Review: American Horror Story Freak Show “Orphans”

Oh, man. Oh, guys. American Horror Story, for the first time in its 4 year run, made me feel a bit weepy last night. “Orphans” marked the fall finale for the show, which will take a two week hiatus before returning with new episodes (some of which feature Neil Patrick Harris and Jamie Brewer!!) beginning on January 7th. As an episode it’s a bit saggy, trying to do too much with too many characters, but parts of it were so, so good. Maggie cried, Jimmy stayed locked away in prison, and now we know all about Pepper, including how she got to the asylum. And it’s heart-breaking. (Warning–spoilers below!!)


Naomi Grossman as Pepper

And oh, Pepper. At the start of the episode, Pepper’s partner, Salty, has died. Pepper is distraught. She won’t leave his body, and Elsa has a difficult time convincing her to eat. Theoretically, at least, Salty’s death was a natural one, a stroke. Pepper is distraught. She won’t leave his body, and Elsa has a difficult time convincing her to eat. When she finally convinces Pepper that Salty’s gone, to give up the body, she has no idea what to do with Salty. Stanley does, though. Cut to Stanley hacking away at Salty’s neck, smoke encircling them both, then seeing Salty’s head in a jar, and I’m finding the idea of a stroke a little….Suspect.

Anyway, Desiree steps in to comfort Pepper. She assumes a very motherly position, Pepper curled in her lap while she reads The Velveteen Rabbit. But when she has to leave, Pepper is enraged. So she goes to talk with Elsa, of course, and through Elsa we find out about Pepper’s background.

Just after the war, Elsa moved to the States and started the carnival circuit as a singer/dancer. She found it difficult to get noticed, though, difficult to be a star in

New Orleans sideshow and burlesque performer Ri Dickulous in "Orphans"

New Orleans sideshow and burlesque performer Ri Dickulous in “Orphans”

someone else’s world. And she didn’t like working for anyone. She decided to create her own show, her own collection of oddities that would be both family and underlings. Cue Elsa’s profound ambivalence toward the freaks in the show.

Pepper’s parents died, and her sister couldn’t care for her, so she was dropped off at an orphanage. This is where Elsa found her, at the age of 18, after befriending Pepper, the simply walked out of the door together. Elsa and Pepper went to Jupiter together, and the crowd loved Pepper. It wasn’t long before a rich Indian gentleman came to the carnival, and with him he brought Ma Petite. She was his “pet,” but Elsa convinced him to part with her for 3 cases of Dr. Pepper. Hmm. Anyway Ma Petite became a sort of surrogate child for Pepper.

But still Pepper wanted more. She wanted companionship. Elsa sent a series of letters, ultimately resulting in the arrival of Salty. And it was love at first sight. And there was a lovely, bizarre wedding for the two of them, and it was beautiful.

Cut to the present, where Desiree and her beau are making a night of it. They’re in Maggie Esmeralda’s tent, and she’s using her Powers of Observation to tell their future. Only she’s a little drunk and a lot psychotic, given Jimmy’s predicament and their overall relationship, so she yells about how everything will be awful and end and blah-blah-blah. Later, Maggie sits on the merry-go-round, drinking, in the same spot we once saw Twisty. Desiree confronts her, and for some reason, Maggie decides to entirely spill the beans about Stanley, about being on the grift…But not about what they’re actually doing there. At least, not at first.

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Doctor Who Season Finale, Death in Heaven

David and Holly are on vacation for the next couple of weeks, and I’m a bit swamped, so giving Comparative Geeks some love for the next couple of Wednesdays. I chose this post today rather than a comics post because I like the way Holly breaks down the Doctor’s relationships here, and it this seems like a good post to share as the last word on series 8. I’ve got a couple of comics posts in progress, so we’ll be back up to our usual tricks on Wednesdays soon enough.

Comparative Geeks

Doctor Who Death in Heaven

There were a lot of people who have been praising this season finale as the best ever. Now as a combination of two episodes for the season finale this would definitely be pretty high up there. As a stand alone I felt that the first part of the two-parter was actually stronger. This episode beautifully finished out what the previous episode had started, but it did not quite have me at the edge of my seat as part 1. I enjoyed it, but there was just not the same tension. At the same time they did a beautiful job of tying up some of the relationship drama that has been going on and showing more of the heart of the Doctor. Here are a some of the relationships that the season finale dealt with. (Spoilers for Doctor Who finale after the jump.)

