Review: American Horror Story Freak Show “Show Stoppers”

If this week’s penultimate episode of American Horror Story Freak Show is any indication, we’re going to see a lot of gore in the season finale next week. “Show Stoppers” is a pretty good name for this episode made me laugh while covering my eyes. Remember last week when I said that we were in a batshit crazy new plot with Jamie Brewer and Neil Patrick Harris? Indeed we are, and we got to see more of Chester and Marjorie this week. And Dandy—well, we’ll get there. (Careful: there are spoilers below!)

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At the beginning of the episode, the freaks are hosting a dinner and movie night for Richard Spencer. When it becomes clear that they know all, that no one believes his Richard Spencer story any longer, Stanley is afraid. Understandably so–they’ve got the head of our friend from the American Morbidity Museum in a jar, and they’re moving toward Stanley. They put him on the wheel of death just long enough to make him dizzy, then tell him to run.

They chase him with knives. Oh, Stanley, what have you wrought? Anyway just before they catch Stanley, he throws out a piece of information: Elsa killed Ethel. Perhaps it’s the utter plausibility of it, but it doesn’t take long for everyone to believe it. Either way, goodbye Stanley.

Across the way, Elsa sits with Jimmy. He’s morose, of course, mourning the loss of his hands. And he’s got no hands left to extend in friendship (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to Maggie, who desperately wants his forgiveness. Ah well.

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Also happening is another tryst between Chester and Marjorie and Bette and Dot. Only it seems that Bette and Dot are beginning to be a little put off by Marjorie. They ask Chester to put her on the floor rather than the nearby, and he does. But later, Marjorie berates Chester about the encounter. Chester is forced into admitting to himself that he killed his wife and Alice. Oh, Chester. Bette and Dot, who don’t have Marjorie’s voice to tell them about Chester’s past, are enlightened by Dandy, who shows up at the freak show and gives them a dossier on Chester.

The performers, meanwhile, are having a drink. They really understand, now, that nothing about Ethel’s death makes sense. Because…Well because people do not decide to commit suicide in such an elaborate fashion. Not people like Ethel, especially. Everyone becomes convinced of Elsa’s guilt. Molly, you in danger, girl.

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Elsa, meanwhile, has reunited with Massimo (Danny Huston). They’ve found one another, and oh, Massimo is going to make Jimmy some new hands. In a flashback, we get Massimo’s story after the war. He went looking for the men who hurt Elsa and was imprisoned for a long time by the leader of the group, whose name, I swear, was “Dr. Hans Gruber.” Anyway, by the time he got out, he felt as though he’d lost most of his humanity, his soul, so when Elsa didn’t answer a note he sent her in America, he didn’t come to find her. Well.

Back in the big tent, Chester has called a meeting. He’s the show’s new owner, so he wants to work on the acts. He’s acting more and more crazy, and when Bette and Dot don’t want to be his assistants any longer, he looks like he might explode right there on stage. Everyone seems a little put off, a little anxious around him.

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But for some reason, Maggie doesn’t get the hint of danger, or she doesn’t care, or something. She volunteers to get into the magician’s box. She knows this trick. Except Chester is having One of Those Moments. He sees Maggie not as herself but as Alice/his wife/Marjorie. He chains her feet together. Uh oh. Maggie’s screaming, but everyone seems to be too stunned to move. Chester saws the poor girl in half before anyone movies. When they’re trying to decide what to do afterward, Desiree has what’s the best ever line–“steal her jewelry and bury the bitch.”

So they do. Chester, meanwhile, runs back to his trailer. Marjorie berates him again for what he’s done, says they’ll have to run. Chester stabs Marjorie, and there’s a bloodbath. But when he takes her body to the police station to report the murder, there’s only a small wooden puppet in a blanket. Oh, Chester.

