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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.