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Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 11: What’s it all about?

by William Hohmeister

I’m trying to figure out what series 8 was about. Before “Dark Water” I had this list: Clara, trust, lies, understanding who you are, and the definition of goodness. Early into part one of the series 8 Doctor Who finale we see Clara betray the Doctor for Danny, and hear so many lies and partial truths that their difference almost doesn’t matter. It’s bizarre.

Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) dies while talking to Clara (Jenna Coleman) on the phone. We watch Clara drift through time in a way that doesn’t require the TARDIS: she goes from Danny’s death, to his memorial, to standing in her kitchen with her grandma. Grandma says what we expect when a loved one dies; Clara refutes the normal platitudes and says that Danny’s death was mundane, simple, and stupid, not tragic. She says she doesn’t deserve better, but she is owed.

Then she looks at her phone, which rings over and over as it tries to contact the TARDIS.

We’ve seen what Clara plans to do before, though not so deliberate. When the Doctor collects her, Clara asks for a volcano. While the Doctor argues with her, Clara collects all of the seven TARDIS keys, and a “sleep patch.” When the Doctor agrees to take her to a volcano, she slaps the patch on him.

I try not to write “good reviews” because the internet is full of those by smarter people. I want to write something you like, and that matters to me. My favorite moments of Doctor Who aren’t the over-the-top cool moments (though I do like them), but the personal in the middle of the grandiose. I love the Doctor when he promises Rose Tyler, “I’m coming to get you,” and for the look on his face after he loses her.

Clara’s personal moment, as the volcano… acts like a volcano around her, is my favorite personal moment in the past four series. It’s strong, it’s striking, and despite not being real I think it still holds power. After she destroys the last key, the Doctor reveals the patches actually induce hallucinations, and they don’t effect him. After Clara tried to knock him out, the Doctor put the patch on her and let the fantasy play out.

At first I thought this was terrible. I still dislike flashbacks, dreams, flash-forwards, and other forms of narrative “lying”, but I tried to see this moment as a concrete example of the new Doctor. It’s easy for him to turn his back on people like Journey Blue. But, although Clara betrayed him, although he knows she’d do it again, he says:

You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down!… Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

Series 8 is about truth in the middle of lies, I think, and whether the distinction even matters. Is the Doctor good? I don’t know, but does it matter? He’s mean, rude, insulting, and kind of a jackass, but he saves the world every other day. And he forgives.

This idea becomes even more important when the Doctor and Clara meet Missy (Michelle Gomez). While Danny talks with Seb (Chris Addison) inside the Nethersphere, the Doctor and Clara explore 3w, a strange funeral home that houses skeletons in water tanks. Misi introduces Dr. Chang, who explains that the dead suffer horribly, and 3w is based on the three words: “Don’t cremate me!”

Clara and Danny connect via IPad, while the Doctor and Dr. Chang explore more of 3w. Clara promises to commit suicide if Danny proves he’s real, so of course Danny convinces her of the opposite. I had little use for Danny throughout series 8, but this moment felt real and sad. Again, I think it ties into the idea of lies used for truth: Danny wants Clara to live and move on, so he has to lie and pretend he’s a fake by telling Clara “I love you.” He lies by telling her the truth.

The Doctor and Dr. Chang find Missy. Earlier, she pretended to be a robot helper named MISI, and made out with the Doctor. There’s some strange stuff going on here, so I’ll explain how I thought through this. When she put the Doctor’s hand over her heart, I thought ‘Of course, she’s a Time Lord.’ This lead me to the Master, but I reasoned my way out of this. ‘She can’t be a Time Lord, and definitely can’t be the Master. They’re all trapped in the Time War, and I’m pretty sure the Master exploded from lightning magic anyway.’


She’s not the Master; she’s the Mistress! And as crazy as ever.

Maybe not that crazy.

Missy kills Dr. Chang and unleashes the Cybermen on London. The Nethersphere, the Promised Land, the afterlife are actually a piece of Time Lord technology that can capture or absorb dying minds and place them in a virtual reality. The minds inside remain connected to their newly-upgraded bodies. Each mind is also given the chance to purge their emotions, and then probably deposited back into their body to act as a Cyberman.