Eve, meanwhile, has to break the news to Jimmy. She finds Jimmy sitting on the bed. He’d been thinking about the first time he was onstage, and we see Ethel introducing her young son onto the stage in 1946. In the present, Eve tells Jimmy about Maggie.She also tells him that the group is going after Elsa for killing Ethel.

But Elsa has friends left. The twins go to her and inform her of the plot to kill her. Elsa doesn’t believe, at first, that her monsters would do such a thing. But Bette and Dot are coldly logical: “you killed their real mother” she tells her. Ethel. “Where will I go” says Elsa. “Anywhere but here” answers Bette. When the girls rally and Desiree leads them with a war cry of “ETHELLLL” and downs a bottle of liquor, they’re disappointed not to find Elsa, but the mob dies down.

Earlier in the evening, Elsa met with Dandy and then left the freak show for good. She sold the show. To. Dandy. Ooooh, my. Dandy walks into the ground of the show, looking for all the world like a kid in a candy store. He basks in the wonder of owning such a thing. And then he hears a scuttling backstage. What is that sound? Ooooh, shit. It’s Stanley. And he’s been……Changed. No arms, no legs. In one of Meep’s costumes.

Shudder.

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Episode Grade: A-. Lots of spooks and thrills, and a few utterly transfixing moments this week in the penultimate episode. Looking forward to the finale. You can catch me live-tweeting it during the episode next week @parttimemonster and reviewing the episode here.

Review: American Horror Story Freak Show “Tupperware Party Massacre”

This week’s episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show saw Dandy dive even further into pools of insanity and bloodbaths, while life at the freak show became even more complicated for its inhabitants. “Tupperware Party Massacre” marks even more the rise of the formidable villains–Dandy and Stanley–and the downfall of our once-and-(maybe)-future hero, Jimmy. (Warning—spoilers below)

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Dandy

In the cold open, Dandy sits with Maggie, who is gazing into a crystal ball. Dandy wants to know if he’s going to get caught, and Maggie is charged with the task of reading his future to find out. In the crystal ball, we see the Mott home. There’s a knock on the door, and Dandy opens it to find an Avon lady standing on his doorstep.

And it’s no coincidence that she’s almost a mirror image of Gloria. That is further underscored when Dandy kills her and uses her head, sewn onto his mother’s body, to create a grotesquely Freudian copy of the Tattler sisters. It isn’t immediately clear whether Maggie sees what we see in the crystal ball, but either way, she assures Dandy that his–ahem–“indiscretions” won’t be found out.

Before leaving the freak show, Dandy encounters Jimmy, who is drunk and has been feeding/flirting with Ima. Jimmy assures Dandy that he knows who he is, knows he was the other clown. But our “hero” is beginning to get a bit irritating in his self-loathing, and there’s a certain sort of glee in Dandy’s promise to make Jimmy’s life miserable, to maybe even end it. Jimmy isn’t being a very good hero.

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Later, Jimmy visits his Tupperware club ladies. He’s too drunk, though, and he keeps “missing.” He sees the ghost of Ethel and weeps into her lap—but it’s really one of the club ladies. He runs from the home, but it isn’t long before Dandy shows up to take his place. Only Dandy isn’t interested in pleasuring the Tupperware club. He’s more interested in killing them.

And kill them he does. The violence happens off-screen, but somehow that makes the moment that we see what happened even more chilling. The hostess’s husband returns home, complaining about where the ladies of the club are parked and that they’re still home. But everything is eerily quiet, and those weird 1950’s congealed salads are still out on the table. Cue husband finding the bodies of the Tupperware club in the pool, the water crimson.

Speaking of crimson water…A bit later on, Regina visits Dandy at his home. Dandy is very open about what he’s done, admitting to killing Gloria, Dora, and the ladies at the Tupperware club. He pours blood into his tub and disrobes. He offers Regina the chance to join him, but she refuses.

