.
Finally, Maggie returns to the big tent, and she has something to show Elsa. It’s Ma Petite in the preservation jar. And in their trailer, Desiree confronts Dell. At first he denies what he’s done, but eventually he admits to killing Ma Petite. And then he’s shot in the head–Elsa heard what she needed to hear.
Next week, it looks like we’ll see the return of Massimo, presumably to craft Jimmy some new hands, and we’ll certainly see more of Marjorie and Chester.
Episode grade: A. This was a freaky, horrific episode to begin the season’s downswing and closing arc. A solid episode.