How can we be at the Halloween episodes already?
I know that Halloween is next week, and that its always a two-parter, but it certainly underscores the march of time. Halloween is usually the time that American Horror Story does its most overt tilt at the tip of the cultural horror iceberg. There’s a lot that can go wrong here, but I sense that actually Freak Show has the best potential outlet of all the series so far.
Potential is what this series thusfar is thriving on. It’s not delivering on all of it immediately, but to me that has seemed like a sense of timing and rising tension, that an actual misstep. So let’s see what it can do with the first part of its Halloween two-parter, “Edward Mordrake”.
After the death of Meep in police custody, the mood is a little strained at the freak show. The carnies, to Bette and Dot’s consternation, won’t perform on Halloween because of the legend of Edward Mordrake; an aristocratic young man with a second face in the back of his head, who butchered his own freak show and killed himself, and will take with him another freak if any performs on Halloween. Dandy makes himself a clown costume for Halloween, and continues to play psycho with Twisty. Meanwhile a medium, Maggie Esmeralda, arrives looking for a job, whilst working for freak hunter Stanley. She tells Elsa that a gentleman will come soon, with her chance to be a star. So Elsa performs, and summons the gentleman — the spirit of Edward Mordrake…
Firstly, the problem. This is the first part of a two-parter, so necessarily lacks any sense of resolution. Not that American Horror Story episodes usually end on a resolution, but it felt too brief here, the internal story arc cut short. It’s the burden of doing episodes like this, though I wonder if the pacing couldn’t have been a little better.
Because otherwise, I thought this was a great episode. It introduced a couple of new characters, whilst giving more expansion to some of those already established. Maggie and Stanley didn’t get a great deal of exposition here — though the frankly bizarre scene with Stanley and “Thor” was certainly out there.
Ethel got the most exposure here, though. From the scene in the doctor’s office when the doctor tells her that she terminal liver cirrhoses, to her tender conversation with Dell about him looking out for Jimmy when she’s gone, Kathy Bates is an excellent actress, even through that Dutch (I think) accent and from behind a beard. Her sobbing on account of the Doctor being the first one to actually care about her is heartbreaking, as with her story told to Edward Mordrake, when she looks up and finds he has gone, rather than take her
And Elsa’s greed and ambition, in performing and bringing Mordrake down on the troupe, is even more illustraitve. I hadn’t heard Lana Del Rey’s “Gods and Monsters” before, but Jessica Lange does a fantastic rendition. The best of the musical numbers so far, and tilting back towards the storytelling genius of “The Name Game” in Asylum.
Dandy and Twisty don’t get much time here, with Twisty mostly limited to malingering sinisterly, and abducting a teenager who, honestly, has it coming. Dandy’s sulk over the wrong Halloween costume is more of the same, but his inability to kill Dora — and her knowing that he can’t — is powerful. Dandy is shaping into one of my favourite characters of this season; a spoilt child who wants to be a psychopath, but is tied up by his own damage.
I would have preferred to view both parts at once, and get the whole story, but I can’t actually complain about “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)”. It adds the sinister element as well as a strong human edge. The funeral of Meep emphasises that. The lingering question is of who Edward Mordrake will take. It’s not going to be Elsa, but I reckon everyone else is still in play.
- So, after that “Thor needs a sword” bit, we’re fairly certain Stanley has some manner of freakiness himself, right?
- Bette and Dot’s relationship is getting dark. Not just that Dot is dreaming of being rid of her sister, but that they are openly discussing it.
- The background characters give this show its lifeblood. There’s a moment where Ma Petite jumps out of a pumpkin to scare Amazon Eve. The casting has been amazingly well seen to this season.
- It’s something of a shame that Edward Mordrake won’t be a regular character. He’s positively sinister.