When she comes back with a detective, Dandy doesn’t seem bothered in the least. He openly admits what he’s done. As he’s told Regina, he’s above the law. He is the law. Etc., etc. And in a lovely, swift moment, Dandy offers the detective $1 million in cash if he’ll look the other way, and the detective shoots Regina in the head. Exit Gabourey Sidibe.

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The Tattler Sisters

Dot and Bette finally have the chance to have their surgery–or at least they think they do. Ethel’s note for Jimmy reveals where she stashed the Tattler twins, and Stanley and Elsa go to find them and bring them back. They assure Dot and Bette that they’ll be able to have their surgery if they come back and that the surgery will keep them safe from the (made-up) mob of townspeople who are hunting freaks.

While Dot and Bette are waiting for their surgery, they discuss their life together. Bette, as usual, has a far rosier view of their situation than Dot. Bette is willing to give her life so that her sister can live normally, but she sees their conjoinment as a gift, while Dot sees it as a burden.

But Dot’s heart grew three sizes that day. After Bette expresses her love for her sister and willingness to die for her, Dot realizes that she cannot go through with the surgery. Cue the appearance of the twins at the freak show and their arrival in Jimmy’s trailer. Jimmy is drunk when he arrives, and he’s confused by the twins’ appearance and Dot’s declaration of love. I am too, a bit, as they’ve barely spent any time together this season. Be that as it may, Jimmy turns down the twins, telling them he’s in love with someone else.

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Desiree, Dell, and Stanley

Desiree has a beau, and it’s Malcom-Jamal Warner. He shows up at the freak show, but she quickly reminds him that he shouldn’t do such things. I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing him more, that there’s a coming conflict.

Dell is on his way to the bar where he used to meet his lover. He looks rough, drunk and strung out from the loss of his lover and the killing of Ma Petite. Stanley catches him before he leaves, and the two share a really awkward moment of passing double entendres back and forth. There’s menace underlying Stanley’s conversation, though—he can’t afford for Dell to come clean about what he’s done.

Back in his trailer, Dell is visited by Ethel’s ghost. She convinces him that killing himself would be the wisest course of action. He pens a note and gets ready to hang himself. This is perhaps one of the most poignant iterations of the underlying themes of the show this season. It’s Dell’s lust for men that drives him to the brink of suicide. It isn’t how he’s treated either of his wives or his son; it isn’t that he killed Ma Petite. It’s that liking men makes him feel like a freak.

But Desiree shows up to save Dell from himself.

And the police show up to arrest Jimmy for the murder of the Tupperware club. It looks like we’ll see more about that next week.

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Episode Grade: B+. There were some really strong moments in this episode, but it felt a bit disconnected at times, and Jimmy is beginning to be insufferable.

Review: American Horror Story Freak Show: Bullseye

This week we reached the halfway point in the fourth season of American Horror Story. And Freak Show, true to form, laid down (ahem!) a few new surprises this week in preparation for the rest of the season. Ultimately, though, we’re in some ways right where we started at the beginning of the episode—and that’s the genius of using the dangerous-but-cyclical wheel of death motif in the episode. Elsa determines to make it to TV, whatever the cost; Dandy falls in love; and Stanley urges Maggie to murder. (Spoilers below Pepper and Salty—beware!)

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Elsa’s Birthday Shenanigans

Elsa Mars is determined to make it. Of course, we already know this—Elsa herself has shown us this capacity, and she’s also fairly similar to Coven‘s Fiona, the desire for fame and beauty driving forces for them both.

It’s her birthday week, and Elsa is just the sort who would demand a full week’s celebration—and demand she must, as no one feels like celebrating after she returns to the tents without Bette and Dot, who she claims ran off while she was buying them new clothing for their act. (We, of course, know that she dropped them off at the Mott home.)

