Ah, Halloween traditions. Pumpkins, children begging for sweets, “sexy” just-about-everything costumes. Oh, and American Horror Story two-part episodes.
Or, here at least, the concluding part of said two-part episode.
Last week, my main criticism of the first part was that it left an incomplete story, without even the limited closure attached to a complete episode. Which is pretty petty complain, considering otherwise it was bloody good episode.
So it follows that, if “Edward Mordrake (Part Two)” can, as a creepy whispering half-face to last week’s offering, round things off in same way then we’re onto a winner.
Of course, this is American Horror Story, so it’s never quite as simple as that. But we remain optimists, don’t we? Don’t we?
Picking up after the end of last week’s episode, having decided that Ethel isn’t the one he’s after, Edward Mordrake visits the freaks one by one, to hear their stories and judge whether it is they. He eventually reaches Elsa’s tent, and after she mistakes him for some sort of talent scout and denounces her arrogance and casual cruelty, she tells him her sordid history in inter-war Germany. And Mordrake nearly takes her, but at the last moment he is drawn away to the woods, where Twisty and Dandy have trussed up a bunch of folks in the woods — including Jimmy and Maggie Esmerelda.
This is a much more focused story than previous episodes, which benefits greatly from the tying together of several different plotlines. It is basically limited to firstly Mordrake touring the freaks, and then switching to Jimmy and Maggie, ending up with Twisty and Dandy, joined by Mordrake. It’s both strikingly linear for AHS, and excellent storytelling.
The effect of the first part is that we get to see a bit more insight into some of the secondary characters, and as with Ethel, there are some heartbreaking stories. I do wish that we could have spent a bit more time on this; Paul the Illustrated Seal and Legless Suzi were excellent, but where were Amazon Eve and Ma Petite? After the light-hearted magic of their brief scene last week, I’d have loved to see their background.
But maybe they work better without the burden of tragedy.
The meat of the episode, though, is Twisty. First off, when he removes the mask. That deserves a bit of a mention, for sure. We caught a glimpse of what was under the mask a few episodes back, so it’s not entirely a surprise, but between the ruined hole left of Twisty’s mouth and the snuff-film fate of Elsa’s legs, this is the sort of body horror which AHS usually uses sparingly and effectively — recall, if you will Shelly, and Dr Arden’s experiments.
But it is Twisty’s story that is the true horror. I said, a few weeks back, that he would have a tragic tale to tell, and boy does he. How he went from a dumb-witted but gentle clown to the stabby maniac we know and love today — via a botched suicide attempt — is horrifying and moving. And, for me, his murdery motivations still didn’t make a great deal of sense. Which I suppose is tied up with him being, you know, insane.
I was surprised at Twisty being taken by Edward Mordrake, I have to admit. I saw him as the “villain” throughout the series. That’s not to say he still can’t be, but with Dandy putting on Twisty’s mask and going home to murder the maid, Dora, presumably he is now taking up the clown’s mantle. And I do like Dandy as a villain figure.
The transformation of Jimmy into a hero figure not only amongst the freaks, but the townsfolk, was well played, too, particularly as a juxtaposition to Dandy’s evolution. It feels a little odd to have a coming together of the freaks and the townsfolk so early on in the series, but I expect it to blow up when Dandy starts killing. For now, it was a nice end to a good episode, particularly with Dell looking on at Jimmy with almost pride.
It is, ultimately, a shame that Mordrake is only going to be in these two episodes. As a character he was engaging, and as a plot device he was the equal of Francis Conroy’s Angel of Death in Asylum. As a way of eking out the freaks’ stories, it was creative and original enough for me.
So Freak Show is still going strong. There’s a lot more still to come, but this has been, I think, the strongest start of any series yet. As a viewer, I’m onboard with the developing plot lines, and eager to see more of the characters. I particularly like that nothing is black and white — even Twisty evoked sympathy, and it was hard not to feel a little happy for him when he woke up with his face restored.
- Be honest: did anyone else’s thoughts go to Peter Dinklage’s excellent portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones when Mordrake described dwarves as “power hungry”?
- I’m really not sure about the developing love triangle between Jimmy, Maggie and Dot.
- No musical numbers this week. Which in one way is a bit of a shame, since last week’s worked so effectively. But then this episode was crammed full of story, so you can’t complain really.