Review: American Horror Story Freak Show, “Curtain Call”

American Horror Story damn near broke my heart last night. The final episode of the the fourth season was one of the least compelling hours of the show I’ve seen, lacking the panache of other episodes and negating much of what happened during the season. There were a few things I knew we’d see–Elsa Mars gets her TV show and the Tattler sisters find their man–but the finality of many of the other story lines was frustrating. (Warning, Spoilers Below.)

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Dandy bought the freak show. I wasn’t surprised that we started here. After all, we’ve watched Dandy’s progression from spoiled man-child to spoiled killing machine. And we’ve always known that he’s fascinated with the freaks–especially the Tattler sisters.

The cast members revolt, though. They don’t want to work for him–and so they won’t. The situation quickly deteriorates, and this is when Dandy dresses in a suit and goes on a shooting rampage, killing every character not played by a series regular. And I cringed. The 15 minutes of rampage seem like such a waste of story-telling and of screen-time. The action is out of character for Dandy. And it’s too clearly a move not to have to give so many characters their what-happened-after stories. It feels like lazy writing. It’s compounded by the fact that some of the most interesting and layered characters were there.

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So after this weird writing thing that happened, we have Desiree, the Tattler sisters, Jimmy, and Elsa Mars left alive. Elsa is gone, fled to Hollywood. Desiree and Jimmy are at the freak show. Dandy has kidnapped Dot and Bette. He married them and talks of having babies with them. They remind him that the can’t have kids with someone who massacred their friends. (Oh, yeah, there’s that.) And, oh, their new maid, who is actually Desiree, has drugged him, so night-night, Dandy.

Desiree, Jimmy, and the Tattler sisters have managed to tie up Dandy and get him into the water torture cell. He says something other about not being able to die just before he does. Bye, bye Dandy. (Also a sad writing decision. Dandy needed a better ending, probably actually to continue killing. He’s a fascinating bad guy.)

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Elsa arrives in Hollywood only to find that it’s a lot more difficult to get noticed than she thought. She has a difficult time getting into the office of ABCBSN network executives. But oh, she has a plan. She waits and waits. And she slaps the secretary when she’s compared to Marlene Dietrich. Dear dear. Anyway she falls in the confrontation, and it’s just then that an executive comes along. He picks her up and dries her tears, and the two hit it off.

Flash forward to 1960. Elsa is a major network TV star and has married that executive who picked her up and dried her tears. Elsa seems to be a show host, some incarnation of Ed Sullivan and/or Lucille Ball, wither husband Michael as her manager. She’s getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And then we get a LOT of Elsa Mars. I think that, in some ways, what we were seeing was the show bidding farewell to Jessica Lange. Elsa is famous, but she argues with her husband a lot. Massimo comes to visit her once, tells her that he’s been rebuilding villages and that he couldn’t/can’t be with her because he’s ill–he has cancer. The two can’t run away together.

It’s Halloween again, too. Everyone wants her to host a Halloween special, but Elsa doesn’t want to do it. Her life starts to crumble–the 8mm film of Elsa’s legs being chopped off has been found and released; her husband wants a divorce; and always, always that Halloween show. Fine, she says.

Elsa goes on stage. Everyone goes wild as she sings “Heroes.” It’s wonderful. The remaining freaks see Elsa on television–Desiree and her husband (Malcolm Jamal-Warner) watch her on a TV in a storefront; Jimmy comes home to Dot and Bette, and they’re expecting their first child, and they’re watching Elsa on the TV.

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But uh-oh. There’s that whole thing about Halloween. So this of course is where Edward Mordrake returns, Twisty in tow. But Elsa’s soul doesn’t belong with them, even when Mordrake does kill her. Instead, she goes back to the freak show, where Ma Petite and Paul and Ethel and all the others are waiting.

And that’s the end. Freak Show is finished.

Episode Grade: C-. The rapid-fire deaths of so many characters in such an out-of-character way really mars this one for me. It was nice to see Elsa’s goodbye, and nice to watch the cyclical return to the freak show, however.

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That’s it for me on this one, but don’t worry–I’ll be back on Sourcerer with more reviews soon enough, including Season 2 of Penny Dreadful and Black Mirror.

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