Elsa is also sleeping with Paul (Mat Fraser), but it’s clear that the relationship ahs5between the two is going absolutely nowhere. Elsa is consistently reassuring Paul that they’re not in love and won’t be—and at times the disgust at having to touch Elsa is fairly apparent on his face. Elsa’s conception of the freaks as property is clearly a part of this dalliance, and that fact is underscored when, as Paul is leaving, Elsa asks for her “darling” and is handed Ma Petite, wrapped up in swaddling clothes as though she’s a baby. It’s a wonderfully bizarre scene, and Fraser in particular does a fantastic job of capturing the nuances of the scene–he’s really been a joy to watch this season.

And then Paul is with a woman in her bedroom–it’s Penny, the candy striper from the beginning of the season who was kidnapped by Elsa and drugged while at the tents. This was a confusing bit of cinema, primarily because it had been so long since we’d seen or heard about Penny that her dad was bursting into her room before I remembered who she was. And Penny’s dad is–well–scary. He’s loud and overly protective and very concerned about his daughter’s chastity. Oh, dear.

Paul escapes though. And he’s apparently feeling a bit sentimental because he goes to buy some Venetian Romance, Penny’s perfume of choice. But he runs into Dandy there—and Dandy is buying two headbands, hairbrushes, compact mirrors . . . Just the sort of things one would buy if two girls came to live with one. Uh-oh. When he’s back in the tents, Elsa smells the Venetian Romance. Double uh-oh. She’s furious, but Paul is more able than any others to see through her–and he makes the mistake of mentioning the rumors that she caused the disappearance of the Tattlers.

Cue Elsa’s rage. She makes Paul wake all of the performers and gather them, and she refuses to leave the tent until someone has strapped themselves onto the wheel of death and let her throw knives at them. And suddenly, I’m remembering her voice-over as she threw those knives at the beginning, that discussion of controlling her own fate. Elsa will strap anyone else to that wheel, will kill them all, if it means staying in control of her own fate and achieving fame.

It’s Paul who ends up strapped to the wheel of death. The first two daggers miss him, but the third–it hits him right in the gut. Well, hell. The smirk on Elsa’s ahs1face after everyone else files out of the tent tells us that it’s no accident, but she’s convincing enough at wailing and carrying on that most of them think it’s an accident. Not Paul, though. As he lies in her tent bleeding, he is all too aware that she never called an ambulance.

After an altercation with her father, Penny arrives at the tents, and a jealous Elsa looks on as she begins to try to take care of Paul.

Stanley and Maggie

Stanley is getting antsy for a sale. What he wants are Jimmy’s lobster hands, something small and easy to transport, but Maggie cannot bear the thought of losing Jimmy. She details a plan to escape with Ma Petite. We’re led to believe that Maggie drowns Ma Petite in formaldehyde in what is one of the creepiest scenes that the show offers up this week. But it loses some of its bite because, much like the Pink Cupcakes, this is just an imagining. And ultimately, Maggie cannot go through with the plan, returning Ma Petite to camp after “butterfly hunting” early one morning.

Stanley is angry at Maggie’s failure. And he probably would be angrier still if he knew that Maggie was on the verge of leaving with Jimmy. Stanley says they’ll go back to his original plan–luring Jimmy into the barn and cutting off his hands. Ultimately, though, Stanley and Maggie are still where they were last week, waiting on a pay-day.

Meanwhile, at the Mott Home

Dandy is trying to woo the Tattler sisters. And he’s having an easy enough time with Bette, who is entranced by his money, manners, and affection. Dot hates the “gilded cage” that they’re obviously in, and she’s still in love with Jimmy. ahs2But when Dandy mentions a successful surgery separating conjoined twins, though, Dot realizes that he could be the answer to her problems (of course, she’s been trying to kill her sister since episode one). He is rich, and his money would more than pay for the surgery that would separate her from Bette.

Dandy can’t stand to not see what’s being written in those diaries of the girls’, though, especially Dot’s. She’s the one who isn’t quite taken with him, and it’s obvious that she barely tolerates him because she has to. And so he reads the girls’ diaries, and he’s broken by what he finds. Bette, of course, is head-over-heels, but Dot calls him a man-boy, writes about using him to eventually separate herself from her sister.