Where the other Time Lords are, Gallifrey’s fate, and how the Mistress is even still alive are all important, as-yet unanswered questions, and I have no real speculation. I didn’t see the Master coming. At all. But we can be sure the last episode will go off the rails. With the Mistress/Master involved it always does.

Conspiracy theory: Is there a 4-beat rhythm in the Doctor Who theme that matches the beat the Master hears in her head all the time? I’ve been listening to it… too much, but I can’t confirm it. Anyone else notice it?

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 10, “In the Forest of the Night:” ARGH!

by William Hohmeister

This episode… “In the Forest of the Night” is bad. So bad. It’s dull, the bad kind of ridiculous, and full of people who ought to know better. So, like the Doctor Who writer’s room, I guess?

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) explore London after trees grow across the entire city overnight. As they try to figure out what happened we find out the forest is not limited to London, or even England: it’s global. Cool mystery, right?

Forest_of_the_Night CoverThe Doctor finds a little girl early on named Maeve, because Doctor Who is still sometimes about fairy tales you guys, and the writers really want us to know that. In this episode alone we get: a little girl in a red hood running through the magic forest, “breadcrumbs” for clues, Little Red Riding Ciché confronted by SEVERAL big bad wolves, and the Doctor and Clara pointing out over and over that “this is like a fairy tale” or “this is not a fairy tale.” There are probably more, but my head hurts now.

Doctor Who is a science-fiction show, but it’s always played fast and loose with the science. Sometimes this means it gets burned. Every scientific oddity, from the trees growing overnight, to an unexplained solar flare that’s about to kill humanity, is mentioned but never explained. Each is so half-hearted that the episode feels like 45 minutes of pure filler.

The half-hearted story isn’t limited to bad science, either. Everyone gets a taste of the awful. Clara and Danny are back. Clara lies to Danny so much I honestly think she has an actual problem. And she’s not the only one! Danny is apparently willing to put up with it, so screw him too. And the kids, dear god the kids. Every child is so painfully terrible that I think they came from George Lucas’ Home for Wayward Waifs. The only upside is we get a few flashbacks that show how awful Danny and Clara are as teachers.

Maeve is by far the worst, but it’s not her fault. Her sister died, I think? I don’t know, the show never says, and anyone who has to deal with actual problems probably feels pretty insulted. Don’t take your meds, kids! The forest will grant you magic visions! Maeve sought out the Doctor to tell him about the flare, but runs away and leaves pieces of her school stuff as clues because… because. After the Doctor and Clara (and then Danny and the class) find her and chase off the wolves (and subsequent tiger), Maeve lays some heavy exposition on us.

I couldn’t understand a word she said, and I refuse to look it up. Suffice to say, by this point it’s incredibly obvious that the trees are there to stop the solar flare from destroying earth. The only people who don’t know are in the show because, again, you have to fill the time somehow. Seriously: the Doctor could literally not have shown up, and the episode would have ended exactly the same.

To top off this hate sundae, the story nearly made me like it toward the end. It missyappears as though the solar flare really will destroy the earth, and Clara convinces the Doctor to escape with the kids and their teachers. It’s a bluff! She really just wants him to leave so the humans can all burn together.  I . . .

. . . I am not the best person. I love the Doctor, but I also think he has a lot in common with Satan. So: as the Doctor prepared to leave the earth to die, I started cackling. Full-on witch cackle, too. I was so glad everyone was going to die. I mean, sure, they’d come back – that’s what the finale would be about, and maybe that would be Missy’s role! To preserve everyone until the Doctor saves the day!

I was so excited.

It doesn’t happen. The Doctor returns to reassure everyone that there was never, ever any reason to worry, or even watch this show, and then the end happens. Trees absorb sun-fire. Yay. The ending is so sparkling clean and happy that Maeve – whose only character traits are being weird, magic, and having a dead sister – somehow resurrects her freaking sister via a fern. I don’t know.


Shot of Missy saying something ominous, cut to Danny being entirely too tolerant of Clara’s crap, roll credits. Then some stuff about the finale (presumably a two-parter) that . . .  does anyone care about it?

Can you tell me why? I need a reason!