It seems that next week Dandy will return to his cold killer persona. There’s a desert inside him, an emptiness. What we’re seeing is the evolution of a killer.

The Final Scene

Tensions rise between Ethel and Elsa–in this week’s final scene, Ethel is the sole celebrator of Elsa’s birthday evening. She cuts Elsa a slice of cake, and as she lights the candle for the birthday girl, she assures Elsa that if she orchestrated the disappearance of the Tattler sisters, she’ll kill her.

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Episode Grade: B+. There’s some really interesting stuff going on in this episode, and the acting is phenomenal. The plot spins its wheels a bit, though that works with the metaphor of the wheel of death to create a mixed metaphor that mostly works.

Review: American Horror Story Freak Show “Pink Cupcakes”

After last week’s good-but-not-great Halloween episode, American Horror Story Freak Show came back with a bang this week. For the first time, we got what seemed to be flash-forwards, learned more about Dandy’s father, and Gabourey Sidibe re-joined the cast.

In the cold-open, Maggie and Stanley stand in a well-dressed crowd at the American Morbidity Museum–they’re clearly at an exhibit opening. I’ve got a sinking feeling, as there’s a huge space roped off behind our tour guide, and Maggie and Stanley look very pleased with themselves. And then–yes—the “Modern Mutations” exhibit title confirms what comes next: the unveiling of an exhibit, but this is Paul the Illustrated Seal. (Warning: The part with major spoilers comes next!)

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Maggie, Stanley, Dell, and Elsa

Maggie and Stanley are in a hotel room talking about their plans for the freak show. Stanley wants to kill them all and sell their bodies: he has long-term plans to kill and sell the freaks to the museum, transporting their bodies in tanks of formaldehyde, and so he must be able to maintain access to Elsa and the rest of the show through Maggie. She’s not overly-fond of the murder plans, but Maggie agrees to continue on in exchange for a 5% profit increase. And Stanley needs to get rid of his gay porn, too.

Or maybe he shouldn’t. Back in Jupiter, where the troupe is getting ready for the sold-out show, but Dell is nowhere to be found. That’s because he’s in a gay bar across town, talking with his lover (Matt Bomer). At least, Dell thinks this is his lover. But the lover quickly makes it clear that this is a job, and Dell isn’t his only customer. And Elsa is being wooed by Stanley. At least, he’s attempting to woo her. He promises her TV stardom, but that isn’t what she wants. In a fantastic Jessica-Lange-is-a-diva moment, Elsa Mars registers her extreme distaste for television, for the “little black box” that is killing the silver screen. Alas, Stanley, no dice on this one.

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Jimmy, Ethel, and Desiree

Jimmy is sent to search for Dell, but he’s not in his trailer. Desiree is there, though, and she’s not ready to perform. Instead, she’s taking shots and lamenting her deteriorating relationship with Dell. Jimmy sits down with her and begins to unload his thoughts about Meep’s death, his guilt overbearing (new drinking game—every time Jimmy says “Meep,” drink). Jimmy, reeling from Maggie’s rejection earlier (she’s clearly trying to save him, but he can’t know that) leans over to kiss Desiree. They are just about to have sexy-times when she starts bleeding profusely. Jimmy runs for help, and still no one can find Dell, but Ethel and Elsa whisk Desiree away.

The show must go on, though, and go on it does. Elsa starts to reprise her grand finale, “Life on Mars,” but the crowd isn’t receptive. They begin laughing and talking while she sings, and the panic starts to rise for Elsa—we see her looking around frantically as the crowd becomes more and more restless. The crowd begins throwing things at her, jeering at her, and she has to be whisked off-stage by Jimmy. She’s ready for Stanley’s help, now.

It’s Ethel who comes to Desiree’s rescue, and she takes Desiree to the kind doctor who helped her. In a phenomenal, moving moment, we see Desiree have her first exam since childhood, hear her story. It works all the better without the flashbacks that have marked the other backstories we’ve heard. We see Desiree, nervous and uncertain, her gorgeous-Angela-Basset-in-red-lipstick face, talk about being born and confirmed a boy, the pride of his mother until puberty, when he grew three breasts and started menstruating. But the doctor has news for Desiree. She was never a boy at all—she has an enlarged clitoris, not a “dingaling,” and her third breast was probably developed because of an overcompensation of estrogen. She can even have babies; the blood that sent her to the doctor was from a miscarriage.

But Ethel knows how dangerous it is to have a baby with Dell. And when Dell returns to the trailer, it’s clear that Ethel has told Desiree all about Dell’s past. She knows that Jimmy is his son. And she’s moving to Ethel’s trailer. This time, she’s done with Dell. The doctor is going to operate on her, make her look more normal, and she’ll be a freak no more. But Dell cannot allow this to stand. He goes to visit the good doctor, and he breaks the doctor’s hands for daring to touch his wife. Gosh, but Dell is horrible. His comeuppance is one that I’m rather excited to see.

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Dandy, Andy, and Gloria

Across town, Dandy is proving scarier than ever. He tries to pretend not to know how Dora died, but Gloria sees right through the facade and knows it’s his doing. She seems to have resigned herself to Dandy’s horrid proclivities, though. She sends him to his room while she decides what to do. And of course, What to Do is to plant exotic bulbs on top of a 12 foot grave while chatting about inbreeding and the violent tendencies of the upper class. It seems that Dandy’s father had his own such, and Dandy is headed down the same path. If he’d just been an actor, he says, all of this could’ve been avoided.

But since it couldn’t be avoided, Dandy begins to hone his skills. Locked away in his room, he meditates on what he’ll do. He’s not a clown. His “body is America. Strong, violent, and full of limitless potential.” He’s rich, and he’s white. And he’s Dangerous. He’s Patrick Bateman with a Ryan Murphy twist.

And he’s off to kill, off to hunt. It’s Andy (Matt Bomer) he meets up with, and in one of the most grueling slasher scenes that I’ve seen on TV, he takes Andy back to Twisty’s old trailer, ostensibly for a rendezvous, but actually to murder him. The mirrored characters–Andy and Dandy, whose costumes are inverse of one another, who look strikingly similar—make the moment that Dandy stabs Andy over and over with a small knife even more horrifying. Dandy is clearly a newbie killer, unaware of how much force it takes to kill someone, and Andy’s death is dragged out through multiple stabbings and the beginning of dismemberment to get rid of the body. Oh, Andy.

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Bette, Dot, and the Pink Cupcakes

And in one last twisty-bendy side-plot, we see a two-headed woman in the American Morbidity Museum exhibit—we see Bette and Dot, presumably in another flash forward. Then we move backwards to Elsa readying herself to go out with Stanley, only to be beaten to the punch by Bette and Dot.

Stanley takes Bette and Dot on a picnic, where he offers them a similar deal to that offered by Elsa. He offers them cupcakes laced with poison. Bette takes one, and of course it makes her terribly ill. Later, the two lie in bed, Bette having become so weak that Dot can no longer hear her, and Stanley is able to suffocate them. Only—just kidding. We’re back on the picnic, and Dot is watching her figure. No cupcakes.

But Elsa proves to be just as threatening to Bette and Dot as Stanley. She promises to take them to buy new clothes for their act. Across town, Gloria laments the loss of Dora and tries to hide her death from Dora’s daughter (Sidibe), who calls to check on her mother. She puts the phone down, and Elsa Mars shows up at her doorstep. She has something Gloria wants, and I think it’s Bette and Dot.

Next week, it seems we’ll see if I’m correct in that assumption.

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Episode grade: A-. There was a lot going on in this episode, but it was very solidly played out, and it feels like a breath of fresh air after last week’s episode.